It was the late eighties when my family went back up North to return home, though as a toddler, I had no memories of where I was from, so the concept didn’t mean much.
But here I was back knowing none of the children in this new neighbourhood.
My loneliness didn’t last long as I was befriended by a boy called Neil. He lived around the corner with just his mum, because his parents weren’t together anymore, though a man who was mummy’s friend would often stay over, not that as a four year old I had a care about the dynamics of an adult relationship.
Neil was two years my senior, an age gap he used as justification that he was in charge, so we always did things his way.
He was also a big obnoxious bragger – whether it was going on an ice skating trip, to some new lavish toy, he would rub it in your face to make you feel inferior.
During the summer, he was always at his most unbearable boasting about his annual holiday abroad to Majorca, well aware that I had never left the country, spending my annual one-week holiday in some bleak British caravan resort.
My response to the constant put downs was to try and out brag him, but it never worked – Neil would never allow me to even have one thing where I could be better.
Neil was the first bragger I had to deal with, and he wouldn’t be the last.
How do you deal with a bragger?
When faced with having to endure the boasts of a bragger, take the following approach:
- Recognise that people brag due to their own insecurity.
- Avoid handling them in an aggressive or passive aggressive manner. Although it may feel good to make fun of them, or put them down, this isn’t the best approach.
- Use more assertive approaches. Recognise not all battles need to be won – you can easily ignore braggers, or call them out in a diplomatic manner if you think they are belittling you or others with their boasts.
- Don’t let them live rent free in your mind – the worst thing you can do is dwell on them and be jealous of their claims.
If you want to learn the best approaches to handle braggers in a positive and assertive manner, read on.
First let me explain why do people brag?
Why do people brag?
When you talk about traits, most people will see bragging as something negative
“I don’t have time for braggers”
Yet when you go on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram you get exposed to people bragging all the time. If it is so disliked, why do so many people do it?
In her TED Talk, Irene Scopelliti discusses why people brag:
Scopelliti mentions an “empathy gap” – when someone self-promotes some success in their life whether it’s a promotion, an amazing new relationship or their next holiday, they under estimate the negative emotions that the receivers hear when they share this good news.
My only issue with this theory, is that it makes bragging sound accidental – I don’t have any issues with anyone wanting to share when they get a win, it is the obnoxious self-promoters who talk about how great their life is all the time, that it seems over exaggerated, and they lack any empathy to care whether you are doing okay.
Through research, and personal observations, there are several explanations why people brag:
I introduced this post talking about my childhood friend Neil. In reflection I realise his need to rub my face in the luxuries his family were able to offer him came from a place of insecurity, I mean why would someone need to one-up a friend?
Playing amateur psychologist, I put his bragging down to his need to be wanted – feeling self-doubt his parents had divorced, and now finding himself in a position where he feared he was not loved because was not part of a “normal” nuclear family, and jealous I lived in this type of home
All this achieved was making me not feel great, and maybe that was his intention to deal with his own doubts.
Because of a lack of confidence, people think bragging is a way of getting validation from a peer group.
You can argue that showing off all the time isn’t the best way to gain acceptance. It’s been noted in several pieces of research that no one likes being on the receiving end of boasts.
When you start a conversation about your holiday, and they respond by bragging about going to Hawaii in a five-star hotel, this has the reverse effect of acceptance, making the bragger insufferable, someone to avoid.
Show they are ahead
When in a group, especially one that is competitive, bragging is a method to assert your authority – by demonstrating you are the most experienced, popular and desirable, you can establish yourself as the leader everyone looks up to – even if it comes with a few white lie brags.
I always remember an uncomfortable conversation on my first day at university in my new accommodation listening to all the lads brag about their sexual conquests. As the stories came out, they got more and more absurd, sounding like something from a 1970’s British sex comedy film.
Base on lie or exaggeration
My early months at university showed that braggers often boast based on a vast exaggeration of the truth or an outright lie.
As people, most of my house mates were good, down to earth people. But going back to the theory that braggers are insecure people, they felt the need to make up these stories to prove themselves.
The problem for the person who constantly brags based on a lie, is that they will always feel down with themselves, because they can never live up to the exaggerated untruths they spin.
Strategies that feel good, but are actually bad
When dealing with someone who constantly boasts about their perfect life, there are various approaches you can take to deal with them.
The first set look at approaches that are aggressive and passive aggressive – they might feel good to do, but are actually bad.
When you face an obnoxious bragger, it can be really tempting to mock them so you can feel good about putting them back in their place. There are two problems:
- Braggers have a need to be on top, and they are good at twisting any adversity from others as someone else’s insecurity.
- Making fun of them can make you look petty and you may get in trouble for bullying them.
One up them
When someone always brags, it’s really tempting to try and beat them, but trying to one up a show-off doesn’t work.
