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  • Liz Fischer
    Liz Fischer

    7 Ways to Handle Pretentious People

    Key Takeaways:

    • Understand pretentious behavior.
    • Set clear boundaries.
    • Use empathy wisely.
    • Keep conversations grounded.
    • Maintain your authenticity.

    The Struggle with Pretentious People

    We've all encountered someone who comes across as pretentious—acting as if they know everything and trying to impress others with their supposed superiority. This kind of behavior can be frustrating and alienating, especially when you value genuine connections and authenticity. If you find yourself struggling to deal with pretentious people, you are not alone. Many people face this challenge in social settings, workplaces, and even among friends and family.

    The constant need to prove oneself or put on a facade can make interactions with pretentious individuals draining. You might feel overwhelmed, annoyed, or even belittled by their behavior. The key is to understand why people act this way and how you can effectively manage these interactions without compromising your own authenticity.

    Understanding Pretentious Behavior

    Pretentious behavior is often characterized by an attempt to appear more knowledgeable, cultured, or important than one truly is. This can manifest in various ways, such as name-dropping, using complex jargon unnecessarily, or boasting about achievements. The root of pretentiousness usually lies in insecurity and a desire for validation. When someone feels inadequate or fears not being respected, they may overcompensate by projecting an exaggerated self-image.

    According to psychologist Dr. David Ludden, “Pretentious behavior is a mask worn by those who are afraid of being seen as they truly are.” Understanding this perspective can help you approach pretentious individuals with more empathy and less frustration. By recognizing that their behavior is often a defense mechanism, you can develop strategies to interact with them more effectively.

    Additionally, it's important to differentiate between confidence and pretentiousness. While confidence is rooted in genuine self-assurance and competence, pretentiousness stems from a need to impress others. Recognizing these nuances can help you respond appropriately and maintain your own sense of authenticity.

    The Psychological Roots of Pretentiousness

    mask illustration

    The psychological roots of pretentiousness are deeply embedded in the human psyche. At its core, pretentious behavior is often a coping mechanism for feelings of inadequacy or low self-esteem. When someone feels insecure about their worth or capabilities, they might adopt a pretentious facade to protect themselves from perceived judgment or rejection.

    Dr. Carl Rogers, a prominent psychologist, emphasized the importance of self-acceptance in his person-centered approach. He stated, "The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change." Pretentious individuals, however, struggle with this acceptance. Instead of embracing their true selves, they create an idealized version to present to the world.

    This behavior can also be linked to social comparison theory, which suggests that individuals determine their own social and personal worth based on how they stack up against others. In an attempt to measure up, pretentious people often exaggerate their achievements or knowledge, hoping to gain the validation they crave.

    Moreover, the influence of societal pressures cannot be ignored. In a world where success is often equated with worth, the fear of being seen as ordinary or unsuccessful can drive people to adopt pretentious behaviors. Understanding these psychological underpinnings can help you navigate interactions with pretentious individuals more effectively, fostering empathy and patience.

    How Pretentiousness Affects Relationships

    Pretentiousness can have a significant impact on relationships, often creating barriers to genuine connection and mutual understanding. When someone constantly puts on a facade, it becomes difficult for others to relate to them on a deeper level. This can lead to feelings of frustration, resentment, and disconnection among friends, family, and colleagues.

    In romantic relationships, pretentious behavior can be particularly damaging. Partners may feel like they are always competing or that their pretentious partner is more interested in impressing others than in building a genuine connection. Over time, this can erode trust and intimacy, making it challenging to sustain a healthy and fulfilling relationship.

    Friendships can also suffer from pretentiousness. Authenticity is a cornerstone of strong, supportive friendships, and when one friend is consistently pretentious, it can create an imbalance. Friends may feel that they cannot be themselves or that their achievements and experiences are undervalued.

    In professional settings, pretentious behavior can hinder teamwork and collaboration. Colleagues may find it difficult to work with someone who is always trying to outshine others or who dismisses others' contributions. This can lead to a toxic work environment where true cooperation and innovation are stifled.

