Like me! we scream internally, as we post the latest picture of us having sundowners on the beach or posing at a festival. Give me approval, attention… something. Because being acknowledged is part of the giant wheel of fortune that is social media.
“Social Media Has Turned Us into Needy Attention Seekers,” by Amanda Cassidy
In this quote from her article, Amanda Cassidy captures what so many of us feel but don’t want to articulate: we want attention.
While social media is an avenue to getting attention, it is not necessarily the root cause of our attention-seeking behavior. As humans, we all feel a hunger for approval, attention, and acknowledgment. The question is whether we will seek to satisfy this need through the attention of people or the attention of God.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for God’s approval. They will be satisfied.
Matthew 5:6 GW
God’s approval is the only thing that can fully satisfy us; everything and everyone else will leave us thirsty for more.
I have not always thought of myself as an attention seeker, but I have come to understand the great impact it has had on my life. In fact, I have found that nothing can come between me and my relationship with God more than attention seeking because it leads me to replace God in my heart. My desire for attention becomes the driving force in my relationships, decisions, and actions, while my relationship with God lies neglected and forgotten.
Whether we are aware of our desire for people’s attention or not, this article will help us do three things: identify the signs of being an attention seeker, understand where this desire comes from, and learn how to break free from it so we can seek God instead.
Eight signs of attention-seeking behavior
If you’ve acted foolishly by drawing attention to yourself, or if you’ve thought about saying something stupid, you’d better shut your mouth.
Proverbs 30:32 TPT
I (Scott) am an introvert, so I’ve always thought that I didn’t struggle with attention seeking. I thought it was primarily a challenge for people who are more talkative or outgoing than I am.
However, I’m learning that my desire for attention simply comes out in different ways. For those of us who aren’t aware of our attention-seeking tendencies, we’ve compiled a list of eight signs to help us identify it. The first four signs come from Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD and Scott Frothingham of Healthline:
- Fishing for compliments by pointing out achievements and seeking validation.
- Being controversial to provoke a reaction.
- Exaggerating and embellishing stories to gain praise or sympathy.
- Pretending to be unable to do something so someone will teach, help, or watch the attempt to do it.
In addition to these four signs, we came up with four more based on our own experiences:
- Overscheduling because we get our identity from people needing us or from being a part of things.
- Attaching our emotions to likes/followers on social media. Our emotions rise and fall based on the number of followers we have on social media or the comments we get.
- Ruminating over perceived criticism, silence, or even compliments.
- Dominating conversations because we want our ideas, jokes, or opinions to be the best.
Pause and reflect
Before we move on, take time to answer these questions:
- How do I see attention seeking in my life?
- Which of these eight signs am I likely to see in my life when I need attention?
- How has seeking attention from people been affecting my relationship with God?
Why am I craving attention?
Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives.  Give us gladness in proportion to our former misery! Replace the evil years with good.
Psalm 90:14-15 NLT
After we have identified attention-seeking behavior in our lives, the next step is to ask ourselves some “why” questions. Why are we craving attention from people? Why does people’s attention mean so much to us?
Attention seeking has been a lifelong struggle for me (Margo), and while I have not conquered it, I have discovered why it is such a struggle. The answer lies in the passage above: I need to find satisfaction each morning in God’s unfailing love. Attention has always been a quick fix for me to try to satisfy something deep inside that only God’s love can reach.
When I’m living for people’s attention, there are usually some clear spiritual reasons:
1. I have forgotten God
The same thing happens to all who forget God. The hope of the godless dies. His confidence is easily shattered. His trust is a spider’s web.
Job 8:13-14 GW
To forget God means to forget who he is, how much he loves us, and how powerful he is. As a result, we find ourselves filled with raging insecurities. We try to cling to anything to help us feel better about ourselves, and getting attention is often the quickest fix.
We try to get our security and confidence from how we look—our hair, our skin, our clothes, our home, our possessions, where we live, or what we do for a living. All of these things are easily shattered because nothing can replace the security and confidence that come from God’s love.
2. I’m resisting intimacy
What a person desires is unfailing love; better to be poor than a liar.
Proverbs 19:22 NIV
As this Scripture teaches us, we all want unfailing love. We want to be fully known, loved, and accepted—that is intimacy. When I prioritize building an intimate relationship with God, I am secure enough to build intimacy in my marriage and with my family and friends.
I find that when I am overscheduling, fishing for compliments, or using flattery, I am not getting my needs met through an intimate relationship with God and my spouse. I am often resisting intimacy and trying to fill my heart with something much less satisfying.
3. I’m searching for significance
My salvation and my significance depend ultimately on God; the core of my strength, my shelter, is in the True God.
