I’ve spent my lifetime, silently watching and listening. Wondering. Why do some people seem to continually be surrounded by difficulties? My heart would break and I would step in to help. Then, I stumbled across unfamiliar terminology – excessive attention seeking disorder. Did you know that for some people, receiving attention gives them a chemical high, similar to a drug hit? Excessive attention seeking or addiction to drama is very real and this enslavement reaches outward and affects everyone that comes into contact with the drama junkie. If someone that you care about seems to crave excessive attention, there are reasons for this behavior. This post is not intended to offer in depth scientific evidence, or a cure but instead I hope to provide clarity and understanding to the one who suffers from second-hand drama. Please allow me a few moments to take what I have learned and break it down into a very simple explanation, then we’ll look at your role in the drama.
Research shows that when a developing child feels neglect, their brain interprets this as danger and wires itself to survive within this environment. This wiring for survival trains a developing mind to do whatever is necessary to attract the craved attention, even if it’s extreme. Sometimes this means creating turmoil by making decisions that cause difficulties. These behaviors attract attention which then trigger a chemical reaction in the brain, similar to a drug high and the behaviors have now been rewarded and reinforced. You see, endorphins and dopamine are released which suppress pain and bring feelings of happiness. This becomes a cycle, where the end goal is a reward of short lived feelings of elation – then the cycle begins again. Just like any other addiction, a tolerance is built up and it will require a bigger and better crisis to achieve the good feelings. Here’s the cherry on top. Researchers believe that a consequence of neglect is a smaller hypothalamus gland in the brain. The hypothalamus plays a key role in sleep, body temperature regulation, hunger, healthy parenting and processing of the “feel good” chemical, serotonin. When the brain doesn’t efficiently process serotonin, problems occur. Have you noticed that your attention getter struggles with other addictions, obsessions or depression? It is common for the addiction to drama and excessive attention seeking, to accompany other addictions such as food or substances – legal or illegal, or obsessive tendencies and depression. This is the serotonin link. So, now that we have a better understanding, how can this intrusion into your life be managed?
First, realize that enabling the behavior isn’t helpful. If you care about someone who exhibits these behaviors, maybe it has felt easier to let the turmoil and crisis roll in, or maybe you’ve been helping them feed their other addictions, but if you have influence in their life, it might be time for you to confront them with truth in a loving manner. Second, never minimize the great transforming power that God can exercise in our lives when we are willing participants in His work in us – pray for them. Encourage them in the following areas. Contentment – loving what we already have more than what we don’t have. Forgiveness – forgiving our parents or other caregivers from our developing years is crucial. Acceptance – realizing and accepting that sometimes other humans only have so much to give and that sometimes it just doesn’t feel like enough. Self-control – encourage them to make sound decisions. Belief – remind them of God’s everlasting love and encourage them to read God’s word and devour it. We all benefit by being continually reminded of the great love that God has for us and His unmerited favor upon each of us.
One last thought – if you are exhausted by someone like this and you are tempted to remove yourself from their drama, it might be necessary to do so, but remember that 1st Thessalonians tells us to be tender and patient toward those that are weak. This person probably has a root of hurt that goes deep. If you have a influential relationship with this person, God could be calling you to help them. Without enabling the behavior, you can present the truth in a loving and supportive manner.