    Addressing pretentious behavior in relationships requires a combination of empathy, assertiveness, and clear communication. By understanding the underlying reasons for pretentiousness and implementing strategies to manage it, you can create healthier, more authentic interactions.

    Signs of Pretentious Behavior


    Identifying pretentious behavior can be challenging, especially when it is subtle. However, there are several common signs that can help you recognize when someone is being pretentious. These signs often include a combination of verbal and non-verbal cues that reflect an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

    One of the most noticeable signs is excessive boasting. Pretentious individuals frequently highlight their achievements and possessions, often in a way that seems unnecessary or out of context. They might name-drop influential people they know or constantly reference their own successes, making conversations feel one-sided.

    Another sign is the use of complex language and jargon. While it's normal for people to use technical terms in appropriate settings, pretentious individuals often use complicated vocabulary to impress others rather than to communicate clearly. This can make conversations difficult to follow and may leave others feeling excluded or inferior.

    Pretentious people also tend to dominate conversations, often interrupting others to steer the discussion back to themselves. They may disregard the contributions of others or dismiss alternative viewpoints, showing a lack of genuine interest in what others have to say.

    Non-verbal cues such as body language can also indicate pretentiousness. For example, they might adopt an air of superiority, maintaining a posture that suggests they are above others. This could include looking down on people, literally and figuratively, or using condescending gestures and expressions.

    Recognizing these signs can help you better understand and navigate interactions with pretentious individuals. It allows you to remain grounded and authentic, ensuring that you do not get drawn into their need for validation.

    Why People Become Pretentious

    The reasons behind pretentious behavior are often complex and multifaceted. At its core, pretentiousness is usually driven by a deep-seated need for validation and acceptance. Individuals who feel insecure or inadequate may adopt a pretentious facade as a way to protect themselves from criticism and to garner respect and admiration from others.

    One psychological theory that helps explain this behavior is Adlerian psychology, which suggests that feelings of inferiority can drive individuals to overcompensate by striving for superiority. Pretentious individuals might exaggerate their achievements and knowledge in an attempt to mask their insecurities and to appear more capable and accomplished than they truly feel.

    Additionally, societal pressures and cultural expectations play a significant role. In many cultures, success is often equated with self-worth, and there is immense pressure to appear successful and competent. This societal emphasis on achievement can lead individuals to develop pretentious behaviors as a way to conform to these expectations and to avoid being perceived as failures.

    Personal experiences and upbringing also contribute to the development of pretentious behavior. For example, individuals who grew up in environments where they were constantly compared to others or where their self-worth was tied to their accomplishments may be more prone to adopting a pretentious facade. These early experiences can shape their self-perception and influence their behavior in adulthood.

    Understanding the underlying reasons for pretentiousness can foster empathy and patience when dealing with pretentious individuals. It highlights the importance of addressing the root causes of this behavior, rather than merely reacting to the symptoms. By recognizing that pretentiousness is often a defense mechanism for deeper insecurities, we can approach these individuals with compassion and help them feel more secure in their true selves.

    The Impact of Pretentiousness on Authenticity

    Pretentiousness can significantly undermine authenticity in both the individual displaying the behavior and those around them. When someone adopts a pretentious facade, they are essentially hiding their true self behind a mask. This not only creates a barrier to genuine connections but also fosters an environment where authenticity is stifled.

    For the pretentious individual, constantly maintaining an exaggerated persona can be exhausting and unsustainable. It prevents them from engaging in honest self-reflection and growth, as they are too focused on upholding their facade. This can lead to a lack of self-awareness and hinder personal development.

    For those interacting with pretentious people, the impact on authenticity can be equally profound. Authentic relationships are built on trust, openness, and mutual respect. When pretentiousness enters the equation, these foundations are compromised. Friends, family members, and colleagues may feel unable to express themselves freely or share their true thoughts and feelings, fearing judgment or dismissal.

    Furthermore, pretentiousness can create a toxic social dynamic where individuals feel pressured to compete or measure up to the pretentious person's inflated standards. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy, resentment, and disconnection, further eroding the potential for authentic interactions.

    In essence, pretentiousness and authenticity are mutually exclusive. To foster genuine connections and maintain personal integrity, it is crucial to address and mitigate pretentious behavior, both in oneself and in others. This involves cultivating self-acceptance, promoting open communication, and creating an environment where people feel valued for who they truly are.

