Social Validation And The Inauthentic Brag: Humblebrag

I scrolled through my social media feed and stopped to read what I thought was a positive post. It began with “feeling blessed” but the content that followed made it clear that this person was struggling and having a tough time with life. Truth is, it sounded rough. I could relate to the frustration, but what I didn’t understand were the blessings this person referred to because none of those were mentioned. Worse, people commented on the grief with responses such as, “I survived something as horrible or far worse than what you’re going through, so you can make it, too. Hang in there. #bestrong.”

Other posts included:

“Only I can rock a $700 handbag and $100 t-shirt and still manage to look homeless;”


“I did this great giving and selfless thing for people way less fortunate than me, and was humbled to hear how much I changed the other person’s life.” I don’t need the thanks, it just felt so good to give, #karma. #blessed”

By design, social media is intended to be social, but is it always honest?

With the exception of the “blessings”, it turns out there is a term for these types of posts. It’s called the humblebrag. Harris Wittels, stand-up comic and writer for the television show Parks and Recreation, has coined this term and calls these kinds of posts ‘false humility’.

The urban dictionary defines the humblebrag as a brag shrouded in a transparent form of humility.

From the, “It’s not a brag, I’m just complaining” humble brag to the, “this isn’t a brag I’m just being self-deprecating” humble brag, the number of offenders is limitless. These offences are all captured on Wittels’ Twitter handle, @humblebrag, an account that has quickly amassed an enormous following.

Whatever it’s being called, I understand the resistance to brag as well as the longing to be socially validated. I grew up in the Catholic Church where we studied the seven virtues that taught us to be “good” people. One of those virtues is to be humble over being prideful. Maybe a humblebrag, although misguided, is the result of attempting to be both validated and humble.

What I don’t understand is the motivation to be inauthentic instead of proud; or the hunger to be validated for pretending to be something we are not. The humblebrag is one example; the “blessings” is another. They have different approaches and content; but similar intentions. They are saying one thing, but feeling another.

Webster’s dictionary defines proud and pride in the same context, but there is a distinct difference. It may not always be obvious, but you know it when you see it. 

Discerning between them depends on a deep-rooted understanding of what is motivating the content of the post.

Being prideful is a “high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority; whereas being proud is: “someone or something cherished, valued, or enjoyed.”

Elementary school may have taught me to be humble, but adulthood has taught me to embrace the powerful. By powerful, I don’t mean title, money, stature or fame, but the kind of power that makes being human awesome.

There is nothing powerful about being inauthentic or expecting to be validated by others. True power comes from knowing who you are, what you stand for and what difference that makes to the world.

Being human isn’t always glamorous or easy; nor is it always a struggle.

Humblebrags, one-sided views or positive posts that are diluted in half-truths suggest your hiding something or pretending to be something you’re not. Truth, not fake humility, makes you trustworthy, powerful – and more interesting than the images you’ve posted about your generosity or success. Life is not one-sided and sharing a struggle allows us to help celebrate a success.

The range of experience and perspectives is what makes connections meaningful — in life and on social media. Share the moments that make you laugh, cry or think. Share photos of your family gatherings or your exotic travels. Share your thoughts on politics or politicians. Ask for prayers. Ask for opinions. Share your joy and success. Be proud. Avoid being prideful. Share your struggle. Be REAL.

But please do so AUTHENTICALLY because those are the moments that make life worth sharing.

When I began to write on this topic, I did so from a place of judgment and irritation that stemmed from social media offenses, some of which can be found on this fabulous story about posts that should cease. But as I worked through this article, I’ve come to believe that the world – and the world of social media — has the potential to be a better place. It begins with self-awareness and moves upward toward higher energies of acceptance, gratitude and love.

Consider the following tips:

Become Self-Aware

  • What is motivating me to publish this thought or image? Is it to boast or brag? Am I seeking approval? Is it to draw attention to myself or my success? Or is it to honor my success and share an interesting and powerful moment with friends? Will my response to this person’s struggle be helpful, or am I simply drawing attention to myself?
  • Is my post authentic? Is it staged or is it an image that captures what is real and important in my life?
  • How often do my posts brag or self-promote? Bragging and self- promotion should be a small percentage of what you post.

Consider your Audience

  • Who is the post targeted to? Think about who is reading your posts and how they might react. If your social media posts are typically about your business, consider starting another page for those messages. If your posts are painfully personal or inappropriate for your entire audience, send an email or private message to those in a position to help you.

What Difference or Impact Will Your Message Make?

  • In 2 years, will this post hold the same importance it does today? Will it alter the way my audience may see me forever or is it the same post and pose as the previous 100 posts?
  • Is the post kind and compassionate or filled with hatred, envy or rage?
  • Can I survive reading one more humblebrag or political post? Will the serial humblebragger ever change? Let’s face it, some people will never stop. So delete them, or take it for what it’s worth – an entertaining ramble. But, the fact that someone named the phenomenon makes it fun for everyone. So sit back and laugh.

 Please share your favorite humblebrag in the comments section. Or better yet, create your own humblebrag by using this humblebrag generator:





1 Response

  1. How is posting on a social website “to honor my success and share an interesting and powerful moment with friends” different from posting “to draw attention to myself or my success” ? Are they both actions to display myself and seek approval though one method may be couched and phrased in a more socially accepted manner? Why do I seek to talk about myself at all?

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