The concept of an attention-seeking Introvert might sound odd. But if you have that reaction you may be drawing a false equivalency between extraversion and attention-seeking, which are actually two different things.

In reality, both Introverts and Extraverts can engage in attention-seeking behavior. They want others to see them, acknowledge them, appreciate them and recognize them for their skills, talents, achievements and admirable characteristics, and they are willing to take steps to make that happen.

Even though Introverts are less sociable than Extraverts in general, that doesn’t mean they want to be isolated from everyone or spend their days hiding in the shadows.  All humans are social animals, and that can lead to attention-seeking behavior at any time.

Why Introverts sometimes become attention-seekers

Have you ever auditioned to perform in a community play? Have you joined a local choir and then eagerly seized the opportunity to sing a solo at a concert? Have you self-published a book of short stories or a novel, and then made a real effort to publicize it? Do you enjoy competing in athletic contests where there are big crowds present? Do you sometimes say provocative or shocking things you may not entirely believe, just to get a response? Do you sometimes make unconventional or even bizarre fashion choices, to show off your creativity? Do you tend to become overly dramatic when something doesn’t go your way?

If you’re an Introvert and answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, you just might be an attention-seeker of the Introverted variety.

But what is this behavior all about? Why are you sometimes so anxious to be the center of attention, if even for a little while?

If you want more attention from friends, family members, employers or co-workers in general, it means you’re feeling unfulfilled in those relationships. You want attention because it’s something you haven’t been getting, and you need it to feel like your efforts to grow and achieve and be kind have been recognized by the people in your social network. You want them to notice your sacrifices and unselfish deeds and be moved by them. You also want to be sure they still feel the same level of affection for you that they did in the past.

In other instances, your quest for attention will emerge from a desire to be recognized for your skills, talents or recent accomplishments. That recognition could come from close family members or total strangers, it really doesn’t matter as long as it comes. When you’re feeling good about something you’ve done, some milestone you’ve reached, it feels nice to hear others cheering for you or congratulating you for your astounding success.

Attention-seeking Introverts aren’t completely dependent on the praise of others to make them feel validated and happy.  But when someone does offer encouraging words or other rewards, the attention-seeking Introvert will feel like they’re walking on air.  

Signs that you may be an attention-seeking Introvert (the healthy kind)

Do you belong in the category of the attention-seeking Introvert? If so it will be reflected in your attitudes and preferences.

You could be an attention-seeking Introvert if:

  • You aren’t always modest. In theory you always try to maintain a humble façade. But in reality your modesty sometimes takes a backseat to your urge to be recognized. When the mood strikes, you may speak openly and with a hint of boastfulness about your various accomplishments in sports, academics, music, art or in your career, as you seek to impress your friends enough to get them to comment.
  • You want recognition, but not too much. You feel good when you’re recognized. But most times a quick acknowledgement is more than enough to satisfy you. If people go on and on about how amazing you are, you’ll become uncomfortable and will try to change the subject.
  • You want acknowledgment and praise, but only on occasion. Even though you like attention and enjoy it when it comes, you don’t need people to be praising you all the time to be happy. If they notice and acknowledge some of your accomplishments, that is all you need.
  • You feel hurt or disappointed when people talk about themselves but don’t ask about you. Most Introverts are excellent listeners who are comfortable with interactions that focus on the other person’s interests or accomplishments. But if you’re an attention-seeking Introvert you will feel hurt if your talents and achievements are constantly ignored or overlooked. 
  • You notice attention-seeking behavior in others. When someone else is anxious to be praised or asked about what they’ve been up to, you’ll be able to spot both the verbal and non-verbal clues. No matter how subtle they think they’re being, people who want some positive attention will reveal it in one way or another, and your skill in detecting it is a testament to your familiarity with the attention-seeking concept.
  • When you do notice attention-seeking behavior in others, you’re understanding rather than judgmental. While others may assume that attention-seeking is a negative trait, your reaction to attention-seeking is more empathetic. You see it as a natural human response to being ignored for too long, and when you’re around an attention-seeker you’re likely to give them the attention they crave.
  • You notice the attention others are getting and feel envy. When you see other people around you being complimented for their successes, you hope and expect to receive the same type of attention. If you’re left out, you may catch yourself feeling envious of the person who got the attention you wanted. Your envy may not last long, but if you’re being honest with yourself you’ll admit it was there.
  • You’re aware of the negative thoughts other people have about you. Attention-seeking Introverts are always watching and interpreting other people’s body language. As a result you know how to judge the emotional content and true meaning of various facial expressions, eye movements, body movements, postures, gestures and vocal tones. You can see right through feigned politeness, and if other people are uncomfortable around you, you won’t be fooled by their attempts to hide it.
  • You’re sensitive to rejection or any perceived slight. The opposite side of wanting positive attention is being extremely bothered by criticism or rejection. You desire praise yet are overly sensitive to the negative judgments of others, which from your perspective are highly unfair. While you may believe in constructive criticism in theory, you find it impossible to interpret others’ critiques of you in that way.

How attention-seeking is misunderstood, and why it isn’t so terrible after all

Attention-seeking is often used as a pejorative term. But if you think about it a bit, this is a curious tendency.

Even the most introverted Introvert can become lonely, or feel emotionally unfulfilled if they lack contact with other human beings or if their relationships have become detached or distant. In these circumstances seeking the attention of other people is a natural behavior, since good relationships are built on mutual support and acknowledgment.

When you’re feeling socially isolated or lonely (and who hasn’t felt that way at some point in their lives?), it is entirely normal to seek the attention of other people, to do anything you can think of to impress them or otherwise capture their attention. Everyone wants to be appreciated for who they are and what they’ve done, at least some of the time.

No one would question an Extravert who seeks the attention of other people, since it is known that Extraverts have an inherent need to socialize and interact with other people frequently. While Introverts may not want to engage in social discourse as often as Extraverts, they still need human contact, and what they want to gain from that contact is exactly the same as what Extraverts want—acknowledgment, respect, affection and understanding.

None of this is to deny that attention-seeking behavior can be negative at times. It certainly can, if it is done for the wrong reasons.

For example, attention-seeking will be negative if it is inspired by jealousy or envy. Attention-seeking is also unhealthy if it is motivated by low self-esteem. It is certainly negative if done for narcissistic purposes, by someone who needs to be told over and over again how wonderful and special they are even if they’ve done nothing to earn such lofty praise.

But this type of behavior is only found on one end of the attention-seeking spectrum. Comparing the two contrasting ends, there is a huge difference between narcissistically-motivated attention-seeking and attention-seeking that reflects a desire to be valued and celebrated. Attention-seeking of the latter sort is driven by universal needs and emotions, which makes this activity neither unusual nor shameful. In fact, it makes you a completely normal human being.

Nathan Falde
Nathan Falde has been working as a freelance writer for the past six years. His ghostwritten work and bylined articles have appeared in numerous online outlets, and in 2014-2015 he acted as co-creator for a series of eBooks on the personality types. An INFJ and a native of Wisconsin, Nathan currently lives in Bogota, Colombia with his wife Martha and their son Nicholas.