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Mental Health

Psychology: ‘success bombing’ is the awkward friendship issue that no one talks about

Success bombing is a symptom of our increasingly narcissistic culture, and it’s having a negative impact on friendships.

We’ve all got that one friend in our lives who constantly blows up our WhatsApp chat with endless stories about their own success (and, if you don’t, there’s every chance it’s you). From long missives about the myriad chores they’ve ticked off over the weekend, to – yes, really – a photograph of their salary slip after an eye watering pay rise, it’s all the sort of stuff you love to see happen for the people you love. Unless…

Well, unless they never talk about anything else, that is. Or ask you how you are. Or, y’know, give you a moment to talk about all the exciting developments in your own life, maybe.

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We’re talking, of course, about success bombing. And it is, in this age of social media, a thoroughly 2021 problem.

What is success bombing?

“Success bombing is the term coined for the need someone has to show off about their success all the time,” explains writer and mental health campaigner Neev Spencer.

“It’s a constant, shameless need to get one up on the other person and bomb them with a greater success than theirs. This breeds a very unhealthy mindset. Mix in a dose of social media which gives you an endless room to brag, and you’re left with a very narcissistic culture. Celebrate life’s blessings by all means – but stay humble.”

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It’s important that everyone gets a chance to talk about their accomplishments.

Why do some people feel the need to bomb others with their success?

“Really successful people often don’t look for that outward validation – they have that within the core of who they are and that’s what drives them forward to be the best,” explains Spencer.

“Being of Indian heritage, I have been a victim of success bombing on a global stage from every single aunty in my community, showing off their children’s achievements to my parents: ‘Did you know my son got into Oxford University?’ ‘He was top of his class at school you know.’ But, when people do this, it’s usually an indication that they have deep rooted insecurities and a need to constantly feel as if they are climbing the ladder one step ahead of the rest. 

“People who incessantly brag about themselves are usually more likely consistently share on social media, looking for a dopamine hit of appreciation which comes from likes, comments and DMs, and there’s research to suggest that the hit we get from those instant responses, is similar to that of sex, so it’s no surprise we all get sucked into a vortex of wanting gratification sometimes.”

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Spencer cautions: “However, there is a real difference between someone ‘showing off’ here and there, and success bombing on a daily basis. These ‘bombs’ are often misjudged moments requiring applause and come from a deep rooted issue they may have with themselves and how they’re seen by the rest of the world.

“As the singer Frank Ocean quotes, ‘Work hard in silence. Let your success make the noise.’ Happy people don’t go through life collecting recognition – they give it away.”

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Friendship, and conversations, should always be a two-way street.

What can we do when the success bombing becomes too much?

“If there is someone in your life whose success bombing is getting to you, try to remember that boasting comes from a place of weakness and insecurity,” says Spencer.

“It stems from a need to fit in and be loved and accepted by all around them and, when you look at them in this way, you can gain empathy for them and go forward with a compassionate approach.”

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That being said, there are things we can do if we need a break from it all.

  1. Try changing the subject. An old trick but it works. The person in question probably won’t be aware they are boasting, so likely won’t notice when you switch topics.
  2. Help them understand that their social status is not the be all and end all of life. Let them go on that long walk of self-enlightenment with you. Guide them to dig deeper into who they are and what their values truly are.
  3. Don’t let them hog the spotlight. Butt in and make it about you too; don’t let them do all the talking. If they don’t ask questions about you, let loose and answer them yourself. It’s all about creating harmony and balance in relationships.
  4. Humour them by listening, but don’t fall over their every word and applaud something that does not warrant it.
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How can we tune out a friend’s relentless success bombing?

“If none of the above ideas work and you feel as if you’ve had enough, don’t be afraid to let go and walk away,” says Spencer.

“Some friends are for life, others are there to teach us about life. Trust your gut and as Marie Kondo says ‘If it doesn’t bring you joy let it go.’ That includes the people we let into our lives.”

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