“Confessions of an Attention Seeker” by biblical counselor Julie Ganschow first appeared on her blog and kindly gave her permission for us to reprint it. –Ed.
Recently I had the pleasure of ministering to a woman I will call Ruth. Ruth has given me permission to share her story with you. She is a bubbly, friendly woman with a loud, booming voice. She has infectious laughter and appears to be ready for fun and fellowship at any time.
Ruth came for biblical help because she had been told by her sister that she was tired of being a part of Ruth’s drama-filled life. The sister effectively cut off all ties. This was not the first time Ruth heard this. In fact, Ruth had experienced a steady loss of friends and acquaintances over the years for the same stated reason.
Her sister was the last close relationship Ruth had. Her parents were deceased. Long ago, her brother had gone away because he “couldn’t handle my life either.” She was lonely, sad, and couldn’t understand why she was unable to maintain long-term relationships with anyone!
Ruth’s said her life was always in some kind of upheaval. Things were always happening to her. And she seemed to always be in need of emotional and physical support. Her life was always in turmoil.
Drama for Attention?
Ruth has several problems that add to her difficulties and her needs. She suffered an injury from a piece of farming equipment that has left her unable to work or provide for herself in a meaningful way. Her poor mobility has in part contributed to a significant weight problem. She tells me she has other problems too that no medical doctor or reliable testing will confirm. Collections of symptoms and feelings that line up with numerous possible diagnosis but for which she repeatedly tests negative.
At this point, after hundreds of thousands of dollars in testing, her team of medical professionals have recommended she seek psychiatric care. Ruth has been down that road before. She has been on several psychotropic medications over the years. She doesn’t like the way she feels while on them, so she has discontinued them on her own (not recommended!) in the past. Ruth tells me the medications make it difficult to feel any emotions at all.
After listening to her over several sessions I conclude (and Ruth agrees) that where there is no drama, she creates drama. When there is no crisis, she manufactures one. Whether for good reasons or bad reasons, Ruth has to be the center of attention.
Manipulation, Rescuers, and “Fixers”
As a result of our biblical discipleship times, Ruth learned she was manipulation in her relationships. Suffering and hardship (either physical or emotional) were the tools she used to manipulate people. She admitted to thriving on the attention gained when her life was in turmoil. There was always a compassionate listening ear, someone to comfort her, care for her, and support her.
Ruth’s friends, church members, and sister became her her rescuers and her “fixers.” At the beginning of each new crisis, her friends would rally around her and give her as much time as she needed when they came to her aid. When the crisis were seemingly never ending, the help and support dwindled. This caused Ruth to escalate the level and intensity of the crisis to churn up the attention she craved. Over a period of years Ruth effectively burned out every friendship, acquaintance, and avenue of support. She was now alone.
Solution to Attention Seeking
To help Ruth in overcoming this sinful pattern of living we looked at the thoughts, beliefs, and desires of her heart that were feeding her behaviors. In addition to reading through the book of Philippians as homework, Ruth made a list of the five most recently ended relationships and what they had in common. Over a period of weeks, she added what she recalled were her thoughts, desires, motives, feelings, and beliefs during those relationships and then the results were listed. It was clear to Ruth that she was focused exclusively on herself and her self-worship crowded out any room for worship of God and service to others.
We focused on Chapter 2 of Philippians and how her actions were polar opposite of Christ’s.
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:3-5
Tool to Help Stop Attention Seeking
Ruth carried a ‘Thought Journal’ with her and logged her thoughts throughout the day. She brought it with her to our weekly appointments, and we combed through it identifying her sinful thoughts, beliefs, and desires for attention. She learned to put off her selfish desires and asked the Lord to help her to develop the desire to outdo others in showing honor and preference to others in her church (Romans 12:10). Every time she was tempted to create drama or seek attention she checked her heart motives against Scripture. She learned to ask herself some tough questions such as,
“Will sharing this honor God?”
“Is this a legitimate need, or am I seeking attention right now?”
“What/Who am I thinking about right now?”
I encouraged Ruth to go to those people who she sinned against by her attention-seeking behaviors and confess her sin to them and ask for their forgiveness as a part of repentance. I warned her they would be wary of her professions of change. It would take time for trust to be earned. She also understood some relationships may never be restored.
In Process and Living More Like Christ
Ruth is still working on her program of repentance and change. She still struggles with temptation toward attention seeking, but has made huge strides toward serving others and honoring God by how she lives her life.
I asked her if there was one thing she wanted to say to those who have the same kinds of attention-seeking behaviors: “I was so selfish I was ruining my life and damaging my friendships. Eventually, people stopped paying attention to me because nobody wants to put up with a drama queen. People grow tired of being used and manipulated after a while. If this is you, what you’re doing is very dishonoring to God and you need to change and repent.”