Confessions Of An Attention Whore

Why I Never Learned to Give Up The Spotlight

I repeat my joke for the third, miserable time to my semi-circle of jovial friends.

“We heard you, Luke,” my pal politely reminds me.

I sit back down, smile receding. My plea for my peer’s collective attention has failed. But in all honesty, that’s not going to stop me from trying again in a couple of minutes. Some topic or another will pop up later in this hangout and then I’ll think of something absolutely too clever to keep to myself and my brain will tell my mouth to say it and without thinking my mouth will say it and everybody will laugh and then I’ll have the spotlight to myself once again. Then I’ll have my fix, my drug. Then I’ll be comfortable again, if only for a moment. There’s probably some longer, more technically appropriate name for this malady, though as far as I’m concerned, I’m an attention whore, and I think I always will be.

Everybody has that friend in their group who just won’t shut up sometimes. If you don’t, chances are, you’re that friend. “Shut up” is the wrong phrase to use here. It’s not just words that bring attention to oneself, after all. For the average spotlight junkie, they will do just about anything for the attention they need, the attention they pine for. I’ve been outright rude, pranked my friends to the extreme, damaged property, and actually forced myself to be shy and off-putting for the sake of others’ validation. The way I see it (justify it) is that we all have are own means and ways of socializing; some people are much better at it than others. The issue is, in it’s simplest form, a dumbed down evolution of social awkwardness, and learning to deal with that in a world that demands higher social understanding. Being a spotlight junkie has no real influence on personality, rather, it’s a necessary motive behind the bulk of one’s words and actions. I know attention whores who are extroverted and rambunctious and others who are timid, troubled homebodies. That doesn’t change the fact that these individuals retain immense pleasure from any type of attention they can muster up. It goes farther than just pleasure though. Pleasure is a luxury, something extra, like taking yourself out to dinner or watching a funny movie. Attention, to me and others in similar situations, is more like the equivalent of washing hands for a germaphobic person. I/We feel emptier when I/we step out of the spotlight. It’s an addiction with psychological roots that I struggle with explaining accurately and fairly.

While I don’t claim to be a voice for the entirety of the spotlight junkie population, I know that some, if not all, of the following themes ring true with other’s grappling with the same issue. From repeated experiences and by talking to others who feel compelled by the same urges, I will attempt to describe what it’s like living with this unfulfillable yearning for center stage. I’m writing this op-ed simply to stand as a piece of informative literature for those who cope with these same undeniable temptations on a daily basis. And now I’m sounding over dramatic. It is by no means a burden or struggle being an attention whore, but it is distinctly confusing at times, and I know that I sometimes wish I had somebody to talk to about these feelings. So here it goes…

First off, there are a hell of a lot of ways to get people’s attention. As a toddler and into my early childhood, my main method for seizing the spotlight came from my oddly low tolerance for pain. I cried…like a baby…a lot. It didn’t matter if whatever happened to me genuinely made me upset or not. I just knew that if I let tears hit the ground, an adult would be by my side in seconds with a juice box in hand and an “Are you okay, sweetie?” at the ready. I couldn’t have cared less for the juice, truthfully. I cried at my friends’ houses, at family events, at home, and sometimes at school if the situation called for it. Being a cry baby was the only pathetic means I had for the spotlight I so desired. I had a few close friends who stayed with me throughout elementary school for some reason (shoutsout Lizzie Dove) but for the most part, I was an indoor kid who liked video games and exploring the countryside by my house; a loner who was happy with being one. As I mentioned earlier, spotlight junkies can be introverted, though at this time, my craving for attention hadn’t fully manifested. I was a content little momma’s boy who cried too easily and got bored too fast. This went on for a little while.

Flash forward to my freshman year of high school. I “come out of my shell,” so to speak, and at this point, the attention admirer is a full-blown attention whore. I can’t remember a more monumental moment in my career of social neediness than the first time I cracked a joke in class, and my classmates, who I hardly knew at this point, laughed along with me. It was like discovering masterbation for the first time, only for my teenage ego. This is a feeling I imagine is more relatable than others. We’ve all all had something close to our fifteen minutes and whether that’s a surprise party thrown in our honor or a congratulations from a close friend, it feels good to receive special recognition every once in a while. For some people, this attention is embarrassing and unnecessary. For others it feels good, pleasurable, encouraging. And yet for others, it feels like an attempt to sate an unquenchable thirst.

My desire for affirmation continued to grow and grow throughout an undulating high school run. In all of the extracurricular activities I endeavored, I would employ my false sense of wit for friends, love, and most importantly, that sweet, sweet attention. Be it a theatrical production or a simple joke to the kid next to me at lunch, the flow of endorphins to the brain released from “Ha ha, nice one, Luke,” was enough to get me through the next hour with a content psyche. It was around this time that I realized that I could get attention for stuff without actually being present. My adjacent love for writing blossomed into another means for attention. This allowed me to stream two of my loves into one. I’d write songs or stories and share them with my friends, encouraging them to give me feedback, be it good or bad. Like I said, I just needed affirmation, not their praise.

