When confidence crosses the line into 'bragging'

When we accomplish something or something good happens to us, we like to talk about it. After working hard to achieve a goal or having a dream come true, it doesn't feel real until we tell those closest to us about it. It's human nature to want to be recognized for what we do. 

And there's nothing wrong with this. 

But when does this start turning into "bragging?"

I don't know about you, but I never want to cross over that line — when, instead of being happy for me, my friends start to roll their eyes whenever I speak. (Side note: If this ever happens, I give you permission to slap me)

Just this week, much media attention has been given to one woman, creating an Internet firestorm for doing just this — some even accusing her of using her bragging to bully others.

Maria Kang was criticized for "bragging" in her
Facebook photo
Fitness enthusiast Maria Kang posted a photo of herself, surrounded by her three sons — all age three or younger. In the photo, she shows off her toned tummy with the words, "What's your excuse?"

While some have called her inspiring, others find the photo insulting and that it suggests that all women can look like her if they work hard enough. Some people say that real moms do not look like this and that Kang is contributing to women who feel badly about themselves for not looking a certain way. 

I personally wouldn't call Kang a "bully," although I do consider this a form of bragging. Let's apply this to real life. If you constantly talk about how skinny you are around friends who weigh more than you do, let's just say they probably won't be your friends for much longer.

When what you are saying about yourself is in turn making others feel badly about themselves, I think that's when it crosses the line into "bragging." And, as soon as you stop listening to others and only want to talk about yourself, then you've definitely taken a few steps across that imaginary line. As soon as you stop caring about others' good news, this is when people will stop caring about yours. And, when you only compliment yourself and never compliment others, people will stop complimenting you. 

Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, takes an in-depth look at this in her article Bragging—When is it OK and When is it Not OK?

She writes that it is healthy to give yourself a mental pat on the back. Being confident and proud of your accomplishments helps prevent depression.

"You don’t have to hide your light completely under a bushel," said Whitbourne.

But she added that it's considered a social norm for people to be modest. 

I must say this — not all people who brag actually feel this way about themselves. Sometimes people brag because of the exact opposite — that they feel so bad about themselves that they brag in hopes others will validate them. 

But this could have the exact opposite effect. 

Whitbourne considers the worse form of bragging to be directly drawing attention to your own great personal qualities. I do admit to jokingly saying, "I'm so awesome." But when you, in all seriousness, call yourself amazing, smart, well-liked, talented, etc., you run the risk of others thinking to themselves, "Says who?" And when you distort a situation to make yourself look better, people's trust for you will probably go out the proverbial window. 

It's sad that being self deprecating is more acceptable than praising yourself. But I think it's because some forms of bragging can cause others to be even more self deprecating. To me, I think the most important thing to keep in mind is to make sure relationships are a give and take. Be there for others, compliment them and listen to what they have to say (after all, that's how you have a conversation) — and, trust me, you will be surprised at how you are then treated in return. A lot better than if you only do all those things for yourself. 

As Whitbourne said, "No one will ever fault you for being happy about the result of successful effort on your part. By not bragging, you’ll also guarantee that they’ll be even more likely to root for your continued successes the next time."

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