15 Signs Someone Is Trying To Undermine You (And What To Do About It)

15 Signs Someone Is Trying To Undermine You (And What To Do About It) Shutterstock

There are some people out there who will try to belittle you or bring you down. Maybe they’re secretly envious of your success, lack empathy, or are projecting their insecurities onto you. Whatever it is, it doesn’t feel good. To get ahead of it, here are 15 signs someone is trying to chip away at your confidence and what you can do to handle it like a boss.

1. They criticize you.

woman stares blankly at someone talking

A clear sign that someone is trying to undermine you is if they’re always quick to criticize you. They might find any opportunity to point out your perceived flaws or mistakes, making you feel like you’re not good enough. It’s easy to take their comments personally, but they’re the ones with the issues. To deal with it, avoid reacting emotionally—listen to what they have to say, then express how their criticism makes you feel. Use “I” statements so you don’t attack them, like, “I feel demotivated/unappreciated when I receive constant criticism.” This alerts them to the behavior and lets them know you won’t tolerate it.

2. They take credit for your work.

If someone wants to harm your self-confidence, they might try to sabotage your success by taking credit for your efforts. For example, during a work meeting, they might mention ideas that came up with, without giving you any credit. This can also play out in a social setting. For example, if you purchase your friend a piece of jewelry for their birthday, the person undermining you might make it seem like they came up with the idea for the gift instead. If their behavior upsets you, it’s worth pointing it out. It might also be a good idea to chat with the person privately, saying, “Hey, I get that you wanted to collaborate with me on those ideas/gifts, but we should be a team. I feel hurt when you take all the credit.” By focusing on collaboration instead of competition, you create a more positive atmosphere.

3. They play favorites with mutual friends.

Someone who’s jealous of you or wants to undermine you in a social setting might try to gain favor with mutual friends to alienate you. So, they might find ways to bond with them by having inside jokes or planning gatherings that don’t include you. Over time, this can dent your self-esteem and make you feel competitive like you have to work hard to get your friends’ approval. Consider making constructive suggestions for how your friendship group can be more inclusive and equal, by planning events that cater to everyone’s preferences. This is great because you’re leading by example instead of lowering yourself to the other person’s level.

4. They withhold helpful information.

Someone who is trying to undermine you might hide information from you so you don’t succeed. For example, they might not tell you crucial data that could influence your decision-making on a work project. Or, they might avoid telling you about a deadline for a project that can sabotage your efforts. When someone withholds information, it creates a lack of transparency and trust. To deal with it, you should express to the person how important the information would have been for you to know about.

5. They embarrass you in front of your loved ones.

Someone who wants to make you feel bad about yourself might try to embarrass you in front of others by being sarcastic about or contradicting what you say. This can make you seem dishonest, tarnishing your reputation. To deal with it, it’s important to address the issue. Although you might be tempted to whip out a nasty comeback in front of your loved ones, this will only escalate the tension. It’s better to wait for a private moment with the person to express that you’d appreciate it if they didn’t make those kinds of comments. In front of your loved ones, try to cultivate confidence—stand tall and maintain eye contact, as this will help to derail the person’s attempts to bring you down.

6. They make “funny” comments that are actually mean.

Someone who loves to make “funny” comments may be using it to cover their mean intentions. Maybe they love to tease you about your new haircut or relationship and then say, “I’m just joking” when you get upset. They might lack the confidence to tell you what they really think, so they try to put you down with a lighter comment. It’s still hurtful, though. Instead of taking it, you should nip it in the bud. Say something like, “I understand you meant that comment as a joke, but it came across as hurtful. Can we keep the humor respectful, please?” This shows the person you’re not going to take the negative behavior and want to be surrounded by positivity instead.

7. They roll their eyes when you talk about yourself.

If you direct the conversation onto a personal topic, such as if you’re talking to the person about a problem you’re experiencing, they might respond by rolling their eyes. Ouch! They’re showing you with their body language that they’re dismissing your feelings or are uninterested in what you have to say. A witty comeback, such as, “Oh, is what I’m saying upsetting to you?” can help you bring attention to the person’s behavior without being nasty. They might be surprised by your direct answer, which will hopefully cause them to backtrack.

8. They give you backhanded compliments.

When someone’s undermining you, they might say, “I’m impressed by how well you did on that task, considering your lack of experience.” They’re complimenting your performance but highlighting your perceived shortcomings, at the same time. Or, they might say, “Your makeup looks beautiful—you should wear it every day.” In this example, they’re complimenting your makeup while also alluding you don’t look beautiful without it. It’s helpful to clarify their intent by asking what they mean. This gives them an opportunity to reconsider their statement or apologize for hurting you.

