I'm a traditionalist, so let us begin with the tradition.
My name is Sam Vaknin, and I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, as though you didn't know.
Today, I will be discussing attention-whores.
Attention-whores come in both genders. Both women and men can be attention-whores.
But the scholarly literature indicates that the majority of attention-whores, women with histrionic and borderline personality disorders, the majority of these people are women. So I'm going to use the feminine gender pronouns throughout this text, but bear in mind, there are men who are attention-whores.
Everything I say applies to these men as well.
Not to make the text cumbersome, I will limit myself to women.
Some women, single and married, use male attention to regulate their sense of self-worth. When their self-confidence and self-esteem is at a low ebb when they feel a lack of self-esteem and self-confidence, these so-called attention-whores become flirtatious, seductive. They cock tease and they trade sex for even the most inconsequential signs of attention from a man. It could be a chat, it could be a compliment, it could be small gifts, flowers, a bouquet, or a meal at a restaurant. It's good enough. Even if the attention they get is vulgar and demeaning, even if they are, for example, groped in public or fondled in public, or if they are the targets of lewd, loud, explicit so-called compliments, these women would still prefer it to being ignored.
These women say bad or wrong kind of attention is far better than no attention at all.
Male attention serves a few important psychodynamic functions with these women.
And remember, it applies to men as well.
First of all, the attention that these women get from men reassures the woman of her irresistibility and attractiveness. A woman who is rejected, neglected, abandoned, humiliated, and ignored by her intimate partner, this kind of woman feels compelled to restore her badly eroded self-image.
So what she does, she conducts a poll among other men. She offers her body in exchange for an erectile affirmation, a vote of fluids that she is still irresistibly desirable.
Another function is reasserting control and power of a man via her sex. Such a woman asuages her anxiety, ameliorates her anxiety, reduces it because she assumes that men are misogynistic and hostile and aggressive. She's afraid of men. She actually, in the background, hates men. But above all, she's terrified of them. She's afraid of them.
So what she does, she tames men with her body and that makes her feel safe and reduces her anxiety.
And then, of course, some women are adrenaline junkies. Illicit affairs, cheating, deception, risky and reckless behaviors and situations are all perceived by such a woman as thrilling, breathless adventures which alleviate the tedium of daily life.
This kind of woman is compulsively deceptive. She engages in compulsive cheating. She's addicted to it, actually.
Many of these women sexualize frustration. They act out. Their impulse control is impaired. We will talk about it a bit later.
They use addictive sex and compulsive habitual cheating to avenge themselves. It's a form of revenge.
And then there's the issue of unsafe hunger for intimacy and semblance of emotion. Such hunger is overpowering.
A woman who lacks intimacy in her primary relationship, a woman who doesn't get sex, doesn't get love, doesn't get warmth, doesn't get protection. Such a woman will sometimes provide access to her body in return for even the faint and fake versions of what she creates.
And finally, some women break all boundaries in a feast of unbridled promiscuity. And this is a form of masochistic self-punishment, self-annihilation. It's an affirmation of the woman's deeply ingrained introjects, her inner critic, the voices, the superego that constantly judge her and criticize her and demean her and humiliate her.
So to affirm these voices, to agree with them in order to reduce the inner conflict and the anxiety, to create a kind of truce or ceasefire with these voices, what she does, she becomes a whore. She becomes a bad object. She becomes unworthy of anything better than being pumped and dumped by multiple men.
This way, she kind of makes peace with her inner tribunal, inner court, which tells her mercilessly that she is, you know, a worthless bad object prostitute.
I call some of these phenomena, I call them munchausen by narcissists.
These women sometimes seek interactions and relationships with narcissists in order to be victimized by the narcissist and in this way, secure attention, commiseration, sympathy and resources from mental health professionals, other victims and survivors online, the community or society, and of course, friends and family.
munchausen by narcissist is akin to the two other munchausen syndromes. They are known as factitious disorders.
And all these are observed mostly among women.
In the classic munchausen syndrome, the patient feigns physical illnesses or actually hurts herself, damages her body in order to attract the attention and compassion of medical staff.
In munchausen by proxy, the patient causes other people, usually her own children, to become gravely ill, for example, by poisoning.
And this is in order to become the center of attention, pity and admiration of doctors, nurses and spectators.
Many self-tired so-called empaths are actually codependent enablers.
There is a difference between being compassionate or empathic and between enabling.
So when these women seek the attention of men, they usually would gravitate towards narcissists because this achieves a double goal.
