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Have you had it with that friend, coworker, or partner who has an unusual habit of soliciting favorable comments about themselves? Did you know it's called “fishing for compliments?”
Yes, and I wonder how much more of this attention-seeking behavior you can take. You're probably annoyed by having to constantly think of nice things to say to stroke their ego.
However, at Happier Human, we try to help you understand people's behaviors, how to empathize, and find practical solutions. In fact, we all like to hear good things about ourselves. But someone who is habitually going out of their way to be noticed? Now that calls for a discussion.
I'll explain what it means to fish for compliments and provide examples. After that, we'll get to the bottom of why people seek attention and how to address it.
What Does Fishing for Compliments Mean?
The phrase “fishing for compliments” is an idiom or form of expression that means you or someone else is trying to get people to say nice things about them. It's called fishing because it's done in a way to “bait” someone into offering you praise.
Not only that, it's typically a constant and often annoying need for admiration. Interestingly, those who do this aren't necessarily conscious of the behavior.
Telltale Signs Someone Is Fishing for Compliments
It may not occur to you that a certain person in your circle is seeking attention. They may do it in a subtle way, unless of course, they are a grandiose and braggadocios narcissist.
If the individual has an insatiable desire for recognition, they are likely to habitually engage in one or more of the following behaviors:
Fishing for Compliments Using Reverse Psychology
People who search for praise do not always come straight out and prompt you to say something pleasant about them. They sometimes use what is called reverse psychology to elicit compliments.
According to BetterHelp.com, reverse psychology is, “a method of trying to make someone do what you want by asking them to do the opposite and expecting them to disagree with you.” Some psychological experts describe it as a manipulative tactic.
In this case, the individual says something negative about themselves in hopes that you will debunk it and offer kind words. For example, your friend may criticize her looks. That's the bait. You bite the bait and respond by reassuring her that she looks beautiful.
Now, it's helpful to note that this is often done unconsciously. In other words, your friend may not say, “Here she comes! Let me try and get her to say something sweet about me.”
Examples of Fishing for Compliments
Individuals who goad others into recognizing their looks, possessions, or accomplishments do so in obvious or sneaky ways. You may not spot their “look at me” tactics when they do or say the following:
7 Reasons Why People Seek Attention
According to Healthline, “attention-seeking behavior is a conscious or unconscious attempt to become the center of attention…” Fishing for compliments is an obvious way to get noticed, but there are others including causing drama, seeking sympathy, and getting into controversial discussions on social media.
The behavior is often driven by a personality or psychiatric issue that manifests as low self-esteem, a need for admiration or validation, jealousy, loneliness, or personality disorders.
#1. They have low self-esteem
Low self-esteem, in simple terms, is feeling bad about oneself or unworthy most of the time. Those who struggle with the state of mind have a negative view of themselves, criticize themselves harshly, and doubt their abilities.
Negative self-perception may stem from early childhood trauma, e.g., neglect or abuse, as well as a chronic illness, such as anxiety. Other reasons include harsh criticisms from caregivers or being told their looks or abilities don't measure up to their siblings and peers.
Fishing for compliments, and getting them, might serve as a coping strategy and a confidence booster. Getting noticed provides them with reassurance that they are valuable, loved, and accepted.
#2. They need admiration
Someone may attempt to become the center of attention for two main reasons. They want to be seen and they want to be admired. It can be as simple as that. The obvious question that follows is, “Why?” They're insecure. Plain and simple.
Secure individuals have healthy self-esteem and are able to navigate life as well as challenges without soliciting admiration. On the other hand, insecure people are unable to self-soothe and build themselves up. As a result, they're forced to seek that sense of “wholeness” externally.
Take the narcissist, for example, someone who deep down inside feels inferior and struggles with chronic low self-esteem. A classic trait of narcissism is an excessive need for admiration and narcissists wouldn't think twice to manipulate compliments from others.
Otherwise, they'll persistently brag about having power, wealth, social status, and extraordinary abilities (grandiosity). They continuously do this throughout their lives to amass praise, which serves as narcissistic fuel for boosting their fragile ego.
#3. They need external validation
Validation in this context means seeking recognition, acknowledgment, acceptance, or approval. The person may seek approval of their opinions, behavior, performance, appearance, or achievements. Getting recognition or affirmation makes them feel important and worthy.
The need for constant external validation arises from the way you were nurtured. For example, growing up in an environment where you were seen and applauded for good performance.
Your parents may stop this practice once you become an adult, leaving you to crave positive reinforcement elsewhere. Conversely, you weren’t praised enough as a child or were frequently criticized for “not doing enough.” The experience can lead to fishing for compliments in adulthood.
Note that some of us are capable of self-validating and therefore don't necessarily go seeking it or feel unworthy if we fail to receive recognition, even when it's deserving. For example, after graduating from college magna cum laude.
However, someone who uses external validation to self-affirm or feel better about themselves can wind up feeling sad and rejected if the compliments they expect don't come their way.
#4. They are jealous
Jealousy can incite look-at-me behaviors if the person experiencing it feels their friend or work colleague, for example, is getting all the attention. In this case, feeling jealous seems rooted in self-centeredness, or a chronic desire to shift focus to oneself.
