QUESTION: I’m from a family of five, three boys and two girls, now all older adults. Most of us on average are doing okay, but nothing spectacular except for the youngest boy, who constantly brags about his successes, including his credit score, properties he has accumulated, and how well his children are doing. The rest of us have children we’re proud of as well, but we don’t overdo the bragging.
We’re tired of this bragging on his part that tends to dominate conversations when we’re together. It may not sound like it, but we’re really close and love each other except this one thing that bugs us. Is there something we could say to him in a kind, loving way to make him understand we’d rather not hear all of this?
~ Bored Siblings
Dear Bored Siblings,
First, it is promising to see a family that is close enough to care about this issue. You clearly love one another enough to write in and resolve this irritation. Everyone is different. The longer I live and the more of life and people I experience, I notice that insecure individuals feel a need to brag to feel good about themselves. It has nothing to do with accomplishments. Even I have experienced this. As a very young female, I had accomplished a good degree in ministry that men my age had not. However, I was overlooked. I longed to be recognized. Once I got older, went through many trials, hardships, and successes, I grew wise and secure. I never felt a need to discuss or bring up what I did, had or accomplished. I cared more to make others feel good about themselves.
So it is likely that although it may “look” like your youngest brother is the most successful of the siblings in the monetary area, my professional guess is he lacks some security in his life. External success is very different from having inner security and a strong sense of “self.” People who brag do not have a strong self-esteem. Bottom line: even if they appear narcissistic, narcissists at the core are very insecure and will crumble or lash out if anyone challenges them. They protect these insecurities by bragging and talking about themselves and their family members who make them look “good.” It is a very different process than those of us who are proud of our children because they are good people and we love them unconditionally.
The best route is to have what I call “pat answers” that get repeated over time each and every time he brags. A pat answer can look like this: “Bill, we are so happy that we all can be proud of our accomplishments and that we are all accomplished in different ways.” Change topic. End of discussion.
It is “how” you do this that is effective. Do it immediately. Say the same thing, then change topic right away. This usually gives enough of a hint over time because the phrases are repetitive. Eventually the bragger finally gets it. Be patient. And use your pat answers.
Rev. Kimberlie Zakarian
Dear Bored Siblings:
I commend you for being a close and loving family and believe that you can work this out among yourselves if handled in the right way. There is much to be said by those who study the birth order of children and the effect it has on how siblings relate to each other and their environment. According to these specialists, the firstborn is often referred to as the achiever, the middle child is the peacemaker and the youngest child is the attention-seeker. I’m sure you recognize that all five of you have different personalities and social skills. But quite often, the youngest child seems to have a greater need to prove themselves to the older siblings especially in a larger family.
In the Scriptures there are many healthy guidelines on how we are to relate to one another. Ephesians 4:15 reminds us to “speak the truth in love” to one another. Verse 25 says to “speak truthfully” to one another. And verse 32 tells us that we need to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Because you are a close family I would suggest that when you are together you go out of your way to affirm each other and especially the youngest brother before he gets carried away bragging about his accomplishments and children. When he does start boasting, let him know you are proud of him along with all your other brothers and sisters and all that they have accomplished. If it continues, then either your parents or the sibling who is closest to him needs to lovingly let him know how his bragging makes the others feel. Often people don’t realize how what they say affects others until they are lovingly confronted. Don’t be afraid to “be kind and compassionate, and speak the truth in love.” That’s what will bring healing and wholeness to your family.
Pastor Randy Foster
QUESTION: We were out to dinner with two other couples. An elderly couple sitting at a table near us was having a conversation and he was speaking loudly. I could tell he wore hearing aids. One of the men with us called rudely to the man with the hearing aids telling him to use “his inside voice.” I don’t think the man heard him because we were a few tables away. The man in our party got up, went to their table and told him to lower his voice, which he did. We were very uncomfortable with this behavior. My first instinct was to leave, but we all stayed. When we returned home, my wife insisted that we never go out with this couple again.
My question is this – should we have said something to the rude man at the time or apologized to the other couple for his behavior? My parents have hearing problems and both of them wear hearing aids, so this hit close to home. I wouldn’t want anyone yelling at my parents.
~ Unsettled Soul
Dear Unsettled Soul,
I have experienced incidents similar to yours and they are unsettling. I have spoken up and not spoken up. When I have come from a place of compassion it generally turns out better. Perhaps the man who spoke to the couple is hard of hearing himself and is either hiding the fact or in denial of it. Maybe he just had a bad day. I don’t know the circumstances but talking about it might have helped you understand more and allowed him to explain himself without fear of reprisal. Walking away with your own confusion and growing resentment does not help anyone, especially you.
If you are friends with this couple, try calling and asking him what happened and how he is? You have a right to tell him how this incident made you feel. Just don’t say it in a mean or accusatory way. Let him know you were worried about him and that it wasn’t like him to do something like he did with the older couple. When we hold onto assumptions we are never free from building larger walls around the situation and creating more suspicion.
If this is not a friend you have built a relationship with over time, let it go. Do not carry it further. It only saps you of your compassion and understanding in other circumstances.
This is a great learning moment of how you want to treat people in the future. It touched you and your wife in a deep way. Use it to walk freer in your own life. And, if this happens again, find a way to express your feelings that might open up a conversation about it. This is an endemic problem right now in this country. There is a reluctance to speak up when it might be helpful to understand the other person’s point of view and, at the same time, allow you to be heard. Being considerate does matter for each side of any conflict.
Gary Bates, Practitioner
Dear Unsettled Soul,
Let me first acknowledge the fact that this was a most uncomfortable position for you both. We trust that the people with whom we socialize are capable of behavior befitting a given situation. Unfortunately, that is not always the case these days. Having challenges is frequently more uncomfortable for the person with the hearing deficit than for those who have auditory clarity. In many cases, there is frustration and confusion brought about by the inability to follow the conversation. Often there is withdrawal due to the embarrassment caused by hearing loss. Many lovely moments and stories vanish because of a reluctance to engage.
1 Timothy reminds us of that the elements leading to a “quiet and peaceable life” include being pleasant and having self-control, having good behavior, being hospitable and gentle and not confrontational. And in Job 6:14, we are reminded that “To him who is afflicted, kindness should be shown by his friend…” It appears these ideas were lost to your dinner companion.
As for taking action, I believe our responsibility is to shine light into dark situations. The elderly couple may have appreciated a kind word from you; however, it may have caused them more distress, bringing fresh embarrassment. There is significance in expressing discomfort when your morals and values have been compromised. It’s difficult to say what the best approach would have been, but I believe you have the right to choose to comment when the opportunities in support of just treatment arise. Perhaps you might consider gently addressing your uneasiness the next time the couple includes you in their plans. Disclosure will give them a choice, also. They may learn that information delivered in kindness and with dignity is easier to hear.