Humble Bragging: Are You Guilty Of Social Media’s Biggest Faux Pas?

What's up with the faux modesty, asks Victoria Stokes, and what's it doing to our self-esteem?

We all have that one pal whose life is oh-so Insta-perfect. She’s got the could-be Calvin Klein model boyfriend, abs that could cut cheese and seems to make spontaneous trips to Thailand. Oh, and she likes to talk about it.

She won’t say she’s showing off though. Instead, she’ll plaster her ever so glam life all over her curated Instagram account, add in a few hashtags to seem modest (#Lucky, #Grateful, #Blessed) and brag freely about her charmed existence under the guise of humility. It’s a familiar tactic, but when it all comes down to it, can you say you aren’t guilty of doing the same?

With some 69 million Instagram pictures attached to the #Blessed hashtag, it’s fair to say we’re a generation hooked on humble bragging, and it’s not just influencers and ‘slebs who are tweeting, snapping and Instagramming away their lucky lives.

We’ve all heard of the holiday spammer who documents every waking hour of their latest vaycay on Snapchat, or the PDA couple who wax lyrical about their relationship on Facebook, but why do they do it?

“We all have a need for our accomplishments to be recognised and applauded,” points out psychotherapist Bernadette Ryan. “The events of life, big and small, have always been important to those experiencing them but not necessarily to others.”

The need for validation aside, we’re hooked on humble bragging because, quite simply, it makes us feel good. Better than both sex and food, according to a paper published in 2012 by two Harvard neuroscientists who discovered we derive more pleasure from boasting than we do from eating or making love.

But nobody wants to be known as a gloat, do they? Hence the self-effacing hashtag, or cleverly constructed caption (‘Aww shucks. Can’t believe I spilled red wine over my 300 thread count Egyptian cotton sheets’) to avoid looking like a total braggart.

And what’s the harm? A little bragging never hurt anybody, right? Not so, says Joanne, a chartered accountant from Kerry, who admits she had to unfollow several people on social media when their habit of humble bragging just got to be too much.

“It was beginning to make me feel ‘less than,’” she confides. “These people would be jetting off on holidays every other week, smashing it in their careers and seemingly living the most perfect lives, all while you’re sat there wondering what it is you’re doing wrong.”

For Joanne, this led to a crisis in confidence. “I started to think they really were #blessed and that I’d been given the shit end of the stick,” she admits. “I guess they just never show the times when they’re exhausted, frustrated or just not feeling it.”

Therein lies the problem. We’re not keeping it real. Instead, we’re trying to make out like we’re living our best ever lives. For those on the outside looking in, that can mean a major hit on their self-esteem.

So what to do if humble bragging is making you green with envy? Bernadette says this isn’t something to feel guilty about, noting a little jealousy is a normal reaction. “Provided we don’t allow it to be destructive in so far as we want to ruin the good fortune of others, it is okay to feel it,” she asserts.

If, however, it’s getting you down, do yourself a favour and direct your digits towards the unfollow button. “If we continuously compare our lives to others we are always going to come up short,” Bernadette warns.

And if you’re the humble bragger? Bernadette advises a little discrimination when it comes to sharing the details of your life. Before you upload something online, “spare a thought for those going through hard times and think how your post might be perceived by them,” she instructs, and ultimately, “if you’re going to brag, then brag!”

Her final word on the matter? “If you are really happy and proud of a genuine achievement or accomplishment, step up and take a bow, just don’t hog the limelight.”

This article first appeared in STELLAR’s June issue. Our August issue is on shelves now! 

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