Showing off is what I will describe as a deliberate attempt to make people notice something nice about you. Merriam Webster defines it as one who tries to impress other people with his abilities or possessions.
The primary reason people engage in show off seems to be for egoistic gratification. Since the dawn of humanity, man has been a social animal. Early man would include himself in a pack/herd/tribe for advantages of peace security, access to food and shelter. Acceptance then means the roadce between life and death, because the more unpopular he becomes in the tribe the higher the likelihood of being thrown out. By that it has been inherently embedded in the DNA of man to do and say things that will bolster acceptance in his immediate and larger society because acceptance by others mean a lot.
While human development and civilization over the millennia has stripped us off the need of social acceptance as a primary requirement for survival, our biological evolution may not have gotten rid of the instinctual need. We still feel the need to be accepted and acceptable in our immediate society and we think that not being so is bad for us. Our instincts still tell us we need to impress everyone before we can make any meaningful progress in our dealings. This, to me, informs the need for show off, even when we do not need to.
These days we have people that are in terrible financial situations projecting inordinate wealth. Ordinary middle class folks striving to become part of the one percenters by hook or by crook. Different types of misrepresentations and over representations just to make people praise and accept you.
In my short sojourn as a student of beginner sociology one of the models of human psychology was the structural model. From this, I was thought that man has three kinds of psychic apparatus. The Id, ego and superego and that they are the three theoretical constructs that define our mental life.
- The id is the basic instinct, the part of your psychology that comes with you from birth. It drives your basic needs and desirres. Your id is you alone when no one is watching or will see the effects of what you do. The id is what you become in an environment either where you feel you are not being observed or that your actions will suffer no negative consequences. Your id is your inner you, the things you do in the privacy of your room. The philosophical reflection that man is nasty, selfish and brutish arises as a result of the id because it is the basic instinctual nature of man to be selfish and brutish over fellow man. The id has no concept of morality or ethics; everything in the id is geared towards self pleasure.
Superego. This is more or less the opposite of id because it works in contradiction to the id. While your id is chaos and all instinct, the superego aims for perfection. The superego strives to act in an appropriate manner while the id aims for instant gratification. It is the internalisation of any external social and cultural values from one’s society. Your superego is what you want the world to think of you.
Ego This is the rational part of you that thinks in terms of what is good for you and acceptable in society. the ego is the nexus between the id sand the superego. The ego is the cognitive and intellectual part of the human that helps him make sense and reconcile his wants and desires with the realities of his environment and the world. It is the balance.
Now, for a well adjusted rational person the ego is the part that is the most balanced and the one that is supposed to be in charge. But for many, control may lean towards the id, or the superego opposite. When it is the latter that is when the individual go above and beyond what is normal or necessary just to make himself aligned with the society he is in. where this happens we see the person starts to poretray himself as what he is not. If the society respects money, you will want to be seen as having a lot of those in order to be respected. A society that places emphasis on ephemeral material stuff will be full of people who will want to show how much they are in possession of those items seen as important. Perhaps with this it brings more social power and influence.
Let us not forget the head swelling tendencies. If people fall for your vaunts you will likely feel good about yourself. People will definitely show off to feel good about themselves. For instance you buy expensive jewelry, shoe, or gadget and will wait for people to make comments on how cool it looks and such. Then the buyer reveals he got it for so and so amount of money, this revelation may be accompanied by a gasp and nodding: Essentially feeding the confirmation bias. This could expand into a widening cycle of people buying something because it looks cool, making others buy for th3 same reason, and so on….sigh. That one is a topic for another day.
Remember the saying that an empty barrel makes the loudest noise, you normally do not need to blow your trumpet too much before your quality is perceived. But these days if one does not blow his trumpet he will wallow in obscurity for a while. Such a person may only get noticed if he gets lucky, not to talk of becoming successful. People will show off to get noticed so that they can get to exhibit their skills to others to benefit from it.
From my perspective, the habit if showing off may not be a necessary one to imbibe. Eventually your stuff will be known and when it becomes all a lie such a person loses grace and social standing weventually, so in the long run it would seem that there is no essence to it. Just be rational, it is good to blow your trumpet sometimes but do not make false representations of what you do not have or are not normally capable of just so that you can gain society’s notice or approval, it will backfire.