The body of egocentric tendencies in my personality has developed into the point where it is today. I still strongly feel that the most important aspect of the relationship I have with my dramatic side is the constant and conflicting desire to be in the spotlight and out of it at the same time. This is not a new and noble idea for many like me. One’s presence of ego is also not affected by their level of confidence. Many (many) of my close friends battle with depression or have fought the beast at some point in their young lives. Many of them are self-loathing and listless, turning to either self abuse or mental sabotage because they don’t get the attention they deserve and need. In this regard, we are all attention whores. We all need love and affirmation and this idea too is not a modern one. While I will try to remain on the initial topic of this post, I feel that this fact of life is too important to omit. It has taken a good twenty years of gradual realization to come to terms with this: treat others how you would want to be treated, plain and simple.

Being socially licentious forces one to be inventive in how they get their fix for the day. Attention whores clamber for their drug in surprisingly creative ways, though I think most are obvious from an early age. The mamma’s boys, the needy kids will age into them, but the possibilities for how they acquire that maternal love in the adult world are limitless. For me personally, and I think others as well, social settings (parties, hangouts, etc) are just one avenue to take for the drug we/they yearn for. As I mentioned, many people put their liveliness into their work, entirely expecting the end result to be attention. This way, we/they can kill two birds with one stone, fulfilling a creative outlet and simultaneously getting the affirmation we/they needed all along. Social media has undeniably changed the game for attention whores. You guys all know that one dude who posts a status every goddamn second. “Adam is eating a bagel!” then, moments later, “Adam is at the movies!” and then, “Adam is going to bed!” Jesus, Adam! We get it! Right?! I implore you to try and understand the side of the coin Adam sees in this internet exchange that clogs up your ever-so-important Facebook feed. Adam might be an attention whore who struggles with self-importance as much as the next clinically depressed victim. Don’t assume that Adam has nothing better to do with his free time, because for Adam, Facebook or Twitter or Instagram might be the only outlet he has to relieve this pressure he feels on a daily basis.

Many spotlight junkies are also unbelievably self conscious. This doesn’t necessarily mean we show it publicly, though it is possible that we are directly affected by others opinions. Fear of not receiving affirmation can affect one’s decision as much as that thirst for attention. “Do I look good in this shirt?” can be just as much a call for help as running through the streets naked, unafraid of what your neighbor has to say to you. For this reason, it can be frustratingly difficult to pinpoint an attention whore. Does this person genuinely care what others think of them or are they just needy? Sometimes it’s both, but often times, it’s the latter.

As you’ve probably realized by now, “Attention Whore” and “Spotlight Junkie” are unfortunately ambiguous terms that spin this desire for affirmation into a negative light. I don’t mean for this to happen, but it is a necessary reminder for me and the like to stay humble when the urge to blurt something out for the sheer sake of people’s attention hits. I also use these terms as measuring devices more than anything. Being an attention whore doesn’t simply mean you get joy from social engagement, it means you can absolutely not control yourself when put in a social environment to fight for center stage. In my pathetically deprived knowledge of psychological vocabulary, being an “Attention Whore” is similar to — though by no means congruent with — having social communication disorder. In the end, this uncontrollable urge is just that, utterly and impossibly uncontrollable. I wish I had a better explanation for it other than “It’s just who I am, man!” yelled in angst. In this regard, being a social slut is truly a personality “disorder,” in that it is ungovernable, though it should be moderated and dealt with as effectively as possible.

To those of you who find yourself relating to much of this post, I really and truly want you to know that you are not alone. If you’re that friend who is constantly being tolerated rather than enjoyed because you talk too much, know that you are not alone. Being a self-aware attention whore has brought much light to my social location in terms of appreciating the fortune I’ve had so far in my life. If my biggest problem on a given day is that nobody laughed at my jokes or congratulated me for some inconsequential achievement or liked my Facebook status or high fived me, then I think I’m doing all right, and you should also.

To those of you who can not relate to this post, I implore you to try and see this from another’s point of view next time you’re at a party and that one girl keeps throwing herself at boys just to be rejected time and time again. There is a hole that person is trying to fill and it’s not your place to shame that person for searching for an answer. If you know the person well enough, reach out to them. Say to them, “Hey buddy, I appreciate your zeal for life, but maybe tone it down a bit.” After all, the attention whore doesn’t need your love, just your attention. Referring back to my multitude of depressed friends, sometimes, all it takes for them to not pull the trigger is a text asking them how they’re doing that day.


So to all of you, pull up your pants tomorrow morning and don’t stop fighting the good fight! I hope this serviced any and all who needed it, though if I’m being completely honest, a large part of me wrote this so that you all will comment and say nice things about me ;)

I still love the spotlight, and I’m not quite ready to give it up yet. After all, I’m still just now learning how to share it.

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