When my friend Neil would come back from visiting his dad, he would talk about visiting the cinema. On the odd occasion I got to go to the cinema too, that wouldn’t matter because he was treated to popcorn, you got a hot dog, well Neil got to go to McDonald’s afterwards… and so on… there was no way of one upping him, because he always did a bit more.
Braggers don’t like it when you are ahead, so will always find ways to make you feel behind.
Getting into group bitching
When you’re with friends or at work, everyone picks up on cues who the shameless bragger is.
And when they leave the room, it does feel like group therapy to have a good moan about them – but this can be dangerous as it becomes a habit to slag the bragger off behind their back.
When a room comes alive with frustrations about a bragger, avoid temptations to join in, just listen and observe or just ignore and be glad it’s not just you who was irked by the big-headed bragger.
Be outright rude to them
Another approach is to be outright rude to them – and it’s tempting to call them out on their BS, or blatantly state how boring you find their bragging.
But this can create a tense and hostile environment.
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Strategies you can incorporate
We’ve covered off passive aggressive, and downright aggressive approaches to dealing with a bragger, now what are more passive and assertive ways to deal with them?
Next time you think “how do I handle a bragger?”, just remember you don’t have to do anything!
When you look back on the reasons why people brag – their own sense of insecurity, you realise how powerful ignoring the bragger is. You are not acknowledging their boasts, and starving them of the acceptance they are seeking.
Throwing out short, simple responses like “Oh, that’s nice..” is a great way to close down conversation because they don’t encourage further discussion.
With such neutral statements you’re not questioning, or challenging, it’s a polite response which shows it doesn’t particularly impress you.
Adding body language cues like a simple nod of the head while barely showing interest to even maintain eye contact are great ways to step on the bragger’s momentum without rising to them. If they have any emotional intelligence, they won’t continue.
Not all battles need to be won.
When someone is bragging about their victories, do not see this as your failure.
You don’t need to prove people wrong, show you are better, or feel insecure because they have things you don’t.
Just show gratitude for what you do have in career, family, and life, and recognise your own successes.
Remember the brags of someone else’s success has no bearing on your life.
Deal with them with assertiveness
There may be a situation where you don’t want to be passive and just ignore them. For example, if you feel they are trying to one up you or someone else as a way to bully or show dominance.
A Councious ReThink recommends if you are going to confront someone do it in private to avoid any embarrassment.
If the individual lacks self-awareness and doesn’t take constructive feedback well, there is always a risk you could cause further strain – think with care, whether confrontation is the best approach, or whether you just keep ignoring them.
If you really feel you need to raise the issue, express how their behaviour is making you or other people feel. “It’s really good that your proud of the success of your children, and you should be, but just take greater care, as you know X has had a difficult year with her kids, and it’s coming across a bit insensitive.”
You could even touch on how their behaviour is impacting those around them “I know you’re really looking forward to your cruise, but it’s coming across that you’re flaunting your wealth, and because you mention it all the time, people are getting a bit reluctant to talk with you”
The worst way to handle a bragger
Once at a networking event, I encountered a bragger wouldn’t couldn’t stop with the self-promotion of how great his life was.
All attendees had to give a presentation to say how well a project was going, and out of the 20 delegates, you might not be surprised, his was doing the best.
You would have thought he’d found a cure for cancer, but by talking himself up at every opportunity, he got to me and made me feel like a failure.
For weeks I was driven by a hatred of this man, and frustrated that a humble person like myself couldn’t replicate his success I mentioned my annoyance to my mentor and to my surprise she turned around and said
“Why does it matter? Concentrate on your own results”.
We can choose how we react…
Going back to the Irene Scopelliti TED Talk I introduced at the beginning of this article, there was something key I thought she said about how we emotionally process a bragger:
“We can choose how we react to bragging”
With the learnings of this article, our reaction can be aggressive to passive aggressive, or we can deal with them with an assertive approach, or we can just choose to ignore them.
My mentor was right – the worst way we can handle a bragger is to dwell on them and be jealous of what they are saying – do not allow them to live rent free in your mind, focus on your own results, and let your action do the talking.
There is nothing wrong with celebrating your successes, or mentioning something good with your life, but recognise when it’s appropriate to mention it, and don’t constantly go on about it, otherwise you can be taken for an annoying bragger.
Although it’s tempting to try and put a bragger in their place, it may end up being counterproductive, creating a tense competitive environment, or may get you painted as jealous or a bully.
The best way to deal with a bragger is to ignore them. I wish I had got this when I was younger! As a child who craved love and attention, it would have starved Neil of the oxygen of validation he so desperately craved.
Remember – we have the power to control how we react to someone who constantly brags, so when you next have to endure a bragger, turn the other cheek.
When you realise their claims are insignificant – you can focus on making your own life better.
Wishing you the best in your success.
James @Perfect Manifesto