How to cope with a backhanded compliment

You know the sort - the comments that are meant to be compliments but seem to have another, underlying message.
Woman fake smile

Woman fake smile

“Your make-up is perfect,” says your sister-in-law. ‘How nice,’ you think, ‘what a lovely thing for her to notice.’ Before she tacks on the end: “You’ve always spent a lot of time and money on the way you look.”

What’s the message here? Is she actually trying to be nice by saying this, or implying your looks are only down to a combination of impeccable grooming and large helpings of vanity?

These kinds of backhanded compliments are relatively common, and can bring out the worst in us. And with the festive season being prime time for mixing with all manner of friends and family, you’re bound to get irked by someone.

“Sometimes, it’s a matter of ignorance,” psychotherapist Amy Morin tells TODAY.

“They don’t realise they implied a bad thing.”

Often, Amy explains, people give a backhanded compliment because they feel insecure – hence why they almost seem to take back the compliment they gave at first.

For readers of The Game, they’ll recognise the same tactic used by pickup artists to get people into bed. It makes the other party feel vulnerable and then they pounce.

But a lot of the time, it’s because that person is socially awkward and just say the wrong thing. So how can you take the compliment without getting defensive?

Ignore it

For people who want to touch a nerve, they are waiting for you to react to what they say. Don’t give them the satisfaction, suggests Morin.

“Backhanded compliments are conscious or unconscious attempts … to bring out the worst in you,” said Carl Hindy, a clinical psychologist from the US. “Don’t let somebody push your buttons.”

Say thank you

When someone gives you a backhanded compliment, say thank you. Focus on the positive thing they’ve said and move on.

Pay them a compliment back

There’s nothing worse for someone who’s deliberately trying to make you feel small, than that person confidently turning to them and paying them a genuine compliment.

Be sincere. Find something you like about them and tell them. You’ve taken the high road and kept your dignity.

If all else fails – take them aside

Maybe not in the first meeting, but if a particular friend or family member continuously makes you feel bad – perhaps it’s time to speak up. Take them aside and explain that, while you appreciate them engaging with you, specific things they have said upset you.

Always remember – they’re the problem

What they say says more about the person they are than the person you are.

Tell yourself: “If someone makes those comments, it is about how they are and how they feel about themselves and not how they feel about me,” Morin said.

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