one woman avoiding a braggart
When people feel the need to impress others, they tend to exaggerate about their lives. This kind of boasting leaves a rather bad impression on the other. Image Credit: Shutterstock

It’s only words, words are all that people have… to make you want to run in the opposite direction.

Have you ever conversed with someone who talks about their accomplishments and victories continuously? They’ll make everything about themselves and take all credit or limelight. They present a rather glorified version of their lives.

So, why do people brag?

Woman point to herself
Sometimes, boasting could also indicate a superiority complex, inflated ego or narcissistic tendencies. Image Credit: Shutterstock

No one likes a braggart.

There are innumerable reasons why people choose to brag. Sometimes, it could be a defence mechanism, as experts explain. A braggart could also mean they’re deeply insecure. Luz Maria Villagras Surco, Dubai-based psychotherapist says it's also all about trying to belong somewhere. "They're trying to be someone they're not. It is basically not being themselves, and being someone else. They think people will see you with more importance, as you feel being you is not enough. They think you'll be accepted, and admired."

They're trying to be someone they're not. Boasting is basically not being themselves, and trying to be someone else. They think people will see them with more importance, as they don't think they are enough. They want to be accepted...

- Luz Maria Villagras Surco, psychotherapist

These kind of people could also have poor social skills; they’re unable to pick up on social cues in conversation. They’re unable to sense how a person is feeling in a conversation, adds Stephanie Weber, a British UAE-based wellness expert and emotional intelligence practitioner. Sometimes they don’t mean harm, she emphasises. Their social awkwardness could lead to them talking continuously or oversharing, which might come across as bragging. “They don’t know how much is too much,” she says. It’s also how they wish to boost their self-esteem, she says. “As they struggle with their own fragile self-esteem, they keep seeking others for recognition or praise,” she says.

Another reason is that they’re desperate to be liked and make a good impression. However, the irony lies in the fact that it just leaves the other with a negative perception, explains Weber. 

A person who brags could have a strong ego, or a superiority complex. They wish to sway others who do have a fragile ego. It’s a form of manipulation; they want others to follow them. They want people to think that they know better.

- Chrysoula Arvanitaki, life coach, Dubai

On the other hand, it could also mean a superiority complex, inflated ego or narcissistic tendencies, as Chrysoula Arvanitaki, a life coach and psychologist says. Sometimes, they even lack empathy. They have a rather unrealistic view of themselves, and want to present themselves in a positive light. She adds that people who continuously brag about their achievements also want to sway others with a fragile ego. “It’s a form of manipulation; they want others to follow them. They want people to think that they know better. So people who also have an inferiority complex, look towards them for support and validation,” she says.

As a result, this forms a rather toxic nexus, as both sides have a rather distorted sense of reality. The braggart will twist, exaggerate the truth about their lives. The listener will absorb it, believing that they’re actually as grand as they say they are, adds Weber. 

The humblebrags

Woman running away
Humblebragging is bragging, hidden by a complaint or humility. In fact, it makes people like you less. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Bragging loudly, or overt bragging, can be abrasive, but false modesty is far more clawing, as research proves. It’s another form of seeking validation.

This is called ‘humblebragging’, which is bragging, hidden by a complaint or humility. In fact, it makes people like you less, according to 2018 research Humblebragging: A distinct— and ineffective — self-presentation strategy published in the American Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and quoted by Time magazine in 2018.

As study author Ovul Sezer, an assistant professor of organisational behaviour at US-based Kenan-Flagler Business School told Time magazine, you really think that you are getting the best of both worlds. However, the key is that sincerity is the real ingredient.

Sezer and her team conducted a series of experiments to determine how common humblebragging is and how others perceive it, as reported by the publication. They found that humblebragging is omnipresent: Out of 646 people surveyed, 70 per cent could recall a humblebrag they’d heard recently.

They established the two kinds of humblebrags: The first relies on a complaint. For instance: I hate that I look so young. Someone in their twenties just asked me out on a date.”

Second one relies on humility. Why am I always given such important assignments?

About 60 per cent of the humblebrags people remembered fell into the complaint category.

The researchers then conducted experiments to see how people responded to humblebrags, with a particular focus on the bragger’s perceived likability and competence. They found that regular bragging was marginally better on both counts, because the person seems a little more genuine, Sezer told Time. Even complainers were more likable and seemed more competent than humblebraggers of any type.

“If you want to announce something, go with the brag and at least own your self-promotion and reap the rewards of being sincere, rather than losing in all dimensions,” Time magazine had quoted Sezer as saying.

When do bragging become lies?

Man in front of a car
When people start lying compulsively instead of just bragging, there could be many deep-seated mental health issues at play. Image Credit: Shutterstock

When people become so insistent on making their lives sound better than it actually is, it involves in devolving into lies. Sometimes, it could start off with changing a few facts in a narrative, fabrication, embellishment, and then finally, complete imagination. It’s quite often seen in children, who want to impress people around them, explains Weber. 

Aparna Soni, a Dubai-based homemaker has a fun example to share. “I remember that I had a very annoying classmate when I was around eight. Whenever we said that we had something, he would always say that he had something better,” she recalls. For instance, she remembers going to his house for his birthday and being enamoured by his collection of the Harry Potter series. “So I excitedly said that I had all four too, when he got competitive and said that he had the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth too,” she says.

Slight hitch: This was 2000 and only four Harry Potter books had released. And, till date, there’s no eighth Harry Potter book in the official series.

When such bragging is seen in children, it can usually be corrected. Children just want to impress their peers, says wellness expert Weber. They want to belong somewhere, so they’ll invent wildly, she adds. It usually wears off when they grow up. However, when adults start doing it, it becomes a rather dangerous problem. It blurs into boastful lies.

“When people start lying compulsively instead of just bragging, there could be many deep-seated mental health issues at play,” she says. “If you brag, you need to have the evidence for it, at least. If you don’t, then others can catch you out, and your reputation is further diminished,” she adds. These boastful lies are usually a sign of a narcissistic personality, or another pathological condition.

How do you deal with braggarts?

Usually, you don’t need to do anything immediately, says psychologist Arvanitaki. Let them be, and don’t confront them. Don’t be judgmental immediately; don’t label them as arrogant in the first impression. Give them a chance. This will give you time to see if they are actually bragging and whether your assumptions are correct.

You can also politely and briefly acknowledge what they say, and then slowly change the subject, she adds. Give it a brief amount of attention, and then naturally change the subject. This helps you change the topic without seeming rude. “Don’t try competing with them, it creates a toxic dynamic,” explains Weber.

You won’t come off well either in the conversation, so just say something like, “Okay you win,” and change track. You can give a few social cues without seeming rude too. Be a little less conversational, give brief replies and move away politely. That’s enough to give a hint. Finally, if it continues, it’s best to have minimum interaction with them. Keep the conversation short; if you engage in small talk, they’ll see it as an open invitation to continue talking.

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