    7 Practical Ways to Handle Pretentious People

    Dealing with pretentious individuals can be challenging, but there are practical strategies you can employ to manage these interactions while preserving your own authenticity. Here are seven effective ways to handle pretentious people:

    1. Set Clear Boundaries: Establishing boundaries is crucial when dealing with pretentious individuals. Clearly define what behavior is acceptable and what is not. This helps protect your own mental and emotional well-being.
    2. Don't Engage in Competitions: Avoid getting drawn into competitions or one-upmanship. Pretentious people thrive on comparisons, so disengage from their attempts to outshine you. Focus on your own values and accomplishments.
    3. Use Empathy: Try to understand the underlying insecurities driving their behavior. While this doesn't excuse their actions, empathy can help you respond with patience and compassion, rather than frustration or anger.
    4. Keep Conversations Grounded: Steer conversations towards genuine, relatable topics. Encourage authentic dialogue by sharing your own experiences and asking open-ended questions that promote meaningful interaction.
    5. Avoid Feeding Their Ego: Refrain from giving excessive praise or attention to their exaggerated claims. Instead, acknowledge their achievements without reinforcing their need for validation. This can help reduce their reliance on pretentious behavior.
    6. Practice Assertiveness: Stand up for yourself and express your thoughts and feelings confidently. Assertiveness can help you communicate your boundaries and needs effectively, without being confrontational.
    7. Seek Support When Needed: If interactions with a pretentious person become too overwhelming, seek support from friends, family, or a mental health professional. Discussing your experiences can provide valuable insights and coping strategies.

    Implementing these strategies can help you navigate interactions with pretentious people more effectively, allowing you to maintain your authenticity and foster healthier relationships.

    Tip 1: Set Clear Boundaries

    Setting clear boundaries is essential when dealing with pretentious people. Boundaries help protect your mental and emotional well-being, ensuring that you do not get overwhelmed or manipulated by their behavior. Clearly defining what you will and will not tolerate can create a more balanced and respectful interaction.

    Begin by identifying the behaviors that make you uncomfortable or stressed. Once you have a clear understanding of your limits, communicate them calmly and assertively. For example, if a pretentious colleague constantly interrupts you during meetings, you might say, "I appreciate your input, but I need to finish my point before we move on."

    It's important to remain consistent with your boundaries. If the pretentious person continues to overstep, gently remind them of your earlier conversation. Consistency reinforces the seriousness of your boundaries and encourages respect from the other person.

    Additionally, be prepared to enforce consequences if your boundaries are repeatedly ignored. This could involve distancing yourself from the person or seeking support from a supervisor or HR department in a professional setting. By setting and maintaining clear boundaries, you can create a healthier and more respectful environment for yourself.

    Tip 2: Don’t Engage in Competitions

    Pretentious individuals often thrive on competition and comparisons. Engaging in their attempts to outshine you can lead to unnecessary stress and conflict. Instead, focus on your own values and achievements without getting drawn into their competitive games.

    When a pretentious person tries to one-up you, respond with neutrality. Avoid reacting defensively or attempting to outdo them. For instance, if they boast about their latest expensive purchase, you might simply acknowledge it without showing excessive interest. This can help defuse the situation and discourage further competitive behavior.

    Another effective strategy is to redirect the conversation towards more meaningful and collaborative topics. By shifting the focus away from individual achievements and towards shared interests or goals, you can foster a more inclusive and supportive dialogue. This not only reduces the pretentious person's need to compete but also promotes a healthier social dynamic.

    Remember, your worth is not determined by comparisons with others. Embrace your unique qualities and accomplishments, and refuse to let pretentious behavior undermine your confidence. By not engaging in competitions, you maintain your authenticity and encourage more genuine interactions.

    Tip 3: Use Empathy

    Using empathy can be a powerful tool when dealing with pretentious people. By understanding the underlying insecurities and fears that drive their behavior, you can respond with patience and compassion rather than frustration or anger. Empathy allows you to see beyond the facade and connect with the person's genuine emotions and experiences.

