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Backhanded Compliment: How to React Kindly or Give Back in Kind

A backhanded compliment is a passive aggressive way of being nasty while sounding nice. To combat them, use one of these five comebacks.

Backhanded Compliment

A backhanded compliment is a way to make someone feel good by praising them for something, while at the same time, saying something to offend them.

Often leaving the person scratching their head wondering if you were trying to be nice, or if you knew that you were nasty, sometimes we do it to hide aggressive behavior, and sometimes we are completely unaware of how the things we say can sting or come across.

A backhanded compliment would be something like “you’re so pretty that you could be a plus size model.” The pretty part is meant to make someone feel good, but the overall compliment leaves the recipient knowing that the compliment giver thinks they are overweight.

A backhanded compliment can sometimes come out wrong and isn’t noticed until they leave our mouths. But, there are times when you can use them to put someone in their place, let them know that they have been a jerk, or bring down the queen bee who you don’t want to call out directly, but do want to let them know that they can’t continue with their behavior. [Read: 101 awesomely good comebacks for every occasion]

A masterful trade, a backhanded compliment can not only catch you off guard, but they can leave you guard-less. Although you know that they were meant to intentionally hurt, they are disguised in niceness.

Like “Bless your heart,” it is hard to combat them or be overtly aggressive when handed one without looking paranoid or ridiculous. After all, it was a compliment meant to make you happy… or was it?

5 effective ways to deal with a backhanded compliment

The key is to meet backhanded compliments with like kind. Being overly aggressive, mad, or angry about them will only bring out the worst in you. In intentional cases, that is what the compliment giver is hoping for.

So, it is best to be as covert as they are in your response. Meeting passive aggressiveness with the same is the only way to put a backhander in their place. Here are the effective ways to deal with a backhanded compliment.

#1 Ignore it. My mother-in-law was the best, wait… did I say the best? Yes, the best backhanded complimenter of all time. She would say things that would sit in my crawl for months. She was so good at what she did that I still, to this day, really don’t know if she had any idea that what she was saying to be nice was so mean. [Read: The mean girl – 25 traits to recognize her and stay away]

The best way to defend yourself from a backhanded compliment, especially if you aren’t sure if the person intentionally meant to hurt your feelings, or if they just were speaking their version of the truth, is just to ignore it and move on.

In the end, if you call them out, they will vehemently deny it anyway. And, it may backfire to make you look insecure, accusatory, and paranoid. If it is something small you can live with and it doesn’t happen frequently, sometimes it is best just to let it go.

There are times when the backhanded complimenter is saying what they say to purposely push your buttons or get you upset. If that is the case, ignoring it is the best way to combat it. If they can’t get a rise out of you, they may just stop it and move along to the next victim. Pretend not to get it, and they may not waste their time on you anymore.

#2 Only acknowledge the good portion of the compliment. A backhanded compliment didn’t just come out of thin air. The person providing them has thought pretty hard about how to hurt you. If someone gives you a backhanded compliment like “I love that dress it really hides your midsection,” simply reply “Thank you, I thought the blue looked good with my eyes.”

If you only allow the positive message to make it through to your psyche, they will see that you refuse to take on the nasty portion. That negates the whole reason for a backhanded compliment. If you do it enough times, the backhanded complimenter won’t waste the time trying to take you down through passive aggressive methods. [Read: 12 different types of humor and how it affects relationships]

#3 Be appreciative for their compliment. To stop the backhander from thinking they got the best of you, simply say thank you and nothing else. If you say thank you it shows the backhanded complimenter that you are tough and self-confident enough to take it without being hurt or even effected.

By saying thank you, you acknowledge “yes I heard what you said” and “yes I got that it was supposed to hurt” while also saying “I don’t care… you can’t hurt me or my feelings with anything that you have to say.” Remember, you are rubber and they are glue, just let it bounce off you and stick to their ugly self. [Read: 15 types of toxic relationships to watch out for]

#4 Call them out. I have had occasions where a backhanded compliment came with such fervor that it becomes impossible to subject yourself to it another moment without putting a stop to it.

If you have a friend or family member who simply can’t stop themselves from being passive aggressive, and is constantly making you feel bad by disguising their ugliness in something that sounds nice, then it may be time to take out the bully.

Bullies come in all forms, and a passive aggressive backhander is the worst type. You aren’t the only recipient of the hurtful phrases, so take one for the team. Just like any bully, calling out their behavior and meeting it with like aggression will do the trick to ensure that they can’t continue to dump on you without reprise or any responsibility for what they say. [Read: How to deal with bullies – 13 grownup ways to confront mean people]

If you are tired of the backhanded compliments flowing your way, state in no uncertain terms that you don’t appreciate being hurt. Sure, it will be met with a “What are you talking about? I was just giving you a compliment!” But, once you have shown their covert actions for what they are, they will have a really hard time trying to dive bomb your feelings in a kind/unkind form of verbal attack again.

Letting them know that you know it is no mistake that they intentionally say shitty things will stop them from being able to hide it anymore.

Someone who uses backhanded compliments does it so that they sound nice and don’t want anyone to know the ugly side. If you call them out and confront them, they no longer can claim the “I didn’t know” defense. They have been put on notice. [Read: Stop the craziness in life – How to deal with rude people]

#5 Give it right back. If you receive a backhanded compliment, sometimes it is best to keep your sense of humor and keep it light. If they give you a compliment, then it is okay to give one right back that is just as caustic and covert.

If you are quick-witted and know how to send your own zingers, then have at it. A like kind comment works in two ways. It lets the backhanded complimenter know that you understand what their phrase was intended to do, and it insults them in the exact same manner. Not everyone has the skill. But, if you do… let it ride to take out a word bully.

Backhanded compliments are one of the hardest things to counterattack. After all, the entire purpose of them is to be nasty while sounding nice. An intentional way to make you feel bad while giving you the cue that they didn’t mean it, chances are good that it was totally spot on.

[Read: How to stop selfish people from hurting you]

You can be quick-witted, ignore the backhanded compliment, acknowledge only the positive, or meet it with your own twist. It is really about timing and how masterful the person you are dealing with is.

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Julie Keating

A writer isn’t born, but created out of experiences. No lack of subject matter, my life reads more like fiction than anything that could have been imagined...

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