We’ve all been there. Cornered by someone who goes on and on about his or her perfect life, intelligence and accomplishments.
Sometimes you can make a graceful exit, and other times you’re stuck.
Merriam-Webster defines the word, brag, as follows: to talk boastfully; displaying arrogant and pompous speech.
When you admiringly describe someone as “a class act,” you’re likely thinking of someone who is gracious, humble and confident, yet unassuming. Someone who does not toot their own horn.
Full of themselves
So, what’s up with this behavior? My research turned up several theories, generally revolving around the same theme. People brag because they’re insecure. They want to be accepted, and they’re not confident. So, it’s like their mouth is telling their brain they really are good enough.
Braggers work hard — weaving elaborate stories — to get the admiration they crave. They’re often driven by an extreme level of fear or anger that they don’t measure up, so they overcompensate.
This type of insecurity comes from one’s life experiences. It can even start in childhood with a fear of abandonment — or if the person’s parents enforced conditional love, rather than unconditional love.
Sometimes the person doing the bragging doesn’t even know he or she is doing so. Still, it can be hard to stomach those insufferable conversations.
One of my friends cringes about her husband’s bragging. “He always has to recite his entire resume the first time he meets someone,” she says. Yet, she has just resigned herself to this behavior, admitting he has some narcissistic traits that compel him.
Here’s an extreme example, relayed on the website www.lesspenguiny.com, of having to get the last word — “one up.”
Me: “I had the most amazing Indian food recently.”
One upper: “Which restaurant? To be honest, you can’t really get good Indian food in America. You really have to visit India for the authentic experience.”
Me: “Exactly — that’s where I ate. I arrived back from Goa last night.”
One upper: “Ah, but did you eat in Peep Kitchen? It’s by far the best, but it takes three weeks to get a reservation.”
Me: “OMG. Their paneer tikka masala is to die for!”
One upper: “Oh, yeah? Well, did Mr. Patel sing the entire ‘Lion King’ soundtrack to you while serving you papadum?”
The One-upmanship Brag is a real stinker, as pointed out on the above-mentioned website. You can see how the one-upper kept getting triggered. It’s not as if the first speaker is even bragging. Yet, the one-upper gets repeatedly triggered to get the last word.
Here’s a strategy to shut the original speaker down, preventing further one-upmanship: Switch gears to a topic where they can’t brag.
Original speaker: “I’m so wrecked. I only slept two hours last night.”
You: “You can’t possibly know what it’s like to be tired until you have kids.”
Here’s a humorous example of a turnaround. In the television show, “How I Met Your Mother,” character Ted Mosby meets a medical doctor to whom he’s attracted:
Dr: “Hi, I’m Dr. O’Brien.”
Ted: “Hi, I’m Architect Mosby. Sorry, I just wanted to get my profession in, too.”
Self-promoters tend not to understand just how annoying they can be to others. They may think they’re increasing their favorability in the opinion of others by constantly bringing up that they went to an Ivy League school, for example.
And, possibly, the worst offender of all? Name dropping. Those who are secure within themselves don’t need to list their associations with others to come across as accomplished. This can definitely backfire.
A 2012 Harvard study found that sharing information about ourselves triggers the same sensations in the brain as eating food and having sex. No wonder this can be so tempting.
While you may be proud of your children and grandchildren, be sensitive to others. Psychologist Susan Newman cites an example of the mother of a bipolar child.
“When my friends boast about their children over and over, I hear, ‘My kids are doing great, but perhaps yours aren’t,’” says Rachel Pappas, author of the book, “Inner Roller Coasters.” “It’s hurtful … and reminds me that my daughter is not happy — and doesn’t fit in.”
Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms are often breeding grounds for embellishment. LinkedIn is a little less so, since its function is to connect people in networking situations, necessitating the listing of achievements.
While it’s fine to share your exciting news, just give a little thought into how you present it. Use fewer “I” statements and spread the credit around, if applicable. Be humble; appreciate how you got there.
And don’t even get me started on “over-posting.” Your friends and colleagues don’t need to hear from you multiple times a day!
The emotional toolbox
Based on my experience and helpful hints from the website, www.aconsciousethink.com, here are some strategies for coping with excessive braggers:
- Change the subject — Switch gears to a topic the other person can’t brag about, as in the example above.
- Temper your reactions — A bragger is typically looking for validation to feed their ego. Just remain calm and unimpressed. Look around, or don’t respond at all. Maybe even add, “What did you say? I got lost in my thoughts.”
- Directly confront them about their bragging — This is best done in private, as you ask them if they realize their behavior comes off as bragging.
If you’re wondering whether you may be unconsciously bragging, take a look at where you fall on the continuum of secure and insecure personality types.
Secure people don’t name drop, fish for compliments or focus on their religious or political views. They don’t pursue shameless self-promotion, dominate conversations or obsess over how many likes they get on social media.
You can always take baby steps to change. Let someone else take the spotlight for a change. Be inwardly content. You don’t need to try so hard to get strokes from others.
Be a class act.
No brag, just fact.