Psalm 62:7 Voice
I have always looked for validation and significance from my accomplishments and achievements. As many of us grow older, we try to find our value in people recognizing what we have done. This form of attention-seeking can leave us empty, bitter, and defensive when we don’t get the respect we think we deserve.
In this Psalm, David acknowledges that our significance depends on God. When we understand our significance to God and depend on him, he makes us fulfilled and internally strong.
4. I have unfinished business
Unfinished emotional business is pain in our lives that is unresolved. As Russ Ewell notes in his book, He’s Not Who You Think He Is: Dropping Your Assumptions and Discovering God for Yourself, unfinished business will affect our view of God and our relationships with people:
Unfinished (emotional) business in our lives can cause us to doubt God’s care and give us a false impression of who he is.
When we have unfinished business, we can easily develop an unhealthy emotional dependence on people.
He will use every relationship, circumstance, and event in our lives to resolve our unfinished business and inspire us to turn to him.
Russ Ewell, He’s Not Who You Think He Is (pp. 87, 96, 85)
If we do not go to God to resolve and heal that pain, we often turn to building unhealthy relationships with people. People and their attention cannot heal our heart pain; only God can.
It is imperative that we identify those areas in our lives that have caused us pain and turn to God through Bible study and prayer to find healing.
Pause and reflect
- Do I see any ways I forget God throughout my day?
- How much do I prioritize intimacy with God?
- Where do I look for significance?
- What unfinished business do I have?
How to break free from attention-seeking
As for me, all I need is to be close to God. I have made the Lord GOD my place of safety. And, God, I will tell about all that you have done.
Psalm 73:28 ERV
Being close to God is the way to break free from attention-seeking because he is able to meet all of our needs. When we make God the place we go to for safety, encouragement, and security, we will no longer be enslaved to the attention of people.
Here are three choices we can make to change our relationship with God so we can break free from attention-seeking.
1. Choose to be God-focused, not self-absorbed
For it is Christ’s love that fuels our passion and holds us tightly because we are convinced that he has given his life for all of us. This means all died with him,  so that those who live should no longer live self-absorbed lives but lives that are poured out for him—the one who died for us and now lives again.
2 Corinthians 5:14-15 TPT
Something happens inside of us when we are focused on God and the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus’s love and his decision to die for us help us see that we matter to God no matter how much we have blown it or how much we think we have sinned. We see how much we are worth to God.
When we truly appreciate and understand what Jesus’s death on the cross means, we will no longer be absorbed with getting attention for ourselves but rather “fueled” to care about others as Jesus did.
Attention-seeking is self-focused. It is about feeling self-important, but it makes us soul-empty.
Look at that man, bloated by self-importance—full of himself but soul-empty. But the person in right standing before God through loyal and steady believing is fully alive, really alive.
Habakkuk 2:4 MSG
When our focus shifts from ourselves to God, our faith increases and we can let God work in us to love other people instead of using people for attention.
2. Choose to express, not suppress
So let all who are devoted to You speak honestly to You now, while You are still listening. For then when the floods come, surely the rushing water will not even reach them.  You are my hiding place. You will keep me out of trouble and envelop me with songs that remind me I am free.
Psalm 32:6-7 Voice
Growing up, I always bottled up my emotions, desires, and sins and kept them inside. This “suppression” made me hard-hearted and distant, which made me actually want and need attention more. My heart still craved love, but I was resistant to going deep. I couldn’t get my needs met through intimate relationships, so I turned to attention as a substitute.
God does not want us to live that way, but instead to be free. When we “speak honestly” to God and friends, our vulnerability enables us to get our needs met in a healthy way. He is able to fill us up with love, faith, and internal strength.
3. Choose to love people, not use them
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.
1 Peter 1:22 NIV
Attention seekers use other people as a way to feel better about themselves or to fill a void inside. When we decide to obey the Bible, God purifies our hearts and gives us sincere, heartfelt love for other people.
Jesus loved people and sacrificed for them, not just on the cross but in everyday life. When we choose to live like Jesus and love people, we start serving people instead of using them. We are involved in doing good and helping people rather than always trying to get their approval. When we learn to love, we learn to live for a purpose and people’s lives are changed.
Pause and reflect
- Which of these choices can I make today?
- How can I love and serve those in my family and community today?
Seeking attention instead of seeking God is something anyone can struggle with. We now know the signs, so we can identify them in our lives. We have discovered why we crave the attention of people, and how to break free from it so that we can seek intimacy from God instead. God wants us to live a free life and love people. The question for all of us now is, will we seek attention today or seek God?