We can recognise the insecurity behind the boasting, insists Dr. Susan Whitbourne, Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, by noticing four signs:
- The braggart tries to make you feel insecure about yourself. In fact, they are probably projecting their insecurities onto others in order to be able to examine them.
- The boaster needs to showcase his/her accomplishments. The sense of inferiority at the heart of constant recitation of their great lifestyle, elite education, or genius children’s achievements are attempts to convince themselves that they are ok.
- The braggart does the “humblebrag” (as above) far too often. Again, look out for self-deprecatory statements that are really excuses to drop important names or identify high-status details (like the conspicuous late-model Mercedes in the background of the Facebook picture where the person in the foreground is getting you to notice his new t-shirt).
- The show-off frequently complains that things aren’t good enough. Examples here include the person complaining about the work travel for the high-profile job, or the rather snobbish negative assessment of an expensive restaurant meal or a performance whose tickets cost a fortune. Complainer-braggarts may be proclaiming their high standards as a way of demonstrating that they are truly better than everyone else, but it is more than that. They are also trying to prove that they hold themselves to a more demanding set of self-assessment criteria (Whitbourne, 2015).
If you are wanting to apply the “N” word (narcissism) to these attempts to boost self-esteem, you’re probably not far off the mark, says Whitbourne (2015). But what’s the solution? How can we manage this most annoying habit in those with whom we interact, or how can we help clients who are dealing with braggarts?