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Whatever happened to the days when we said what we meant and meant what we said? There is so much trolling, meanness, and negativity going around today that it's hard to tell a genuinely kind person from someone rude and disrespectful.
When we hear a compliment or kind word, we have become wired to question the motives of the person who gave the sentiment… wondering if they really meant it or if it was a backhanded way of putting us down.
We all love positive affirmations and praises from others. Still, unfortunately, some of the gracious words we received were not meant to build us up but were a result of gaslighting to knock us down.
So, it's best that we learn the difference between the two to appropriately navigate the awkward situation of being insulted.
In this article, we will further explain what a backhanded compliment is and why someone would give them to another person. You’ll be given examples of these types of insults and ways to deal with them if it happens to you.
What is a Backhanded Compliment?
It's important to state the obvious that a backhanded compliment is not a compliment at all. A person who gives you a backhanded compliment is not trying to encourage you or show you admiration. They are taking an insult and wrapping it in the cloak of praise.
But the cloak is wide open because they aren't trying to hide it. Even the tone of voice is usually harsh or in an insincerely cheerful pitch, just like a typical adult bully.
You may receive a backhanded compliment, and you did nothing wrong.
And though it is hard not to take them personally and be greatly offended, those who share these disparaging words usually deal with some form of personal insecurity, yet take it out on you.
Another essential point to consider is that some backhanded compliments come from a place of ignorance. Not everyone says things intending to hurt you.
Still, their comments come across as offensive because of a place within you that is not healed or a place of great insecurity for you. It’s important to think before we react when responding.
There are a lot of people who will say things to hurt you. However, it's essential to realize that there are still great people who sincerely mean you no harm.
Top Reasons Someone Would Give Backhanded Compliments
We have already touched on insecurity as a reason why someone’s compliments toward you may not be sincere. Let’s look at a few more reasons why people give others backhanded compliments.
Don't drive yourself crazy trying to figure out a person's motives behind a backhanded compliment. Instead, learn to give the “benefit of the doubt” when possible. Be like a duck, and let those insults roll off your back like water.
Backhanded compliments meant to insult you don't lessen your value and the importance of what you bring into this world. Even if by choice, some choose not to embrace you, and it's their loss, unfortunately.
Lastly, please take what you can from those backhanded insults; there may be some truth to them. Spin what was negatively hurled at you and make it a productive and positive thing to become the best version of yourself.
33 Backhanded Compliments That Are Probably Insults
#1. You two actually look happy in that photo.
This comment implies that a person doesn't believe you and your boo are happy, and the photo portrays a false reality.
The best way to reply to this is to thank the person. Then let them know that the cheerful smiles of joy they see in the photo are 100% real.
#2. You can afford a truck like that? It must be nice.
Comments like this aren’t complimenting the new vehicle you have been blessed to buy.
Instead, it implies that the person didn’t believe you could afford a vehicle that expensive or even picture you in something so nice.
And could also be an indicator that they are jealous of your ability to afford it.
#3. You run fast for an older man.
One quick jab that many people take on those who are getting older is to comment on their age.
I would ask, “How fast should a person my age be able to run?” “Is there a guideline or written rule with that information?”
Truth is, you're probably a fast runner for any age.
#4. For someone your size, you sure dress nice.
Don’t let this type of comment fool you. I used to be naïve to backhanded compliments like this.
It indicates that a person believes people with a few extra pounds don't take as much pride in their appearance. I would simply let them know that you always strive to be well-dressed.
#5. You’re not as stupid as you look.
This isn't a compliment calling you brilliant but indicates that a person thinks you look like you're stupid. They had no real expectations of anything enlightening or informative coming out of your mouth.
It may be best to walk away from someone after a comment like this before tempers flare up.
#6. You’re alright in my book, no matter what others have been saying about you.
This could indicate that others are saying bad things about you or a poor attempt to make you feel that way.
It may even be a person's way of saying; you are not as bad as people make you out to be. It's backhanded because it leaves you questioning who the others are and why this person protects them.
#7. Girl, that outfit makes you look skinny!
This backhanded compliment implies that you look fat all the rest of the time. It may be someone's way of calling you fat more so than complimenting how great you look.
It may be best to simply thank them anyway and move on.
#8. Fixing your hair up like that makes you look pretty.
This leaves you feeling like, “What!? Am I not pretty the rest of the time?” This may be a compliment made out of ignorance. The person doesn't think you're ugly, but you look even more appealing with your hair in a bun.
Follow your intuition and the person's facial expression; it may tell you what you need to know.
#9. You clean up really nicely.
This compliment can be backhanded as saying a person didn't feel you could look any better than you usually do. You may ask yourself, “Do I usually look bad in my everyday attire.”
This one may be a bit of a stretch, but it is something people say but often deceitfully to others. Be careful not to let this play into your insecurities.
#10. That sweater is so cute; it looks like one my grandmother used to wear.
When we think of our grandmothers, it can usually usher feelings of nostalgia and warm thoughts and emotions.
But being compared to a grandmother in fashion is usually a backhanded way to call someone's style outdated.
