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Craving Attention

Question:

I am 29, female, married for 2 years. I have a serious problem with craving for attention. In every relationship or when I am in a crowd, I am obsessed with being at the center of attention. I will go to any lengths to get attention. When I do not get attention, even for a short while, I act in a manner that impairs my relationship with people around me. Some of these people are people I know for years and are important to me. Probably this is because I received extra attention as a kid. I send emails to people just to get a response, and when I don’t get it, I get wild. I take up jobs like teaching, so people are forced to give me attention… This is ruining my life and my relationships. I am getting into serious arguments, totally because of my fault. I am also resorting to crazy and harmful resolution mechanisms.

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Answer:

You have enough insight to know that what you are doing isn’t working, but it isn’t enough to stop you from doing it. This is common, as your cravings are very likely to be highly emotional in nature, while your understanding of your issues is merely rational. Emotion almost always trumps rationality in this most imperfect world of ours. Or, at least it is a struggle for everyone to behave rationally when they are in distress.

Clearly, it is not enough for you to merely understand your issue. Instead, you have to learn to recognize when you are about to do something self-destructive before it happens, and to then act on this insight so as to do something that will feel quite distinctly weird at first; to act in a more healthy way instead of the seductively self-destructive way. This is a hard and difficult process, very much like learning to live sober when you’re an addict. It is best done under the supervision of a skilled psychotherapist, preferably one of the cognitive-behavioral persuasion. A therapist whom you work with on a regular basis is important, because you are in the habit of doing things one way, and without the regular guidance, supervision and accountability that a therapist can provide, you won’t break that habit. Therapy that will benefit you best will need to be gentle but constantly there for a long period of time not unlike braces for your teeth. Without the therapist, there is no corrective pressure to push you in the right direction. A behavioral therapist is important, because you need more than just understanding, compassion and good will to make changes. What you need is an engineer who will help you dissect your problem behavior, identify the complex chain of events that leads you to do self-destructive things, understand your ‘triggers’ and help you develop viable alternative behaviors.

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