    One way to practice empathy is to listen actively. Pay attention to what the pretentious person is saying, and try to understand their perspective without immediately judging or dismissing them. Reflective listening, where you paraphrase their words to show understanding, can help validate their feelings and encourage more authentic communication.

    For example, if a pretentious friend is boasting about their latest achievement, you might say, "It sounds like you're really proud of your work. Can you tell me more about what inspired you?" This approach shows that you are genuinely interested in their experience, which can help them feel valued and understood.

    Empathy also involves recognizing the human need for validation and belonging. While it's important not to feed their ego excessively, offering sincere compliments and support can help reduce their reliance on pretentious behavior. Acknowledging their efforts and achievements in a genuine manner can foster a more positive and authentic interaction.

    Tip 4: Keep Conversations Grounded

    Keeping conversations grounded is essential for maintaining authenticity in your interactions with pretentious individuals. By steering discussions towards genuine and relatable topics, you can create a more balanced and meaningful dialogue.

    One effective strategy is to focus on shared interests and experiences. Finding common ground can help shift the conversation away from competitive or boastful topics and towards more inclusive and enjoyable discussions. Ask open-ended questions that encourage the pretentious person to share their thoughts and feelings in a more authentic way.

    For instance, instead of letting the conversation be dominated by their grandiose claims, you might ask, "What do you enjoy doing in your free time?" or "What's been the most rewarding part of your recent project?" These questions can help bring the discussion to a more relatable level and promote a deeper connection.

    It's also helpful to gently steer the conversation back to the present moment if it starts to drift into exaggerated or irrelevant territory. You could say, "That's interesting, but I'd love to hear more about what's going on with you right now." This approach keeps the focus on real, current experiences rather than inflated narratives.

    By keeping conversations grounded, you can foster a more authentic and meaningful interaction, making it easier to connect with the person behind the pretentious facade.

    Tip 5: Avoid Feeding Their Ego

    One of the most effective ways to handle pretentious people is to avoid feeding their ego. Pretentious individuals often crave validation and attention to bolster their exaggerated self-image. By refraining from giving them the admiration they seek, you can help reduce their reliance on pretentious behavior.

    This doesn't mean you should be dismissive or rude. Instead, focus on acknowledging genuine achievements and behaviors without excessively praising or highlighting their pretentious actions. For example, if a pretentious colleague boasts about their latest project, you might respond with a simple, "That's great to hear," rather than lavishing them with compliments.

    Another strategy is to redirect the conversation towards topics that are more meaningful and less about showcasing superiority. Asking questions about their interests, hobbies, or opinions can help shift the focus away from their need for validation and towards a more balanced dialogue.

    It's also important to be mindful of how you respond to their stories and claims. Showing excessive enthusiasm or amazement can reinforce their pretentious behavior. Instead, maintain a neutral and composed demeanor, which can subtly signal that their attempts to impress are unnecessary.

    By consciously avoiding actions that feed a pretentious person's ego, you can create an environment where authenticity is valued over superficial displays of superiority. This approach not only helps in managing your interactions with them but also encourages them to engage more genuinely.

    Tip 6: Practice Assertiveness

    Practicing assertiveness is key when dealing with pretentious individuals. Assertiveness allows you to express your thoughts, feelings, and needs confidently and respectfully, without being aggressive or passive. This can help you set clear boundaries and communicate effectively, ensuring that your interactions remain balanced and healthy.

    When you encounter pretentious behavior, assertiveness involves standing up for yourself and addressing the issue directly but diplomatically. For instance, if a pretentious friend constantly interrupts you to boast about their achievements, you might say, "I appreciate your enthusiasm, but I would like to finish my point."

    Being assertive also means being honest about how their behavior affects you. If a pretentious colleague's actions are disrupting a meeting, you could address it by saying, "When you speak over others, it makes it difficult for us to collaborate effectively."

    It's important to remember that assertiveness is about mutual respect. While you are standing up for your own needs, you are also acknowledging and respecting the other person's perspective. This balance can help de-escalate potential conflicts and foster more constructive interactions.

