“I’m being held hostage as his sex slave,” she cried hysterically, panicked desperation pumping ardor through her moistened, quivering lips, “and he controls me with two vicious attack dogs!!! He won’t let me leave the house, have my car keys, or any money,” she continued, eyes welling up with crocodile tears. “Doesn’t he work?” inquired her meddling ex-boyfriend. “Can’t you just leave while he’s at work?” “You don’t understand!” she exploded angrily. “Okay, okay … well, why don’t you call the police then?” asked her slimy ex, who lived in another country and didn’t know what was really going on. “So how are you doing?” she asked, abruptly changing the subject, now sweetly simpering, with more than a hint of seduction in those ever-hungry lips. “But what about your suffering and imprisonment?” he asked incredulously. “Have you found a new girlfriend yet?” she queried histrionically, ignoring his question, pitch rising and tone demanding answers. As she suddenly shifted the drama with her ex from victim to seductress, like flipping a light switch, in walked her husband. “Hi Sweetie!” she said excitedly. “How was your meeting?” “It went well,” he said, “and how are you doing?” “I’m happy now, I really missed you, and I’m super horny!” she exclaimed exuberantly, curvy hips swaying sensually as she backed her sexy asset into his interest. “I was writing you a love letter, and talking to my grandma on the phone.” She had quickly hung up on her ex when hearing her husband walk up behind her. As she closed her gmail account, she noticed an email from her ex saying he was worried about her, and wanted to help. This sketched a secret smile across her gorgeous angel face, as she turned to suck some attention from her gentle, loving husband.
Manipulation and Madness
Even the most aware among our relatively enlightened ranks can be fooled by those who make a life out of manipulating others. There are a variety of reasons why we may fall for such egoic stagecraft, including idealism, egocentrism, and codependent optimism. From the high and winding roads of my travels, I have observed that these things may, at times, form the flaming clutches of those traps that ensnare our unsuspecting minds. Idealists believe in the natural goodness, or even perfection, of others; and so may perpetually interpret selfish, manipulative, or malevolent words or actions based on saintly motives. Egocentrism, in this context, means that we interpret what others are saying or doing based on what it would mean if we were saying or doing the same things. As healthy, accepting people, we will see the good in things, usually giving others the benefit of the doubt (we extend our own loving motives to others). Codependent optimism refers to our proclivity toward putting a positive spin on things even when they are continuously harmful to us. All three of these polished predilections, these lovely leanings toward lofty living, work well when we are purposefully dealing with people of integrity. They do, however, set us up for stress, disappointment, and heartbreak when running into the manipulative, attention seeking types.
Fantasy and Fabrication
Those afflicted with this attention seeking propensity do not usually distinguish between truth and non-truth. They believe what they want to believe. For them, veracity is irrelevant. All that matters is saying or doing whatever they need to in order to get what they want — no matter the cost or consequence to others. Everything is an act. Since they do not distinguish between what is real and what is not, it is easy for them to believe that whatever they think, feel, say, or do is justified and valid. Their perception of reality is situational. Each new experience, within their chameleonesque belief system, can create a completely different view of what is real, fair, and needed. Since each interaction offers another opportunity to seize some luridly lusted after longing, like a junkie craving a fix, its unfolding is greeted with the hunger and desperation of an addict. One problem is that these attention junkies look a lot like you and me. And they can lie more convincingly than honest people can tell the truth. So it can be hard to pick them out of a crowd, or even an intimate partner relationship at first (especially when under the spell of idealism, egocentrism, or optimism). Another confusing conundrum is that many of these types, when in certain roles or rhythms (e.g. work), function completely normally, and may be extremely popular and successful. A Maserati saleswoman, state senator, or TV minister; a sexy film star, dazzling model, or steamy R&B artist; may take the world by storm with their attention seeking charisma. These roles may create relatively healthy sources of needed gratification, but relationships with such attention seekers are usually one sided, toxic, and destructive. They use their relationships to get attention — not to share meaning, love, and life.
This obsessive preoccupation with getting attention is an extreme form of narcissism (Those exhibiting such predilections expect the world to revolve around their wants and needs). Being in a relationship with them is one-sided, unfulfilling, and emotionally draining. One thing we can always count on is that our wants and needs don’t matter. If it seems like they do, then it is only because, for the moment, ours may coincide with theirs. To survive in such a relationship, we would need to detach both emotionally and physically. And if we did this, what kind of a relationship would we really have? Those who hold on to such hookups, for financial, family, or spiritual reasons; often do so at the expense of their health and happiness. Such selfless, unconditional love may serve a higher purpose; and, if the attention seeker’s condition has been identified and accepted, may be worth it to some. But it is important to know what we are getting ourselves into. It is crucial that we recognize such attention seeking narcissists as early as possible in a budding relationship. They are often bewitchingly charming, so we need to make sure we look beneath the surface if we want a real love connection. If we realize the truth of their condition, and choose to stay connected with them anyway; then at least we are making an informed decision (hopefully for a higher purpose).