First of all, it regulates self-esteem and self-confidence, as we have discussed.
And the second goal is it renders the woman a victim, and therefore worthy of compassion, attention, mercy, pity, and so on and so forth. So it's like a two-for-one.
And many of these women self-style declare themselves to be empaths, but actually they're not.
What they are, they are codependent enablers.
And there is a difference between being compassionate and empathic, as I said.
Compassion means that you hold a realistic view of your partner, but you refuse to participate in his shared psychosis, in his paranoia, mind games, power plays.
Enabling, on the other hand, means that you aid and affect your significant other. Together with him, you descend into his madness, his personal haters, his mental purgatory, and his fantasies and ideation.
Compassion is about providing your counterpart with external boundaries, checks and balances, control, and a realistic feedback.
Enabling involves fusing and merging with the other, erasing all the boundaries, helping to fend off hurtful reality by becoming delusional jointly.
And you see, this is exactly what happens when attention pours.
They seek attention from men, but they seek it in a way that enables the men.
They become enablers. Together with the men, they create a shared psychosis, where the woman is irresistibly desirable, and the men provide her with her thus fake intimacy, love, and sex.
And together they create this bubble, this utter fantasy, this movie, which has nothing to do with reality. No wonder most of these so-called relationships end up empowering shame and guilt.
Most attention pours are impulsive. Impulsive people act first and consider their options later.
Impaired, deficient, lacking, or absent impulse control serves important psychological needs in the attention pours.
In some mental health pathologies, Cluster B, dramatic personality disorders, mood disorders, and other mental health disorders, unfulfilled or suppressed urges, drives, and impulses give rise to extreme anxiety and stress. Instantly catering to these pressing wishes is the only way to alleviate and ameliorate this inexorably mounting inner volcanic pressure.
So the patient feels her needs as something that is kind of magma, kind of lava, that fulfills her and drives her into intense and extreme anxiety, bordering, I would say, on a kind of micropsychotic episode.
And so to alleviate this, to get rid of this anxiety and this increasingly disabling stress, what she does, she acts out. She just acts on it.
So if she has a need to have a man in order to affirm her declining self-esteem, I mean, that she would act on it because as long as she doesn't act on it, she feels less and less and less and less and less comfortable. She feels she's about to lose control. She feels she's about to disintegrate.
And to a large extent, it's true that way. She is decompensating.
Following impulsive acts, cheating, spending, shopping, promising, traveling, binge eating, whatever, following these impulsive acts, there is an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame. And this is followed by purging and penitent behaviors, like acting extra nice to the cheated spouse, forced vomiting in case of bulimia, or working hard to make up for the profligacy.
And these actions, these penitent actions, acts of penitence, they lead to a restoration of inner peace and homeostasis kind of balance. They are cathartic. They create catharsis, a feeling of having attained a state of clean slate, like everything now is snow white and pure. You can start anew. It's a new phase, a new stage.
I mean, you can put everything behind you. What happened there stays there, at least until the next transgression.
But the feeling of catharsis is an almost religious experience.
Impulsivity has another critical function, though.
The regulation of labile, self-esteem, fluctuating self-confidence, and one's sense of self-worth via the restoration of grandiosity.
In this sense, impulsivity is an aspect or symptom of narcissism.
The cheating spouse, for example, he affirms his irresistibility. The shopaholic affirms her omnipotence and perfection, because she has all the money she needs.
The kleptomaniac affirms, confirms her invincibility. Her luck, her cosmic luck, the universe is with her. She's getting away with it.
So the forbidden, risky, and illicit nature of most impulsive acts and behaviors only adds to this mystical aura of uniqueness. This magical elevation to a godlike status of invincibility feels like a euphoric high, and it is therefore addictive, this adrenaline rush.
They've been waning and waxing of adrenaline. This is addictive.
All impulsive behaviors are addictive.
Recidivism is guaranteed. No agreement, no rule, no vow can prevent these behaviors from recurring. It's almost hopeless.
Even in therapy, we find it very difficult to kind of restore control over impulsive behavior.
In dialectical behavioral therapy, this is one of the main aspects, because borderline women with borderline personality disorder lack impulse control.
But the success is usually limited, and recurrences and recidivism are very common.
Don't lose hope. As these women grow older, most of the signs and symptoms of borderline and histrionic personality disorder recede.
Unfortunately, only to be replaced with dysthymia, background depression. No free meal in mental health, it seems.