    In addition to verbal communication, non-verbal cues play a significant role in assertiveness. Maintaining eye contact, using a calm and steady tone of voice, and adopting an open posture can reinforce your assertive stance and convey confidence.

    By practicing assertiveness, you empower yourself to handle pretentious individuals more effectively, creating a space where genuine and respectful interactions can thrive.

    Tip 7: Seek Support When Needed

    Interacting with pretentious people can be draining and, at times, overwhelming. It's important to recognize when you need support and to seek it out without hesitation. Support can come from friends, family, or even mental health professionals who can offer guidance and coping strategies.

    Talking to someone you trust about your experiences can provide emotional relief and new perspectives. Friends and family can offer reassurance and practical advice on how to handle pretentious individuals, helping you navigate these interactions more effectively. They can also validate your feelings, reminding you that it's okay to feel frustrated or annoyed.

    In some cases, seeking professional help might be beneficial. A therapist or counselor can help you develop stronger coping mechanisms and offer deeper insights into the psychological dynamics at play. They can also assist you in building resilience and maintaining your authenticity in the face of challenging social interactions.

    Additionally, support groups or online communities can be valuable resources. Connecting with others who are dealing with similar issues can provide a sense of solidarity and shared understanding. These groups can offer practical tips, emotional support, and a safe space to vent and share experiences.

    Remember, seeking support is not a sign of weakness but a proactive step towards maintaining your well-being and authenticity. By reaching out for help, you equip yourself with the tools and support needed to handle pretentious people more effectively.

    Conclusion: Maintaining Your Authenticity

    Dealing with pretentious people can be challenging, but it is possible to navigate these interactions while maintaining your authenticity. By understanding the psychological roots of pretentiousness and recognizing the signs, you can approach these individuals with empathy and patience.

    Implementing practical strategies such as setting clear boundaries, avoiding ego-feeding behaviors, practicing assertiveness, and seeking support when needed can help you manage these interactions more effectively. These approaches not only protect your own mental and emotional well-being but also encourage more genuine and respectful interactions.

    Ultimately, the key to handling pretentious people lies in staying true to yourself. Embrace your own authenticity and value genuine connections over superficial displays of superiority. By fostering an environment of mutual respect and open communication, you can create more meaningful and fulfilling relationships.

    As you navigate these challenges, remember the words of Brené Brown: “Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we're supposed to be and embracing who we are.” By prioritizing your authenticity, you can thrive in your interactions and build stronger, more genuine connections.


    Q: How can I remain calm when dealing with pretentious people?

    A: Staying calm can be challenging, but it is crucial for maintaining your own peace of mind. Practice deep breathing techniques and remind yourself that their behavior is more about their insecurities than a reflection of your worth. Taking a step back and approaching the situation with empathy can also help you stay composed.

    Q: Is it possible to change a pretentious person's behavior?

    A: Changing someone's behavior is difficult and ultimately up to them. However, by setting clear boundaries, avoiding feeding their ego, and encouraging genuine conversations, you can create an environment that promotes more authentic interactions. If the person is willing, suggesting professional help or counseling can also be beneficial.

    Q: What if a pretentious person is a close friend or family member?

    A: When the pretentious person is someone close to you, it can be even more challenging. Open and honest communication is key. Share your feelings calmly and respectfully, and express how their behavior affects your relationship. Encourage them to reflect on their actions and consider seeking support if needed. Remember, maintaining your own boundaries and well-being is essential, even in close relationships.

    Q: How do I avoid feeling inferior around pretentious people?

    A: It's natural to feel overshadowed by pretentious behavior, but it's important to remember your own worth and accomplishments. Focus on your strengths and values, and avoid comparing yourself to others. Practicing self-compassion and surrounding yourself with supportive, genuine people can also help reinforce your sense of self-worth.

    Q: Can pretentious behavior be a phase?

    A: Yes, pretentious behavior can sometimes be a phase, especially in young adults or individuals going through significant life changes. As they gain more confidence and self-awareness, they may outgrow these behaviors. Patience and supportive guidance can help them navigate this phase and develop more authentic ways of interacting with others.

    Recommended Resources

    The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

    Person-Centered Therapy by Carl Rogers

    The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

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