“Understanding the Attention Seeker” – ACM Safeguarding Lead, Chris East

07 Apr 2021

This post was written more than two years ago. The content or information below may no longer be accurate.

ACM’s Designated Safeguarding Lead

“All behaviour is communication” 

This quote has resonated with me for some time, it explains why people may act the way they do. It links very closely to the famous quote:

“Before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes”

In effect, it’s just a reminder to practice empathy. It’s worth noting that empathy is not an endorsement of someone’s behaviour, it’s just an acknowledgement of reasons why they may react or behave the way they do.

It’s too easy for us to judge someone who gets drunk regularly, dresses provocatively or publicises their life’s struggles over social media.

 But have we stopped to think why?

Why might someone behave this way? Why would they do this so publicly?

Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb:

Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone home?
Come on, now…

Similar to children, adults seek attention in an attempt to become the main focus, sometimes to gain approval or admiration. Sometimes it’s an action to fill an unidentified void somewhere within their lives.

Examples of this behaviour include:

  • Being controversial to provoke a reaction
  • Searching for compliments by boasting about achievements
  • exaggerating stories to gain praise or sympathy
  • Portraying incompetence to attract help or support 
  • Asserting dominance or utilising micromanaging behaviour

Attention-seeking behaviour may be driven by:

  • Past Trauma
  • Jealousy
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness

When someone doesn’t feel like they belong or aren’t good enough they will seek avenues to produce prominence, this can manifest itself in the form of self-sabotaging behaviours for example:

  • Smoking
  • Excessive Drinking
  • Over Exercise / Weight Lifting
  • Boasting
  • Substance Misuse
  • Excessive Management styles

It’s easy to dismiss this behaviour. Let’s be honest we’ve all found it annoying at times; we can continue to scroll on through social media or engage in virtual stone-throwing. However, when we explore the murky back story that led to this behaviour we can truly understand the sometimes unknown story that presides over it.

Past Trauma can cause the individual to act in a child-like, aggressive or vulnerable manner, this is a protective characteristic whereby the individual is seeking comfort and attention as this gives them a feeling of reassurance.

We need to understand that sometimes acting out is all that person knows, they lack the ability to cope with their inner turmoil but to publicly advertise it, or in some cases completely mask it with false representation.

We all have moments where we lack confidence, sometimes crumbling at the first sight or scent of failure, within these times we automatically need someone or something to give us reassurance or support. For some, they are not aware of the most appropriate way of communicating this.

I look back on past experiences where attention-seeking was a tool I used to fit in with the crowd, to produce a sense of belonging or disguise social anxiety. This portrayed a person who was confident and outgoing, when in fact it was someone struggling with identity and past hurt.

If you find yourself feeling the need to publicly portray your life, uploading content to gain social media focus or requiring constant approval of others to succeed or feel confident, then my best advice is to look into why you feel the need to do this? 

Ask yourself, is this helping you? Or is it causing damage to your mental health?

Pink Floyd – Comfortably Numb

I hear you’re feeling down

Well, I can ease your pain

And get you on your feet again


I’ll need some information first

Just the basic facts

Can you show me where it hurts?

If we look upon attention-seeking behaviour as a cry for help and not just some form of annoyance, then we may actually be of support to someone by guiding them away from negative public expression, and instead channelling their hidden emotions into a more productive process and platform.

I have been fortunate to have friends around me who will guide me on the right path should they feel I have swayed slightly. We will all have moments where life events blur our vision as to what is right or wrong, helpful or unhelpful and productive or damaging, it’s not a weakness to know we have a need in this time for peer support.

What we all need is:

  • Connection not condemnation
  • Love not indifference
  • Understanding not dismissal

We have all experienced struggles in our lives, although they may not be comparable to others. By making a small calculation in our minds as to how we felt in our situation, it will evoke a similar emotion as to what someone else may be feeling. It’s there that we build on our ability to empathise with others.

You learn when you listen, not just about someone else’s situation but also a lot more about your own. Sometimes by trying to understand someone’s actions we can put language to not only their thinking but ours as well.

Reach out and be the change they need.

Three ways to connect with someone you’ve identified is struggling:

1. Talk about their feelings

2. Act as a sounding board

3. Be genuine within your relationship

If you would like support with anything mentioned within this article please contact studentsupport@acm.ac.uk, alternatively, you can find out more information on our Student Services Canvas page.

If you have a concern for your wellbeing or that of someone else associated with ACM, please contact the safeguarding team:
Email – dsl@acm.ac.uk
Call – 01483 910197