10 Reasons Why People Brag (And 10 Ways to Deal With It)

Have you ever talked to someone who tried to one-up you in a conversation, take all of the credit, or only talked about themselves? If so, you might have had a first-hand encounter with a braggart (someone who brags a lot). If you know, love, or work with someone like this, you might wonder if it’s pride or insecurity that causes them to brag. You might also want some tips on how to deal with people who brag a lot.

This article will explore the psychology of boasting, why people do it, and ideas about the best ways to respond to bragging.

Sections

  1. What is bragging?
  2. Types of bragging
  3. Why do people brag?
  4. How to respond to people who brag
  5. Common questions

What is bragging?

When someone brags, they highlight their positive traits, qualities, or accomplishments. This kind of self-promotion is usually an attempt to impress other people. Bragging can be subtle or obvious. People who brag in obvious ways might try too hard to be liked or exaggerate certain traits or stories in an attempt to seem cool, funny, or important. People who are more subtle may hide their bragging with humor, sarcasm, or self-deprecating remarks.[1]

There’s nothing wrong with having a healthy amount of confidence, but bragging is when you take it too far by exaggerating your strengths, achievements, or abilities.[1][2] Healthy relationships always require a balance between the feelings and needs of two people, and bragging can disrupt this balance. If you only talk about yourself, it can make you seem arrogant or selfish and can cause your relationships to become strained or one-sided.[2][3]

Types of bragging

There are different kinds of bragging, and some are harder to spot than others. Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of bragging: overt bragging and covert bragging.[3] Overt bragging is when someone boasts openly about themselves or their achievements in an effort to make a good impression on people.[1][3]

Covert bragging (aka humble bragging) is harder to detect. A humble brag is a thinly disguised effort to present yourself in a positive light. It may include a joke, complaint, or self-deprecating statement that’s intended to win attention, praise, or validation from others.[3] Even though it’s more subtle, covert bragging tends to have the same negative effect on how others perceive you.[1]

Below is a chart with different examples of overt and covert bragging:[2]

Examples of Overt Bragging  Examples of Covert Bragging
Boasting about how much money you have Complaining about how much you get hit on
Flaunting luxury or expensive items Using self-deprecation to get validation
“Namedropping” important people you know Pretending to dislike compliments and praise
Telling stories that paint you as a hero “Sadphishing” on social media for attention
Bragging about sexual conquests Bragging then downplaying what you said
One-upping someone’s achievements

Why do people brag?

When you dig a little deeper into the psychology of bragging, you find that people brag for many reasons. While some brag just to show off, in other cases, there is a more complex explanation.

Below are 10 different reasons why people brag.

1. They feel insecure about themselves

A lot of people who seem too confident in themselves are actually deeply insecure. For them, bragging might be a way of masking their insecurities or getting help from others to build up self-esteem. When someone doesn’t know how to find validation within, they’re more likely to look to others for recognition, attention, and praise.[2]

2. They’re trying too hard to be liked

Bragging is often a tactic used to be more likable or get others to form a positive opinion of you. Unfortunately, it isn’t a very effective impression management technique because research shows people who boast are more likely to make a bad impression rather than a good one.[1][3][4]

Someone who brags might mistakenly think that someone will be impressed by their wealth, status, or title. Some people try too hard to seem funny or cool, and others can sense that they’re not being authentic.

3. They don’t realize they’re bragging

Not everyone who brags does it on purpose, and many don’t even realize when they’re doing it. While it might be obvious to others that they’re boasting, in their mind, they may just be sharing good news with friends or trying to keep the conversation positive. People who don’t realize they brag a lot often lack social awareness and don’t understand the way they’re being perceived by others.[2][4]

4. They’re awkward or socially anxious

Talking about themselves to the point of bragging might be a nervous habit for someone who gets really nervous during conversations. They may be feeling awkward, self-conscious, or trying to fill up an awkward silence and keep the conversation going.

5. They overshare in an attempt to open up

Some people have a hard time opening up and talking about themselves to other people. Their early attempts to be more open with people might be awkward, and they come across as braggarts.[4] For example, someone who is usually reserved or quiet might not know how much is too much when it comes to talking about themselves and might share so much that other people think they are boasting.

6. They have poor social skills

Poor social skills can also be the root cause of socially inappropriate behavior for some people prone to self-promotion. Picking up on social cues is one of the most important social skills that people rely on to know how the other person is feeling during a conversation. People who don’t have this skill are much more likely to say or do things that are offensive or annoying to others.[4]

7. They lack empathy

Empathy is the ability to place yourself in the shoes of someone else and sense what they might be thinking, feeling, and experiencing. Boasting, self-enhancement, and narcissistic traits are more common in people who score low on empathy.[2][4]

8. They have a superiority or inferiority complex

Most people who brag don’t really believe they’re superior to others and don’t intend to behave as if they are, but a few might actually have a superiority complex. For someone with a superiority complex, bragging could be a reflection of their unrealistically positive view of themselves. Bragging can also be caused by an inferiority complex, who might use bragging as a defense mechanism to hide their flaws or insecurities from others.[2]

9. They put people down to boost themselves up

Most of the time, braggarts don’t have bad intentions, but it would be naive to think there aren’t any bad people in the world. The worst kind of bragging is when someone puts other people down intentionally to feel better about themselves. Boasting is annoying, but putting other people down is downright mean and is often a sign of a toxic or narcissistic person.

10. They want to be the center of attention

Wanting attention from other people doesn’t automatically make you a braggart, but bragging is often a pretty obvious, attention-seeking behavior. Someone with a compulsive need to overshare on Facebook or broadcast their achievements to others may just be looking for attention.[3] Some showoffs just do it for the likes or compliments, while others are trying to spark feelings of envy or insecurity in other people.

