5 Ways to Respond When Someone Hits You With a Backhanded Compliment

5 Alternatives to the Nasty Comeback


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Whether it’s a backhanded compliment or a flat-out jab, it’s so tempting to fight mean words with more mean words. This tactic, however, usually leaves you feeling worse. Not only are you struggling with the sting of the words thrown at you, you’re now dealing with the shame of hurting someone else as well.

So instead of reaching for the classic nasty comeback when someone hits you with an insult, consider these alternatives for a more peaceful resolution.


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1. Be honest 

Instead of verbally sparring with someone, next time they say something that genuinely hurts you, tell them! You don’t want to ignite their defensiveness, so as breezily and calmly as possible, give them a simple, “Ouch. That kinda hurt.” They will most likely be so shocked by your honesty that the conversation will change direction.

This is also setting a great boundary. By speaking up, you’re letting the other person know you won’t let them get away with hurtful comments. If it’s a close friend, you might have even made them aware of something they had no idea they need to work on.

2. Ask for clarification 

Research shows that if someone serves you with a passive-aggressive or backhanded compliment (ie: “I love how you don’t really care how you look”) the best thing for you to do is to ask more questions to get clarification. With confusing comments like these, the stress of sitting on it and trying to figure out what they meant by it will produce major anxiety. So the best approach is to bravely confront them.

A simple, “What did you mean by that?” is the fastest way to get to the root of the problem; plus, you’ll be subtly letting them know that they can’t get away with those comments in the future.

While it can be scary to confront someone, it’s so much better than going home and letting your confusion and resentment grow inside of you, or knowing they’ll most likely do it again because you didn’t set a boundary.

3. Let it go

Some insults simply don’t deserve your energy. If someone is insulting who you are as a person, you’re probably going to want to speak up, but if it’s a poke at something as trivial as your shirt or favorite movie, just let it go. Try not to engage with the person. Their hope is to get a rise out of you, and by denying them that, you took the fun out of it for them. They’ll most likely leave you alone when you stop giving them the reaction they crave.

4. Say thank you

This works particularly well for those passive-aggressive compliments. When you’re hit with a dig wrapped up in a pretty bow, just say thank you. Your bully is most likely trying to make you feel insecure with comments like, “It’s a cute shirt… for you.” So just own a big, confident “Thank you.” Maybe even add in a smile to seal the deal.

5. Laugh it off

They say if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. Responding to a harsh comment with a joke that’s not hurtful can easily diffuse the tension. And if the comment isn’t truly cruel, maybe take this as an opportunity to learn to laugh at yourself.

I remember in college when the funny guy in my dorm starting calling me Sweatpants. At first, I was super defensive, but once I embraced that it was pretty funny that I couldn’t wear jeans past 5 ‘clock — it became an inside joke for our whole floor and bonded us. If you can get in on the joke as opposed to being the joke, the pain will float away.

(Feature image source: Shutterstock)

Skylar Harrison
Skylar Harrison

Skylar is both word and food obsessed and once cried over spilt guacamole. And no, she doesn't want to talk about it. Follow her at @skylarharrison.