23 Backhanded Compliments That Are Probably Insults

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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.

Table of Contents

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.

  • A person is genuinely upset with you about something you did or think you may have done.
  • They really have a dislike for you for no apparent reason at all.
  • It was done out of ignorance, and they didn’t realize their words were hurtful to you.
  • They felt that praising you would diminish their value and importance.
  • They tried to be humorous to fit in with others who disliked you.  Or they were judging you based on negative things others have said about you.
  • Simply to knock you down a peg or two.
  • The person insulting you is simply sarcastic, which is their idea of humor.

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.    

23 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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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:

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