The person may instantly insert themselves into a conversation and begin highlighting their positive qualities. They'll compare themselves favorably to get positive reviews or diminish their friend or colleague in the eyes of others.
Romantic relationships can turn toxic and plagued with accusations of infidelity when this type of jealousy is involved. Although the accusations may be unfounded, the jealous partner is often successful in getting their partner to focus on their feelings, wants, and needs.
#5. They are lonely
Loneliness is a state of mind and feeling that stem from isolation, but can be felt even when surrounded by people. Introverts, seniors, and individuals grieving a loss are among those who are at risk.
The feeling is often linked to low self-esteem, anxiety, prolonged sadness, and depression. The absence of loved ones during the holidays commonly triggers feelings of loneliness.
Even people who don’t normally engage in attention-seeking behavior might start fishing for compliments due to loneliness. Think of it as a cry for help.
They may turn the spotlight on themselves on social media to feel connected, garner sympathy, or empathy. Getting that attention might be their way of cheering themselves up when they're feeling down.
#6. They are genuinely proud of themselves
An eagerness to share their victories and achievements with others can be a positive thing if the intention is a genuine display of pride. Not the egotistical type of pride. It's the type of humble pride that conveys that they're proud of themselves and their success.
For example, posting on social media to announce that they “passed the bar,” got their driver's license, or landed their dream job.
These achievements create a burst of excitement and should be shared with friends and loved ones. Right? In this case, the act isn't driven by low self-esteem or a need for admiration and validation. It's more an act of self-love.
They're just happy to celebrate themselves with others and aren't stopping to count “like” “comments,” and “compliments.”
So go ahead and tell them you're proud of them. Giving them the praise they deserve for their hard work and sacrifice can serve as inspiration for greater success.
#7. They have a personality disorder
People with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), histrionic personality disorder (HPD), and borderline personality disorder (BPD) engage in attention-seeking behaviors. The root cause is the nature of these disorders themselves and the individuals aren't always able to control their impulsive actions.
- Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)
Narcissism is rooted in chronic low self-esteem which manifests in narcissistic behaviors, such as exaggerated speech and a sense of entitlement.
Narcissists are notorious for hijacking the conversation so as to redirect attention to themselves. These behaviors are designed to get attention and admiration, which helps boost their self-esteem.
- Histrionic personality disorder (HPD)
HPD is among a group of disorders called “dramatic personality disorders.” Seeking attention is a primary feature. People with HPD crave the spotlight, act overly dramatic or theatrical to get noticed and get upset when attention is shifted away from them.
Because they struggle with a distorted self-image and unstable emotions, there's an overwhelming need for approval and compliments to make them feel good about themselves.
- Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
BPD is also one of the dramatic personality disorders. Low self-esteem, unstable moods, and fear of abandonment are at the core of the disorder. Those factors help explain why those with BPD seek attention and validation in intense and disruptive ways.
However, negative attention-seeking, e.g., through angry outbursts, creates unstable relationships for people with BPD.
How to Respond When Someone Is Fishing for Compliments
Individuals fish for recognition and praise and use other tactics to make themselves the center of attention for various reasons. Many times, they do so in unhealthy and disturbing ways, whether on purpose or unconsciously. Friends and loved ones get tired of having to stroke their egos and may distance themselves.
I've seen articles that encourage us to change the topic or ignore or avoid these individuals. These are temporary solutions. They'll keep coming back, which can lead to more annoyance or anger. In fact, how would you feel if you were treated this way?
Empathetic Ways to Handle Attention-Seeking Adults
While avoiding and ignoring may work for strangers, these approaches aren't necessarily healthy solutions when the person involved is a family member. Instead, trying to understand the motivation behind the behavior allows you to empathize.
If the behavior is affecting you or your relationship, have a sit-down conversation. Explain what you've observed and how you feel. You might be the first to bring the practice to their attention. You could even encourage your loved one to seek behavioral therapy or try mindfulness and affirmations for building self-confidence.
A therapist can help your loved one get to the root of the problem. Behavioral therapy also involves providing tools to help them build self-esteem and self-validate.
Mindfulness is a technique your loved one can use to train themselves to recognize, in the present moment, when they're about to solicit admiration. They'll be able to catch themselves and tame the desire for the spotlight.
Affirmations are phrases spoken to affirm positive beliefs about yourself. Some are specifically intended to help boost self-confidence and self-esteem. Here are a few examples. “I am a good person, and I don’t need to prove it to anyone.” “I approve of myself, and that’s the only approval I need.”
Final Thoughts on Fishing for Compliments and Seeking Attention
Look at me! Dealing with individuals who, essentially, keep begging you to look at, feel sorry for, or compliment them can be a major turn-off.
Remember, it's often done unconsciously, particularly by those with histrionic, borderline, and narcissistic personality disorders. In such cases, you can't help but empathize with them. And if you recognize ongoing attention-seeking behaviors in yourself, there are things you can do to overcome this.
For starters, you can work on building self-confidence or speak with a behavioral therapist. One final piece of advice, Don’t Beg for Attention in a Relationship: 9 Things to Do Instead.