How many times has someone given you a compliment and you’ve thought, “is that really a compliment? Because it felt more like an insult?” Backhanded compliments can catch us off guard, and sometimes it’s hard to know the best way to respond. Psychotherapist and author Amy Morin says that the comments are not always said out of malice. The offender may not even realize they have said something hurtful. Whether the disguised insult was purposeful or accidental, these comebacks will help you address them:
You’re really [smart, fast, strong, etc.] for a woman
What you hear: “You’re not as good as a man.”
Anytime someone ads “for a woman,” to the end of a statement, it feels like we’ve been set back about 5 decades. This statement is usually said out of ignorance. Phrases like, “for a black girl,” or “for a woman your age,” are similar and shouldn’t be taken lightly.
How to respond: call them out
No one should be made to feel like they’re beneath someone because of their gender, age, or skin color. Whether the person realizes what they said is insulting or not, you can address the issue directly, and then educate them. “You acknowledge my strength, but you add ‘for a girl.’ It seems you think women aren’t equal to men.”
You’d look great if you wore your hair down
What you hear: “You really don’t look great in that ponytail.”
When someone tells you how you can improve your appearance, you probably think that they’re telling you that you’re not good enough the way you are. But, is that what they’re really saying? Maybe not.
How to respond: let it go
Did they say that you look bad with your hair pulled up? No. They might have thought they were being helpful, or they might be a little envious of your beautiful hair. You could say, “thanks for the suggestion. Maybe I’ll try that one day.”
You seem so content even though you’re single
What you hear: “You poor, lonely woman. Have you even tried to get a date?”
Other catty remarks are, “you’re always traveling. I wish I had few responsibilities like you,” “you’re so great, I don’t know how you’re still single,” and “you look so cute even when you don’t make an effort.”
How to respond: brush it off
When someone makes one of these remarks, most likely, it’s out of jealousy or judgment. If this is the case, don’t bother with them. The problem is with them, not you.
You eat a lot for such a small person. Where does it all go?
What you hear: “You’re too skinny. Eat a cheeseburger or something.”
They might think they’re complimenting your great figure. You think they’re criticizing your weight. This is may be someone who doesn’t realize they said something offensive.
How to respond: have a good laugh
You can use humor to lighten the mood. Try something like, “My body burns calories faster than most people because I’m so smart.”
However, if the person has trouble dealing with their own body image and wants to look like you, the comment could point out their jealousy.
How to respond: ignore them
It’s not worth your energy to confront them.
Wow, you have a master’s degree? You’re so smart, I’m surprised you’re not further along in your career.
What you hear: “What’s your problem? Why aren’t you moving up at your job?”
Maybe you’ve set a goal for yourself and haven’t quite gotten there yet. If it’s a sensitive subject for you.
How to respond: look on the bright side
One of Morin’s suggestions is to acknowledge the positive portion of the backhanded compliment. In this case, you should feel accomplished for having an advanced degree and working hard to get what you want. Even if you’re not exactly where you want to be right now, give yourself some credit and ignore the negative comments.