9. They discourage you from your dreams.


If you tell the person about the goals and dreams you want to chase, they might be negative. Perhaps they find something wrong with your approach or they tell you that your idea’s never going to work. They’re bringing you down instead of giving you constructive feedback or showing you emotional support. It can be frustrating, so it’s worth expressing how their negativity makes you feel. You could say, “Hey, I get that you’re trying to help me, but could you focus on some solutions instead of on what can go wrong?” It can also be good to show that you’re confident in your decision by saying, “Thanks for your input, but I feel good about what I’m doing.”

10. They question your decisions in front of others.

To zap your self-confidence, the person who’s undermining you might try to question your choices in front of other people. For example, in a project team meeting, you might make a decision regarding the timeline. Someone undermining you might question your choice by saying, “Are you sure that’s the best timeline? It seems too aggressive.” Or, if you’re planning a vacation for your friends, the person might disagree by saying, “That’s not the best idea. Let’s go someplace else.” The best way to deal with this is to bring their attention to how they’re contracting you. You could say something like, “We both want what’s best for the team/group. Let’s focus on finding solutions together instead of disagreeing with each other.”

11. They ignore your input.

Someone who dismisses what you say is undermining your contributions and value. For example, if your friend is brainstorming ideas for their birthday party and you make a suggestion, they’ll ignore you and talk to a different friend. Or, in the workplace, your co-worker might brush off your ideas in favor of someone else’s. This can dent your self-esteem and make you feel like the person doesn’t see you as a valuable contributor. Have a calm and respectful chat and explain that you feel disregarded when your contributions are overlooked. It’s a good idea to offer specific examples of when your input was ignored to help them see how they’ve been hurting you.

12. They give you more attention for your failures.

man upset on end of bed, girlfriend behindistock

When you make a mistake or fail at achieving your goal, this person will appear and suddenly want to support you. It gives you an uneasy feeling, right? They can’t handle seeing you when you’re happy so they take pleasure in seeing you sad or upset. Yikes. Sure, they’ll make it seem like they want to help you and listen to you vent, but they’re really just trying to shine a brighter light on your failures. It might help to talk to the person and let them know you value their constructive feedback, but you don’t want to focus too much on your situation. This sets healthy boundaries, preventing the interaction from making you feel negative about yourself. You should also reach out to other, more supportive friends who encourage you on good and bad days.

13. They always have a better story than yours.

Whenever you tell the person about something you did for fun, like going on an enjoyable vacation or eating a delicious meal at a new restaurant, they always have a more exciting story to top yours. They try to make it seem like their life is a fun-fest every single day, even though this is clearly their way of overcompensating to make you feel bad. Understand that their tendency to one-up you comes from insecurity or a strong desire for validation. Recognizing this can help you respond in a mature way. Instead of calling them out and getting angry, gently direct the conversation back to you. Acknowledge their input, but focus on what you’re saying—this shows them that you’re confident in yourself and won’t let them steamroll over you.

14. They compare you to others.

Someone who’s trying to undermine you will compare you to others, with you coming out as inferior. For example, if you tell them you started a successful business, they’ll mention someone else who had an even more successful one. If you purchase a new car, they’ll show you pictures of their friend’s flashier, more expensive vehicle. They’ll do anything to make you feel less excited or proud of yourself while hoping to get an envious response out of you. You can deal with this with an assertive (not defensive) response, like, “That’s great about that person, but I’m excited about my achievement. I worked really hard and I’m proud of it.”

15. They disappear when you’re happy.

One of the telltale signs that someone’s trying to undermine you is if they fail to show up when you’re celebrating your achievements. They want to disappoint you by not showing up, perhaps so they can ruin your day a little. The best way to deal with this is to continue with your celebrations! Don’t let the person make you sad. If they chronically bail on you when you want to share in your happiness, it might be a good idea to communicate your feelings calmly so you can understand their motives. Tell them how much you wanted to see them, before asking if anything is bothering them. Showing empathy might help them open up to you so you can resolve the issue.

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Giulia Simolo is a writer from Johannesburg, South Africa with a degree in English Language and Literature. She has been working as a journalist for more than a decade, writing for sites including AskMen, Native Interiors, and Live Eco. You can find out more about her on Facebook and LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter @GiuliaSimolo.