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Attention-Seeking Behavior

We all have an underlying need for attention. In fact, without anyone to pay attention to us, none of our needs could be met. When we look at Maslow's Hierarchy of needs, our need for attention, with respect to our intimate relationships, falls within the Love and Belonging level of the pyramid. In our relationships, we all have a desired level of attention that we expect our partner to meet. When this is not met, we question the state of the relationship. How then, can we know if our need for attention is a healthy level of attention?

There are 3 main levels of attention that we might seek in a relationship:

  1. Acknowledgement

  2. Appreciation

  3. Admiration

With or without our partner, we long to be acknowledged for the things we do well. When our partner seems to only acknowledge the things we do poorly, we begin to resent them and get down on ourselves. We feel less like who we knew ourselves to be, and we lose sight of who we are. When we are acknowledged for what we do well, we feel capable, energized, and motivated.

Appreciation in the next level. When we do not feel appreciated in our relationships, we begin to devalue ourselves. We feel worthless and we may even consider leaving the relationship for another that makes us feel more worthy. When we are appreciated in our relationship and our partner expresses it regularly, we gain a sense of fulfillment and gratitude that is reciprocated in the relationship.

Admiration is the highest order of attention. If admiration is lacking in a relationship, you may be in a rut or feel disconnected from your partner. You may even experience a level of disgust. When we feel admired in our relationship, again, this admiration gets reflected in our relationship and we feel empowered and righteous in our relationship. This admiration, if we are our authentic selves, encourages us to live in a way that considers others. When we feel empowered, we reflect on the direct impact that we have on those around us. It gives us the opportunity to seek even greater levels of self-fulfillment.

So how do we know when our need for attention is too much or unhealthy? Well, if you expect your partner to worship you, you may have a larger psychological problem. We all desire to be admired, but to expect it is a big order to fill. We all have a general need to feel appreciated. This causes a problem in our relationships when we set unreasonable expectations for our partner to show appreciation in melodramatic ways. In other words, if you expect your partner to throw a parade for you every Tuesday, keep dreaming.

Finally, our basic level of acknowledgment becomes an issue when we struggle or refuse to acknowledge the things that we actually do wrong in the relationship. If we only want our partner to acknowledge the good we do and not the bad, we, again, set unrealistic expectations.

If you believe you may struggle with or have a partner with problematic attention-seeking behavior, it can be helpful to speak with a mental wellness professional. They may be able to help you better understand the root causes of your problematic behaviors and help you discover more realistic and more fulfilling ways to get your needs met in your relationships.

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Sam Nabil is the founder of Naya Clinics and is a Cincinnati therapist and a Cincinnati Marriage Counselor.

Sam offers therapy in Cincinnati and Cincinnati Marriage Counseling for adults suffering from relationship challenges, life transitions and anxiety.

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