Below is a brief dialogue between two individuals, a narcissist and the target. These people could represent romantic partners, friends, or even family members in a parent-child relationship, for example.
PERSON 1/NARC (enters the living room, clears their throat, and coughs) You love me, right? What would you do if I weren’t here?
PERSON 2/TARGET (looks up from their book and grins) Of course I love you. I don’t want to imagine losing you!
By no means is every interaction similar to the one above automatically riddled with narcissism. However, if you’ve ever experienced narcissism or narcissistic abuse, does this exchange sound or feel familiar? If so, you may know that narcissists frequently exhibit exasperating, attention-seeking behaviors. It’s likely that you also resonate with the emotional depletion that stems from their excessive demands for admiration.
Ultimately, narcissists navigate the world sporting a false self or façade that prevents them from empathizing with others or connecting with their humanity—traits or imperfections that confirm their human status. The false self entails various disguises that narcissists wear year-round in order to avoid coming to terms with fact that they genuinely despise themselves. Thus, in order to reinforce their façades, narcissists require a 24-hour, on-call worker to be readily available to repair and maintain their wounded, fragile egos. Overall, the narcissist relies on the target to inflate their distorted sense of otherworldly significance.
Although the target in the above dialogue may not be aware of it yet, attention-seeking combined with narcissism is unflattering—and it’s definitely not a love gesture. Instead, it’s like a toxic concoction that’s purely one-sided and transactional—free of genuine emotions and connection. For the narcissist, attention-seeking is strictly business—comparable to a routine inventory check that must be completed in order to discern whether or not the narcissistic supply stock is still accessible, plentiful, and able to fuel the superficial superiority tank. If the narcissist senses that the stock is low or missing—which could represent the target planning to initiate no contact soon, for example—the target should expect to either be idealized, devalued, or discarded.
Here are two narcissistic attention-seeking indicators to beware of:
- Your rights, needs, and boundaries are irrelevant. Attention-seeking narcissists tend to be highly intrusive, willing to ignore your boundaries without hesitation—or prevent you from asserting yourself at all. Overall, your needs rank lower in comparison to their grandeur needs and appetite—which is ravenous and can never wait for feeding time. Narcissists also use shame as a rod to reel in their targets, play with their emotions, and pry the validation out of them. They may even resort to ‘guilt-tripping’ or ‘pulling at heart strings’, especially if the target refuses to immediately relinquish narcissistic supply. This is typically the scene during which the drama enhances and the victim false self enters stage left.
- Your love is tested, and you witness the hero complex. Whenever they’re on an attention-seeking spree, narcissists often take their inflated, balloon-like sense of superiority to the next atmospheric layer. They manipulate targets, influencing them to believe that they are somehow indebted or unable to function and thrive without them. Narcissists accomplish this by testing love—which is something that we witnessed via the interaction presented at the beginning of this article. They also tend to adopt a hero complex that is completely void of authentic altruism.