The Dangerous Game of One-Upmanship: Why Some People Always Think They’re Better Than Others

One-upmanship is a social phenomenon where individuals try to prove themselves superior to others in various aspects. This behavior can manifest in various ways, such as exaggerating their achievements, belittling others, or constantly seeking validation from others. While it may seem harmless at first, one-upmanship can have serious consequences, leading to damaged relationships, low self-esteem, and even mental health issues. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind one-upmanship and its effects on individuals and society.

The Psychology of One-Upmanship

One-upmanship is often rooted in insecurities and a need for external validation. Individuals who engage in one-upmanship may feel inadequate or inferior in some way, leading them to seek validation from others by proving their superiority. This behavior can also be a result of past experiences, such as childhood trauma or bullying, that have instilled a sense of competition and a need to prove oneself.

In addition, social media and society’s emphasis on achievement and success have fueled the desire to constantly prove oneself as better than others. The constant comparison to others’ seemingly perfect lives on social media can lead to feelings of inadequacy, which can drive individuals to engage in one-upmanship in an attempt to restore their self-esteem.

The Negative Effects of One-Upmanship

While one-upmanship may provide a temporary boost to one’s ego, it can have serious negative consequences both on the individual and society as a whole.

Damaged Relationships

One-upmanship can lead to damaged relationships with friends, family, and coworkers. When someone is constantly trying to prove themselves superior, it can come across as arrogant and dismissive of others’ achievements. This can create resentment and mistrust, damaging relationships in the long run.

Low Self-Esteem

Ironically, individuals who engage in one-upmanship may have low self-esteem. Constantly seeking external validation and approval can be a sign of insecurity and a lack of confidence in one’s own abilities. One-upmanship can create a cycle of needing to continually prove oneself, leading to further feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem.

Mental Health Issues

One-upmanship can also contribute to the development of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The constant pressure to prove oneself as superior can be exhausting and lead to chronic stress, which can negatively impact one’s mental health over time.

Societal Consequences

On a larger scale, one-upmanship can contribute to a toxic culture of competition and a lack of empathy towards others. This can create a society that values individual achievement over community well-being and cooperation. The constant need to prove oneself as better than others can also lead to a lack of teamwork and collaboration, hindering progress and innovation.

Breaking the Cycle of One-Upmanship

Breaking the cycle of one-upmanship requires self-reflection and a willingness to address the underlying insecurities and motivations behind the behavior. Some strategies for overcoming one-upmanship include:

Building Self-Esteem

One-upmanship often stems from a lack of self-esteem and a need for external validation. Building self-esteem through activities such as practicing self-care, setting achievable goals, and surrounding oneself with supportive people can help individuals feel more confident in their own abilities and less likely to engage in one-upmanship.

Developing Empathy

Developing empathy towards others can help individuals see the value in collaboration and teamwork over competition. By focusing on understanding others’ perspectives and experiences, individuals can develop a sense of connection and community rather than constantly trying to prove themselves as superior.


Practicing mindfulness can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and behaviors, including the tendency towards one-upmanship. By developing a greater sense of self-awareness, individuals can become better at identifying and addressing the underlying insecurities and motivations behind the behavior.

Seeking Professional Help

In some cases, individuals may require professional help to address underlying mental health issues or past traumas that contribute to one-upmanship. Seeking therapy or counseling can provide individuals with the tools and support to overcome their struggles and improve their overall well-being.


One-upmanship may seem harmless at first, but it can have serious negative consequences for both individuals and society as a whole. It is important to understand the psychology behind the behavior and take steps to address the underlying insecurities and motivations driving it. By building self-esteem, developing empathy, practicing mindfulness, and seeking professional help when necessary, individuals can break the cycle of one-upmanship and create healthier relationships and communities.


Related Posts

  1. Tesser, A. (1991). Evaluation apprehension and pro-social behavior: A review and reformulation. Psychological Bulletin, 110(3), 353-373.
  2. Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York: Free Press.
  3. Keltner, D., & Gruenfeld, D. H. (2011). Making sense of one-upmanship. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 44, pp. 29-80). Academic Press.
  4. Riggio, R. E. (1986). Social interaction skills and one-upmanship: A survey of the literature. Communication Education, 35(3), 264-277.
  5. Hamachek, D. (2005). The making of a narcissist. Psychology Today, 38(6), 66-71.
  6. Leary, M. R., & Baumeister, R. F. (2000). The nature and function of self-esteem: Sociometer theory. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol. 32, pp. 1-62). Academic Press.
  7. Davidson, R. J., & Begley, S. (2012). The emotional life of your brain: How its unique patterns affect the way you think, feel, and live–and how you can change them. Penguin.
  8. Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Lucas, R. E. (2015). National accounts of subjective well-being. American Psychologist, 70(3), 234-242.
  9. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The” what” and” why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268.
  10. Buckner, J. C., Mezzacappa, E., & Beardslee, W. R. (2003). Characteristics of resilient youths living in poverty: The role of self-regulatory processes. Development and Psychopathology, 15(1), 139-162.