Attention-Seeking Behavior: Why Do I Do It?

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

Hi! I am sixteen years old and I do not know why, but I keep doing things for attention. I lied and said that my adopted mom abused me, a stranger almost grabbed me, a girl at school was writing mean emails to me when really I was writing them to myself, and I am sure there is other stuff that I can’t remember at this moment. I know it is horrible and I really want to stop, but it is like I can’t. My past was not great I went from foster home to foster home from the age of 5, and then I got adopted at age 11. My birth mom is schizophrenic and abused my older sister but never me. My mom is not even sure about who my birth father is. She had six kids and she is not even sure which man belongs with whom. I recently started cutting myself, but that is not for attention. I try to hide it. I do not think I am going to do it anymore because it does not help. I just want to stop with this irrational behavior, but do not know how. Please, I really need someone’s help. Thank you so much!

A. There may be many possible explanations regarding why you are engaging in attention-seeking behavior. It may be related to your chaotic history, none of which is your fault. Generally, people attempt to gain attention when they feel they are not getting enough of it or they need or want assurance that they are loved or liked. Learning why you engage in a particular behavior may not be very helpful. I believe that what’s most important for you is to focus on not necessarily why you lie for attention, but how you can stop. In the future, you may revisit the issue of “why” the behavior developed and conduct an in-depth analysis, but for now, I think your energy is better spent on how you can stop.

I also want to point out how perceptive I think your question is. Some people lie for attention and they have no real idea that they shouldn’t be engaging in that type of behavior. Others may know that they are engaging in negative behaviors but they simply don’t care enough to change. That isn’t the case with you. You realize that it’s wrong and you want to change. To me this is a sign of an insightful person. You desire to change but you are not sure how. I find this very encouraging because there is help available and it’s just a matter of finding it. One caveat is important to mention. I do not want to give you the wrong impression. Changing your behavior isn’t usually an easy or emotionally painless process. In fact, it will likely be challenging but half the battle has already been won. Your already know you need help. At this point, it’s a matter of accessing competent mental health professionals.

Given your age any treatment that you undergo will likely require your parents’ approval and involvement. This means that you will need to tell them that you need and want help. In your letter, you have listed several things that you have done to get attention. I do not know whether your parents know that you had lied to them about those situations. If they don’t know, then you may have to tell them the truth and by doing so, it may demonstrate to them that you need and want help. If they already know the truth, then they may sense the fact that you need help. Because I don’t know the specifics of your situation, I can only give you general advice.

Generally speaking, the best way to approach this situation is to be honest with your parents. Tell them what you wrote in this letter, which is that you feel compelled to lie to gain attention. What you wrote in your letter was very succinct and to the point. In addition, I would highly recommend counseling. Individual counseling could be very helpful as well as family therapy. Ideally, that would be the best way to proceed. Lastly, I would also advise you, especially if you’re not comfortable speaking to your parents about this situation, to print out the letter you wrote to me and my response and give it to your parents.

I hope that you’re able to find help. I think you would greatly benefit from counseling. Thank you for your question. Good luck.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 14 Nov 2009

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2009). Attention-Seeking Behavior: Why Do I Do It?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/11/14/attention-seeking-behavior-why-do-i-do-it/