Spotting An Attention Addict
They will vociferously deny that they are addicts or attention seekers, after all they are only on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media platforms half the time that we are logged on. Attention seekers are always the last to know or at least confess their game.
If you are ready to listen to a litany of complaints, ask a sympathy addict how they are doing and sit your butt down for the answer. This will be no drive-by “I am doing well thank you for asking.” Having lived outside of my country of birth, Jamaica, for almost half of my life, the responses to that question, “How are you,” have been extremely amusing and interesting to me. In Canada for example, when someone asks you how you are doing, outside of a therapeutic setting of course, they are not waiting for a response other than “Fine, thank you” or maybe, “I’m great, you?”
In Jamaica, when you ask someone how they are doing, they usually tell you. The answer will range from an illness, the latest thing that they heard on the radio and how it is affecting their lives, what the pastor preached about on Sunday or their “good fi nutten” son or daughter. They are being neighbourly, embracing a conversation with you and really interested to know what is going on in your life and share what is happening in their own.
Those with a short attention span will not survive a conversation with such Jamaicans and it is something that I had to learn to adapt to when we migrated to Canada – to keep my response short and sweet: “I am well thank you very much. How are you?” and keep walking.
Some Are Diagnosed Attention Seekers, Many Are Not
Then there are the people, and they are everywhere, who simply cannot stop talking, stop demanding attention, constantly craving the spotlight and need to be motivated. These are attention seekers, the sympathy addicts, the ones who a “I’m fine thank you,” is not an acceptable response. They will stop you in your track to give you the twists and turns of their life, whether you want to hear it or not.
Some of these folks have a diagnosed disorder including depression, bipolar disorder and others that might contribute to some of their behaviour that strike the rest of us as attention seeking. Take Attention-Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) as one example.
Back in the day when I was a kid, there was no such diagnosis of ADHD which according to one report, is a common “neurobehavioural disorder of childhood” one that “persist through adolescence and adulthood.” The United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reportedly stated that a person with ADHD “has a chronic level of inattention, impulsive hyperactivity, or both which compromise their daily functioning,” and,
A person with ADHD may struggle in important areas of life, “such as peer and family relationships and in their school or work performance,” the CDC said. (Read more)
Beware: Sympathy Addicts And Attention Seekers
What this is based on is lived experience – my own and that of others with who my private and professional paths have crossed. As the saying goes in the country of my birth – it might be in yours as well – “it takes one to know one.” Around eight years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression. How long I was “clinically depressed” remains unknown to me but having been through the therapy and spiritual counselling and having reflected on my life, depressed was a state that was with me for many years before the official diagnosis.
“Sympathy addiction” – this displayed in my life as the need to have everyone who would listen for a minute feel my pain and do everything within their power to make me happy – was something I mastered. Well, not as good as my mother but this is not about her. Being introverted in many ways, it was not my modus operandi to be the life of the party. Getting the attention of those nearest and dearest was all that mattered and I needed the full 100% of it.
This type of behaviour has cost me many relationships and friendships. My neurotic need to be the centre of everyone’s universe eventually caused them to jump off. Disconnecting with so many people did not, at first, strike me as my issue at least not on the surface. Instead of taking a closer look at my behaviour and attitude in my relationships, I retreated further within to the hurting place and concluded that everything that was fed to me as a child and girl must have been true. Basically, that I was unworthy and an unnecessary burden.
The Healing Process
It was not until in my 30’s that I deliberately went there – to the hurt and catheterized those wounds. During and since that process, so many similarly wounded people have come into my experience. With my then newly found and deepening understanding of psychological wounding, self-esteem issues and spiritual counselling, these people became easily recognizable. I started clearly seeing “what” and “how” I was relating with others, dishonouring myself and pushing
Recently, a woman displaying many of these behaviours came into my professional life and danced between sympathy addiction and attention seeking. Her stories of illnesses were so long and many that I fell asleep listening to them. Every time we saw each other, she needed prayer for some other diseases she heard about and was sure she was exhibiting some of the symptoms. This was a church-going woman whose need to be ill caused me to wonder whether she was addicted to people praying for her, the attention that she received each time she told her friends and fellow congregants about her latest diagnosis.