Let the person know that you are comfortable with your personal style choices. You may even compliment their grandmother on her taste in apparel.
#11. That outfit is so beautiful on you. I didn't even realize it was you at first glance.
This backhanded compliment leaves you wondering if the person considers you beautiful at all. If so, seeing you looking good in this outfit would not be such a major shock to their system. Thank them, and keep it moving.
You can also take their stones and build something beautiful with them. If you look unrecognizable and beautiful in this outfit, turn that insult into a constructive critique and dress up more often.
#12. Thanks for putting the files away and straightening the office. The place was so organized and clean I thought someone else had done it.
This insinuates that you aren't perceived as organized or hard-working as others. Though it is a backhanded compliment, take an honest self-assessment and see if there is any truth to what they were implying before you get upset.
This may be a time to make some adjustments to your work ethic.
#13. This newsletter was so well written. When I learned you did it, I thought someone was lying.
This is another backhanded compliment that you could spin into constructive criticism. However, if it is truly an insult, you could address it by thanking them and explaining that you have many underutilized skills they don't know about.
Then tell them to “stay tuned in” to see more of what you can do.
#14. That's a lovely house you bought, especially for someone who works where you do.
This is a backhanded way of someone saying they don't think you make a lot of money. It may also be a way of someone saying they feel you are in over your head by purchasing this house.
It insinuates many things aside from the person being truly happy for you buying the home. You could comment on the process of how you saved money, invested your money, etc. However, none of that really matters.
Just express how grateful you are to be blessed with this house and end the conversation.
#15. Congratulations, I didn't think the company would hire you.
So, this person didn’t think you were hirable by this particular employer? You may never know why they made that assumption.
But just focus on the fact that you got the job even when people clearly didn’t think you deserved it.
#16. Surprisingly, your kids are so well-behaved.
There are so many lousy thought patterns that this backhanded compliment can take you down if you let it. You may wonder, “What has been said about me as a parent or my kids that I don't know about?”
Remember, this statement may not have anything to do with you personally.
So, try not to overanalyze what was said. Take pride in the fact that you have good kids.
#17. I'm very impressed with you, son Josh. Imagine how shocked I was to see he was the Valedictorian of his senior class.
I know what you must be thinking about this one. “What is it about my child that you didn't know he could be the smartest in his class?” However, it could be that you never spoke glowingly about your kids around this person.
Unless you and this person have some personal beef in the past, you might want to chalk this backhanded compliment up to ignorance.
#18. I'm surprised; this food actually tastes pretty good.
What was it about you that made others believe that you couldn’t cook good food? You could ask this question to the person who gave you the backhanded compliment, but you probably wouldn’t get a good answer.
#19. You are prettier than I thought you would be.
This backhanded compliment leaves more questions than answers. Like, what made them think you wouldn't be pretty?
Was it a phone conversation you two had before the meeting, or was it based on an assumption made because of what someone else told them?
Try to find peace in being called pretty, though that backhanded compliment doesn't hold much weight. Because it totally came out of left field with no known basis of origin.
#20. Wow! You are strong; I didn't think you could pick up something so heavy.
So, someone looked at you and made a generalization about your strength. You may not fit the prototype of a bodybuilder or muscle-bound man, or woman.
However, treat this backhanded compliment like a plate of food. Take in what is good and get rid of the rest.
#21. I didn't know what to think when I first saw you. But you have a fantastic singing voice.
We should all know you can't judge a book by its cover. Yet, we still do it. Someone looked at you and thought you couldn't carry a tune. Something about your appearance made them feel as if you were not as talented as you are.
This is a common occurrence on the TV show America's Got Talent. However, don't let that backhanded compliment get you down. Tell them you are full of surprises; people must get to know you before judging you.
#22. You did a great job on that project; you’re making the rest of us look bad.
I learned firsthand that not all your coworkers want you to do well. Many want to get by with doing as little as possible, and your commitment to excellence will show them up or cause them to have greater expectations put on their plates by the boss.
Don't let this kind of remark frustrate you; keep giving it your all. You're not at work to make friends but to make money. Right?
#23. You’re really cool for a schoolteacher.
So, teachers aren't cool? Teachers are stereotyped as dull and govern their classrooms with strict rules of quietness, raising your hand to speak, and giving their students challenging assignments.
Don't take this insult too personally. Take pride in being “cool” and the exception to the rule.
#24 Oh wow, I didn’t realize your English is that good.
At first glance, this seems like a really nice compliment. I mean, someone is telling you that your English is good. But when you take a second look at the compliment, the backhandedness sets in…
Assuming someone is a poor speaker, especially if English isn’t their native language, and then complimenting them conditionally isn’t a compliment at all. The focus is directed at the person being a “foreigner” and, therefore, “second-rate.”
The best way to respond to this would be to say “thank you” and walk away.
#25 What a productive day you’ve had!
This is a compliment, but it’s also not. Instead of saying something like “you always work so hard,” the person has chosen to focus on the fact that today – specifically – was filled with work (implying that other days you are lazy or don’t get much done). It’s quite the “slap in the face” compliment.
#26 Your hair really looks great for your age.