How to respond to people who brag

It’s not hard to tell when someone is bragging, but it is difficult to know how you should respond. You probably want to be tactful and polite to the person, especially if it’s someone in your family, friendship circle, or a colleague at work. Effective responses to bragging are polite but don’t feed into the behavior.

Below are 9 (respectful) ways to respond to someone who’s bragging.

1. Don’t jump to conclusions

When you avoid rushing to judge someone who seems to be bragging, you can sometimes view what they’re saying through a different, more positive lens. To remain nonjudgmental, avoid labeling someone as arrogant or conceited after only one interaction. Instead, give them a second (or even a third) chance to show you who they are and what they’re all about. Sometimes, this simple step can prevent you from incorrectly assuming that someone is bragging.[5]

2. Give brief positive feedback and move on

When you are dealing with a braggart, the easiest response is just to briefly acknowledge or validate what they said and then move on. For example, saying, “That’s really exciting!” or “Congratulations!” to someone who has shared news of a raise or promotion will sometimes satisfy them. That way, you’re free to end the conversation or change the topic without offending or upsetting them.

Try not to reinforce their behavior. Keep in mind that people who brag are usually consciously or unconsciously seeking attention or recognition. Rewarding their boasts with a lot of attention encourages someone to keep bragging, but ignoring or giving minimal attention to bragging discourages the behavior. That’s why it’s a good idea to give minimal attention and short responses to someone who is bragging.

3. Use natural transitions to change the topic

Another tactic you can try to interrupt someone who’s talking about themselves too much is to look for ways to naturally transition to another topic.[5] These can allow you to shift the conversation towards a different topic without seeming rude.

Here are some ways to find natural transitions to change the topic include:

  • Let the topic fizzle out.

Example: Pause a few seconds and say, “So what are your thoughts on ____?”

  • Share a related story about yourself.

Example: “That reminds me of a time when I…”

  • Highlight something else they said during the conversation.

Example: “You mentioned your parents were in town. How are they doing?”

4. Don’t compete with them

The best way to deal with someone who challenges everything you say or tries to turn things into a competition is to avoid getting drawn into their game. Even if you’re confident you’ll win the competition, it often means stooping to their level and may end up making you look bad, too. If someone tries to one-up or compete with you, just don’t engage with them. Change the topic, make a joke, or consider saying, “OK, you win!” before moving on.[5]

5. Model humility and modesty for them

Behaving modestly around someone who brags too much can sometimes cause them to shift and adopt a more humble stance.[5] Here are some examples of ways to model humility and modesty around people who like to show off or brag:

  • Talk about yourself less and instead show more interest in others
  • Share the credit or praise if you’re given a compliment
  • Be sincere, kind, and attentive to the feelings and needs of other people
  • Admit shortcomings and flaws, and apologize when you make mistakes
  • Ask questions, and approach topics with an open and curious mind

6. Send subtle social cues

Directly calling someone out for bragging isn’t always the best option, as it can embarrass someone or make them defensive. Using more subtle social cues like avoiding eye contact, being less expressive, or giving shorter replies can sometimes nudge the person to shift the conversation away from them. Even when they keep talking about themselves, these nonverbal cues can make it easier to end the conversation.

7. Limit your interactions with them

If you’ve given a braggart several chances to change their ways and subtle clues don’t seem to have any effect, limiting your interactions might be your best bet. When you do need to talk to them, try to keep the conversation short and focused on the topics you need to discuss. Avoid going on tangents or making too much small talk, as they might see this as an invitation to talk about themselves.

8. Zoom out to see the big picture

Keep in mind that bragging is often a sign of insecurity and low self-esteem. Try to remember this, and it may become easier to zoom out and avoid taking what they say personally. Zooming out might help you feel compassion instead of anger toward them, or it might just help you shift your focus and get on with your day.[5] If it’s a close friend or relative who’s boasting, zooming out can help you overlook their bad habit and see other positive qualities you love and appreciate about them.

9. Use I-statements to express your feelings

If you’ve tried everything and someone close to you won’t stop bragging, it may be necessary to initiate a difficult conversation with them to address the issue. Use I-statements to share how you’re being affected instead of saying “you said or did this,” which can feel accusatory. For example, saying, “It hurts my feelings when you don’t ask about how I’m doing” is less likely to trigger defensiveness than saying, “You only talk about yourself and never ask how I am.”

Final thoughts

Bragging is an annoying habit, but not everyone who brags does so intentionally. While bragging is sometimes caused by pride or a big ego, it can also be the result of poor social skills, social anxiety, or low self-esteem.[1][2][3]

Sometimes, you can send a subtle message by changing the topic or giving shorter replies. When this doesn’t work, you might need to initiate a difficult conversation, limit your interactions, or simply choose to ignore their bragging.[5]

Common questions

Why is bragging so annoying?

Bragging is often seen as a sign of pride, which is off-putting to people who value humility. Excessive boasting may cause relationships to become one-sided if the braggart focuses too much on themselves. Bragging can also trigger unpleasant feelings of envy and insecurity in some people.[4]

How do I stop bragging?

The best way to stop bragging is to focus more on other people in conversations rather than yourself. Asking more questions, pausing, and showing genuine interest are all great ways to make the conversation more balanced. These are also proven ways to make a positive impression on other people.

Show references +

Hailey Shafir is a licensed mental health counselor, licensed addiction specialist, and clinical supervisor working out of Raleigh, NC. She has a Masters in Counseling from NC State University, and has extensive professional experience in counseling, program development, and clinical supervision. Read more.

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