Earlier this morning I wrote about the difference between motivation and inspiration. Did you read it? If not, check it out here. Persons like the woman mentioned require constant motivation. They lack the knowledge or the ability to go within and be inspired to live the life they have always dreamed about.
There are some commonalities in people who are always reaching for attention and sympathy that I have noticed – in myself during my hurting years and in those who cross my path today. These are not scientifically based but observational. They might help you spot an attention seeking or sympathy addict:
- They most often are blaming someone else for an issue they have whether that is an illness, money problems, challenges on the job or relationship frustrations. It is never their fault.
- They are always taking a course, workshop, prayer group meeting, attending a retreat or sign-up for some new opportunity or scheme. A fix is out there somewhere.
- They are most often unsatisfied with a service they receive, their income, someone they met or with whom they are in a relationship, the weather, their weight, something. The grass will be greener when…
- They have lived the “roughest” life, had the worse experiences, have met the most unsavoury characters no matter what. Bad luck plagues them.
How To Deal With A Sympathy Addict or Attention Seeker
These are just a few of the behaviours and attitudes of attention seekers and sympathy addicts. I am sure you can give some other examples – comment below to share them with me and the readers. Having spotted them, how do you avoid them? Here are three things you can do:
1. Simple as this might sound or “New Agey,” depending on your perspective, the first way to avoid sympathy addicts is to stop being one yourself. I have always stated on this blog that my firm belief is in “like attracts like,” and not only do I believe it, it has been proven in my life. Once my behaviour was brought to my attention, in a loving and healing environment, and I deliberately worked on myself, after the guidance of my teachers and counsellors, noticeably the drama seekers no longer found me attractive.
2. Learn about boundaries and build them. Recently, Alexis Ali wrote on this topic and she will continue her two-part series on the topic of children and discipline and the importance of teaching them boundaries. Not all of us were taught boundaries growing up. Some were allowed to trample over their parents’ “borders,” disrespecting the privacy and sanctity of their bedroom – as an example – and this attitude continues into adulthood. Respect for others’ space, whether that is a physical or psychological space, is important learning. Even more important is learning to respect one’s own personal space and boundaries. Most attention seekers did not learn this and as adults they leave themselves bare for others to trample all over them in their wish to be liked. In turn, they cross personal borders of others with little or no regard that they have gone where they are not invited.
3. Know Your Limit. We all want to be kind, loving, caring and nurturing. Well, most of us. However, it starts with you first. You must be all these things to yourself first and only then can you give kindness, love, affection and care to others. Even then, we all have a limit and it is important to know what yours is especially when dealing with attention seekers and sympathy addicts. They will suck you dry if you let them. You cannot give what you do not have. Furthermore, you cannot give ALL that you have without replenishing your resources.
For the last five years or so, this has been my active way of relating with attention seekers and sympathy addicts. It has worked beautifully and now my life has about zilch of this type of behaviour – neither from me or coming from people in it. On the rare occasion that such a person pops up, I check my attitude first to see what was my behaviour that invited them to me. Was I giving the impression that I like pity parties? Did I open the door by complaining about my life?
After checking myself, I changed any attitude that might have lent to the situation. Usually that is enough as the door closes and the sympathy seeker is usually standing on the other side. It might sound cold but it really is not. “People,” as the saying goes, “come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.” Attention seekers are usually “reasonal” people, there to mirror to you a behaviour might need adjusting. When and if you ignore the signs, they will rent a room in your life and stay for the season until you “raise the rent and evict them.”
Read your tenancy agreement and see what kind of roomers you have. Check your circles and make sure that your closest five are motivating you, pointing you to inner resources, and pulling you up into new areas of growth. If your circle, your buddies are all attention seekers or dragging you down with their need for sympathy – it is time to clean house.
Share your thoughts with me on this in the comments below and do share with your friends on social media who might be entertaining these addicts. Have a great rest of the day!