Red Flags and Redolence
Such attention vampires, and the calamitous kerfuffles they often generate, do not usually change. Their relationships may change, their situations may change, but they do not usually change. They may alter their appearance, behavior, or tactics but, behind the scenes, their motives remain the same (read on to learn why). This is a definite red flag when considering an intimate partner relationship or friendship. So proceed with caution, and understand that, when involved with such individuals, the relationship will ultimately be one sided — and they will not see it that way.
They are often extremely generous at first, paying close attention to your every word, interest, and desire; catering to them with detailed verve and flair. During the early stages of the relationship you might even think that they care about you more than anyone ever has. But why are they doing this? If they do not really know you yet, and couldn’t possibly love you yet; then why are they showering you with gifts, steamy sex, and undivided attention? Because they are setting up their feeding source. When you are sufficiently hooked on their assets, wiles, and willingness; often following a wedding, rental agreement, or employment contract; things may start to shift. You may wake up one morning, scratching your head, wondering what the heck has happened. If they have social anxieties, or are avoidant of people; then you take on an even bigger role in their lives. They may want you to provide all of their attention. Since there is never enough, and since no matter what you do you are falling short, you will kill yourself trying to satisfy them, while receiving little or nothing in return.
Traditional View of Excessive Attention Seeking
From a traditional view, such proclivities would be understood as personality disorders, most notably histrionic personality disorder. This condition is characterized by a long-standing pattern of attention seeking behavior and extreme emotionality. Someone with histrionic personality disorder wants to be the center of attention in any situation, and feels uncomfortable when they are not. While often lively, interesting and sometimes dramatic, they get upset when people aren’t focused exclusively on them. If they are not receiving what they believe to be a sufficient amount of attention from others, then they believe they are receiving no attention at all. Their perception of control is often similarly skewed (if they are not 100% in control of everything, then they believe they are being controlled by others). So they are often control freaks, manipulating their external environment to get the attention they want from others. People with this disorder may be perceived as being shallow, and may engage in sexually seductive, or otherwise provocative behavior (e.g. playing the victim) to draw attention to themselves. When they are socially anxious or avoidant, engaging rarely with others, they will capitalize upon whatever opportunities cross their path. They may isolate themselves, and you, in order to get your full attention. If they are socially active, then they will make whoever is giving them attention their highest priority in the moment, and will usually focus on sources other than their partners or kids (since they are already built-in suppliers). This often leaves loved ones feeling hurt, disrespected, and unimportant.
Alternative Angle on Excessive Attention Seeking
From an alternative angle, attention seekers may have blockages in their chakra system with the higher vibrational points receiving little life force energy, and the root and spleen chakras (survival and emotions) receiving more than their fair share. This would create the energetic impression that life was a struggle for survival, and the emotionally charged solicitation of attention from others would represent the garnering of support needed to help them survive against a perceived threat. Since this is a subconsciously-driven process, with its origins in the astral body (pranic, mental, and intellectual sheaths) and brain (stress response and neurologic remodeling), they would be consciously unaware of any abnormalities in their thoughts, emotions, words, or actions. To them, they would be doing the thing they most needed to do. They would not realize that, behind the scenes, their brain believed their life was in danger and that they needed the help of those around them to survive. They would just believe it was normal to do what they were doing (and from the astral and neural perspectives, it would be). What seems like hunger for attention is really a misdirected struggle for survival. So they need to understand that there is no real threat.
Neurological Perspective on Excessive Attention Seeking
From a neurological perspective, “Excessive attention seeking is not a character flaw. It is a brain wiring response to early developmental trauma caused by neglect. The developing brain observes its environment and wires itself accordingly to survive in that world that it presumes will be like those experiences. Newborns are extremely dependent on getting their mother’s attention for survival. The more their needs are neglected during early development the more the child equates getting attention with survival and safety. In turn, the more he or she develops the belief system that it is necessary to go to whatever lengths to get attention.” Since, as children, our life literally depends upon our parents; if they fail to give us needed attention, then our brain will hardwire itself based on its belief that we must obtain attention to survive. This push for attention to save our life, often in the form of drama, becomes a neurological (brain remodeling), psychological (subconscious conditioning), and social (interpersonal attention seeking) way of life. Drama gets attention, and also causes the secretion of endorphins (the body’s natural pain relieving and pleasure inducing compound) which reduces the anxiety of needing more attention than we are getting. This causes us to crave and create more drama to produce more endorphins to reduce this anxiety (the drama produces both attention and anxiety reduction).
Although we cannot change our brain’s basic hardwiring, and we cannot completely erase the effects of early childhood trauma; we can rise above it by accepting who we are. We can love what we have, rather than focusing on what we do not have; we can appreciate what we can do, rather than obsessing about what we cannot do; we can enjoy our circumstance, rather than craving something different. If those with excessive attention seeking tendencies find someone who is honest — someone who is willing to take on their challenge and tell them the truth even if they don’t want to hear it — they can ask them if their emotional interpretation of a situation is based on what is true and real (reality testing). Beyond this, meditation, yoga, healthy sex, and exercise will create the conditions that curtail excessive attention seeking. Consultation with a shrink, life coach, or spiritual teacher could provide the ongoing support needed to understand and manage such challenges.
Photo credit: Alyssa L. Miller