Backhanded Compliments are Just Indirect Abuse.

Oct 12, 2021

Get Rid of this Toxic Relationships Trait in Your Relationship.

We’ve all been in those relationships before where backhanded compliments are everywhere. While you may be eager to receive positive feedback from your partner, a backhanded conflict often leaves us feeling more confused than supported. Learn more about this toxic trait and learn how you can fix your relationship. 

What is a backhanded compliment?

A backhanded compliment is when someone is trying to insult you, and they cover it up with kindness. And I know that may come as a shock because “compliment” and “insult” are near opposites, but this confusing communication tactic is just that. It’s a confusing amalgamation of abuse and gaslighting. If your partner can’t truly compliment you without also making some sort of dig about you, it’s time to talk to them about it and address the issue. 

Often when confronted about your feelings regarding the backhanded compliment, the person who gave it to you will retreat and emphasize the kindness they were trying to show you. And while it may be true that this is what they are trying to do, if they’re relying on backhanded compliments to provide you loving words, then they need to revise their strategy. Remember that kindness and love aren’t really kindness and love until both parties both feel the same way about them. Regardless of intent, if they’re not willing to make sure they love you better, it may be time to move on. 

Suppose you’re still stuck on whether or not your partner is participating in this unhealthy relationship tactic. Check out the following backhanded compliment examples and compare them to your own experience: 

About Looks

  • “You look good, for someone of your size.”
  • “Your eyes are beautiful, and they do a great job of distracting from your nose.”
  • “I actually don’t hate that outfit today.”

About Acts of Service

  • “I really liked the lunch you made for me. For once it seemed like you cared.” 
  • “I’m so in shock that you actually made the bed; I didn’t think you were capable.”
  • “You know, if you found my phone for me, you could’ve at least plugged it in.”

About your Work

  • “Your car looks pretty tidy compared to how it normally looks.”
  • “Congratulations on the good job at work. I can’t believe they bought it.”
  • “It’s cute how you think that’s hard work.”

About your Loved Ones

  • “If I had to hang out with your friends, at least ___ isn’t the worst.”
  • “I’m glad I’m with you, it just sucks that ___ is here.”
  • “I’m so grateful you are nothing like your friends.”

These backhanded compliment examples have all the tell-tale signs of abuse. If you leave an interaction with your loved one feeling hurt, confused, and delighted, all in rapid succession, odds are there are backhanded compliments at play. 

backhanded compliment

Where do backhanded compliments come from?

The one thing your partner is probably being honest about is their intent. Those that doll out backhanded compliments aren’t typically trying to hurt anyone. In fact, through their past life experience, they may be trying to love you with the skills they have. Remember that often hurt people hurt people. Your partner may just lack the skills to love you in ways free from abusive communication

Listen to your partner and ask them why they participate in this communication strategy. Don’t attack them for using it, but really listen to what they have to say. If you need some tips on how to be a better listener, visit our article to promote effective listening skills. 

They may not even know the answer to “What is a backhanded compliment?” or be able to label what they’re doing as unkind. They may genuinely think that this is the way people love one another. Compare what they have to say to some of the following rules of thumb about backhanded compliment psychology. If their answers line up to any or all of these, it’s a good indicator that their attachment to this form of abuse comes from a place of hurt. 

Some tenants of backhanded compliment psychology: 

  • If I’m honest and kind without giving them a “dig”, they won’t believe me. 
  • I’m not worthy of loving words without abuse, so they aren’t either. 
  • People who are all loving and don’t also make fun of one another aren’t “real” or genuine.
  • Being really kind and loving is “fake”. 
  • They don’t love me openly and genuinely, so I shouldn’t either, or I’ll look dumb. 
backhanded compliment

How do you get rid of backhanded compliments in your relationship?

The sad truth is that unless your partner is on board, you simply can’t work on your own to get rid of backhanded compliments in your relationship. Just like any relationship struggle, working with your partner is pivotal. If your partner is defensive about their backhanded compliments, remember that you never need to engage in an abusive relationship. They should be willing to work with you. Being in a romantic partnership means that you both should care when you’re hurting one another. If they can’t manage to care about the pain they cause you, it may be time to leave the relationship. 

If they are ready to work with you to get rid of their tendency towards backhanded compliments, then try some of these steps: 

  1. Dig into the past. Scan through your pasts for ways you both have accepted less than ideal love in the past. It may be your childhood or past relationships that have made it hard for you to move forward. As we go through different relationships in our life, we’re constantly learning how to trust one another. Ask them about ways they’ve been complimented in the past and how those compliments sounded. Share your own stories about how critical feedback in the form of kindness has caused you pain. Don’t blame one another; just open the door to share these experiences and work on utilizing cute compliments instead!
  2. Take Responsibility. Take turns owning responsibility for where you’ve both failed to love one another as you needed. If you need to, give space and time to your feelings of sadness and grief. It may be sad to know that you’ve hurt someone you loved without intending to. You should be able to tell each other honestly that you want to work on forming a new, stronger bond. 
  3. Let go of shame. Nothing keeps a “bad behavior” around longer than shame. Forgive one another openly, honestly, and often. This doesn’t mean you tolerate more abusive behavior. Make sure to continue to tell them if a backhanded compliment sneaks in. Remember, they’re still learning “What is a backhanded compliment” sometimes too. However, once they apologize and take responsibility, ensure you forgive them. 
  4. Practice new ways to love one another. Learning to love isn’t a quick fix. It takes practice. Spend time writing out actual compliments for one another. Learn what it sounds like to sneak admiration into the conversation. Consider practicing by writing them down so you’ll both have something to look back on. If you don’t actively work on creating new patterns of love with one another, it’ll be that much easier to fall into the toxic patterns you’ve used in the past. 

You deserve a loving relationship with less toxicity. If you and your partner are both willing to work on your tendency for backhanded compliments and really dig into where they came from, you may find a perfect place to start building a beautiful relationship. 

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