This is a real “oucher,” as nobody likes to hear they are still okay, despite their age. Even though it may sound like a compliment, it’s really not.
People who are born with “foot-in-mouth-syndrome” may end up phrasing a compliment like this, but it suggests that people your age (as in you are old) don’t normally have good hair. Or that you should be all gray and have ugly hair.
#27 Your kids have really turned out amazing.
While every parent wants to hear they raised good kids, they don’t want to be told their kids “turned out” okay. This backhanded compliment implies that their kids were born into some sort of disability or terrible situation (such as your bad parenting).
Remember: “Turned out” can be substituted for phrases like “in spite of” or “recovered.” Would you want to hear your kids turned out amazingly in spite of … you? No, right? Because you played a significant part in their upbringing.
#28 How on earth did you manage to buy such an amazing house?
A game of emphasis can reveal the devious nature of this “compliment.” Try it out like this: How on earth did you manage to buy such a nice house? (As in, who helped you? What bank did you rob? Are you a gold digger?)
The implication is that you either have no taste or that you lack the funds to buy a quality property.
It could also imply you are unable to make decisions, so you wouldn’t have “managed” on your own, so someone must have helped you. The speaker hints at the fact that you don’t qualify for the credit needed to purchase a lovely home.
#29 Ah, you must really enjoy being single over the holidays, right? You look so rested after the time alone!
While you may be single by choice or because you are between partners, it’s a massive blow to the heart to hear someone suggest holidays are fun.
After all, holidays are for sharing. However, the speaker has insinuated you were all alone (while you could have spent the time with friends or had many one night stands).
The insult goes from bad to worse, as they suggest you had nothing to do except rest. Assuming you were alone and, therefore, bored is a nasty way of suggesting your life is a meaningless mess.
Try responding like this: “I enjoy the holidays with family and friends and having some extra time to myself is really peaceful and refreshing.”
#30 When I see you, I am reminded why I treasure my friends so much.
This one is a real head-breaker. Firstly, the speaker isn’t telling the receiver they see them as a friend. Instead, the suggestion is that this person is not worthy of being their friend.
For this statement to work as a compliment, the speaker would have to say something like, “Every time I see you, I treasure you more and more as my friend.”
The suggestion of this backhanded compliment is that you aren’t a nice or worthy person, and the speaker feels relieved they have friends who aren’t like you.
You may also feel like the speaker is saying they are grateful they have friends, since you (and your loneliness) remind them friends are necessary (as you don’t have any).
However you unpack the statement, it’s not a compliment at all.
#31 Your independent spirit is wonderful, but it must make relationships difficult.
Another scathing compliment, as the speaker suggests you are too headstrong to socialize with others or form lasting relationships as your independence means you don’t connect well with people.
Being independent isn’t valued by all, and being told you have a strong spirit and that you don’t need others is also an insult, denying your humanity and need to belong.
If you are single, this statement suggests you are without a partner because you can’t find someone to partner with. Perhaps the speaker thinks you are difficult, head-strong, and too high maintenance?
People may wonder if there’s something wrong with you that you “can’t” find a partner. You’ll feel like they’re suggesting your independence drives a partner away.
#32 Good for you – not letting a clean house stand in the way of your yoga routine.
This “compliment” borders right on an outright insult. The speaker is strongly suggesting your house is not in order and that you value yoga and self-care over a clean home.
The suggestion is that your home is a pigsty, that you are not clean in your world, despite wanting a “clean” body with exercise and mindfulness.
Variations of this backhanded compliment could sound like, “I’m astounded that you can find time for journaling when your house takes so much work.”
I’d say you should just respond by saying “I love my self-care. It does wonders for my mental health” and don’t engage further. Your house (and the state thereof) is your business; not anyone else’s.
#33 I love your social media posts – I never realized you were so much fun!
The suggestion here is that you are not usually fun, that your daily personality is boring, a fun-spoiler, and uninteresting. The speaker insinuates that you are dull in real life and that your social channel creates a false impression of you.
They are essentially calling you a liar. Or asking what’s wrong with you that you are no fun when you aren’t posting on your social accounts.
Instead of complimenting you on the fun things you post, they are pointing out your flaws (or what they perceive to be flaws) and that you’re not nearly as exciting as your social channels make you “seem.”
Final Thoughts on Backhanded Compliments
When productively responding to backhanded compliments, you can simply chalk them all up to ignorance, quickly forgive and move on. Perhaps the best way is to address the statements head-on.
Reaffirm the positive points mentioned and even the negative if there is some truth to what they said. With humility, shape the narrative of their statements into positive and productive words of purpose.
Then, thank them for speaking the truth, even if it was wrapped in a harsh insult or condescending way.
This is the best way to handle verbal abuse or backhanded insults without falling into toxic positivity. Show your opinionated cohort that you may not be perfect, but you are confident and comfortable in being you.
By doing this, you pass the test of navigating opposition on your road to being a better and happier you.
And if you're looking for actual compliments, check out these posts:
- 201 Compliments and Positive Things to Say to Someone
- 45 Great One-Word Compliments to Make Someone's Day
- 75 Best Compliments for Women [NOT on Her Looks]