Youngsters suffer inferiority complex when others 'flex'

By Xanh Le   August 27, 2023 | 02:07 am PT
Youngsters suffer inferiority complex when others 'flex'
The trend of "flexing" becomes popular in Vietnam. Illustration photo by Freepik
The act of bragging, or “flexing,” has become increasingly popular among local youth, while many other youngsters are also feeling low self-esteem as a result.

Quang Vinh, a 24-year-old architect in the coastal city of Da Nang, told VnExpress he was experiencing the feeling of inferiority seeing his colleagues "flexing" their achievements.

"Out of every 10 people working in the same field as me on Facebook, 10 brag about their personal accomplishments," he said.

Their achievements take various forms, from their products to compliments from their clients, according to Vinh.

"A few on the more talented side shared prizes they achieved at international contests, while freelancers posted about their incomes," he said.

Vinh started to doubt himself after coming across the posts. As someone whose academic major was not architecture, he felt like he was standing still while everyone he knew moved forward in the social status and income ladders.

"A lot told stories about how they could earn up to $5,000 for some designs that took them only an hour to make," he said. "That made me wonder why I earn much less but put in the same time and same efforts."

This "flexing" phenomenon is believed by experts to be born out of the current generation’s need to interact, express themselves, and be acknowledged on social media.

It has recently become so popular in Vietnam that a Facebook group named "Flex Den Hoi Tho Cuoi Cung" (Flex Until the Last Breath), in which members share their "flexing," attracted over 1.5 million members. Posts in the group often garner tens of thousands of interactions.

But the trend does hinder the risk of imposing peer pressure on those who do not gain as much as those high achievers such as Vinh, according to professor Le Anh Tu at Van Lang University.

Ngo Thanh, 24, of HCMC, has just graduated from a university abroad. Still, he feels stressed and self-deprecating comparing himself to his friends’ achievements.

"I feel like I was left behind by my friends who have all gained leading positions or become key members in their respective companies," he said.

According to Thanh, his friends often show off about their bank account balances or the number of employees they manage. Their posts serve as reminders to Thanh about how unfortunate he has been not achieving as much, despite having been a talented student himself.

"And I feel hurt because of that," Thanh said.

He has become even more miserable as the trend has gone beyond the boundaries of the Internet space and reached into the real world.

"My parents see my friends’ posts sometimes, and they then often ask me why I was still a low-ranking employee while all of my friends have achieved remarkable achievements," he said.

"Or my friends also show their accomplishments off to our old teachers every time we have a class reunion meeting, which makes me hurt because I do not have such stories to tell."

The young man has been advised by many to turn others’ successful stories into his motivations to work harder and achieve more. But he has failed to do that, as self-doubt is his prevalent feeling, not motivation.

A dangerous thing about this temporary feeling of hurt is that it can gradually develop and eventually become an incurable obsession.

A 2019 publication by the Parent Further organization showed that only 10% out of almost 1,000 participants reported that they had not been affected by peer pressure.

The National Institute of Mental Health also revealed that young people are increasingly prone to depression. One in every six youngsters in Vietnam are suffering from anxiety disorder, and 37% of the young population have had to consult with a psychological therapist.

Psychologist Tran Kim Thanh said many among the youth have not managed to identify their values and thus are likely to compare themselves to others, like what Ngo Thanh has been experiencing. That is also one of the reasons behind the alarming figures mentioned above.

"I feel stressed to the point I sleep only two to three hours every night," he said. "I asked some of my friends who majored in psychology, and they suggested that I was suffering from psychological issues, probably depression."

Thanh suggested that the youth should take their time to figure out what they are really good at instead of comparing their disadvantages to others’ strengths.

"Everyone has their own strong points, so understanding ourselves and being satisfied with what we were born with is better than focusing on others’ achievements," she said.

She added that those struggling with the feeling of inferiority seeing others "flex" could try adapting their behavior to improve the situation.

"You can try noting down your strengths and probably your weaknesses as well, but make sure to list more advantages than disadvantages," she said.

By doing so, Thanh explained, people can gradually learn to appreciate themselves and strengthen their self-confidence, which helps prevent them from feeling inferior to others.

Her suggestions about changing inner beliefs make sense, as reality has proven that merely changing the external environment does not work. At least in Vinh’s case, when he tried leaving Da Nang for his rural hometown for a year, hoping that the peaceful environment there could help him "heal."

"Seeing my friends ‘flexing’ about their frequent big projects [while I’m taking small counterparts in the rural areas] made me feel more stressed instead of healing," he confessed.

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