7 Phrases That Seem Nice Enough But Are Actually Backhanded Compliments

7 Phrases That Seem Nice Enough But Are Actually Backhanded Compliments

Compliments should make us feel good, but not all praise is created equal. Some phrases may sound nice at first but carry hidden meanings that aren’t so flattering. When someone says these things to you, they may be trying to genuinely lift you up, but it’s more likely a bunch of backhanded compliments coming your way.

1. “You’re actually really smart.”

At first glance, when someone tells you that you’re “actually really smart,” it might appear to be a compliment on your intelligence. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find a hidden layer of condescension. It’s as if they’re saying, “I didn’t think you had it in you.” This phrase implies that the person didn’t have high expectations of your intellect to begin with, and your actual intelligence took them by surprise.

It’s like a subtle reminder that they had a lower opinion of your smarts until proven otherwise. While they might not mean any harm, this backhanded compliment can make you feel like your capabilities were underestimated, which isn’t exactly a boost to your self-esteem.

2. “You clean up well.”

When someone says this, they might legitimately be trying to throw a bone your way about how good you look, but it’s often laced with a subtle critique. Essentially, it suggests that your usual look isn’t up to par or that you typically look messy or disheveled. It’s like they’re saying, “You don’t usually look good, but you managed to look presentable this time.”

While they might intend to compliment your transformation from casual to dressed up, it can make you wonder if they think you’re generally untidy or unattractive in your everyday attire. It’s a compliment that unintentionally highlights a perceived flaw.

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4. “You’re not like other girls/guys.”

When someone tells you that you’re “not like other guys/girls,” it may initially sound like they’re highlighting your uniqueness, which can be a positive thing. However, there’s an underlying implication that can be problematic. It hints that they have a negative view of people of your gender as a whole, and you’re the exception to the rule.

In essence, it suggests that you’ve somehow managed to rise above the perceived shortcomings or stereotypes associated with others of your gender. While they might not intend to be hurtful, this backhanded compliment can be both unfair and dismissive. It’s better to appreciate individuals for who they are without making comparisons or generalizations based on gender.

5. “I wish I could be as relaxed about things as you are.”

This usually isn’t a genuine observation of your laid-back nature. It subtly implies that they see you as someone who doesn’t take life too seriously or doesn’t worry about important matters. It can make you feel like they think you’re carefree to a fault, as if they believe you should be more concerned about things.

In essence, it can come across as if they’re questioning your level of responsibility or seriousness, even though they might not mean it that way. It’s a compliment that suggests you might not be taking life as seriously as you should.

6. “You’re pretty for your age.”

When someone tells you that you’re “pretty for your age,” it might sound like they’re acknowledging your beauty, but it’s a backhanded compliment that’s intrinsically tied to how old you are. It implies that they didn’t expect someone your age to look attractive, as if age and beauty are mutually exclusive.

While it’s meant to be a compliment, it indirectly suggests that they have lower beauty standards for people in your age group, which can be disheartening. Beauty doesn’t have an age limit, and everyone should be celebrated for their attractiveness regardless of their age. Also, why is everyone so obsessed with looking younger? Getting older is a gift that not everyone is lucky enough to receive, so we need to start acting like it.

7. “It’s great how you don’t care what people think.”

On the surface, this compliment might seem like praise for your self-confidence and independence. However, it carries the assumption that you should care about what people think, but you’ve chosen to go against the norm. It indirectly suggests that most people should conform to societal expectations or opinions, but you’re the exception.

It can make you feel like they believe you’re going against the grain just for the sake of it, rather than valuing your genuine self-expression. It’s important to remember that being true to yourself and not caring excessively about others’ opinions is a positive trait, and you don’t need validation for it.

8. “You’re so brave for wearing that.”

When someone calls you “brave” for wearing something, they’re throwing one of the oldest backhanded compliments in the book your way. No, they don’t legitimately think you’re some fashion-forward warrior who’s leading a new avant-garde sartorial movement (at least probably not). It’s possible they do legitimately like what you have on, but it can come across as if they think what you’re wearing is unconventional or daring in a negative way. It implies that they perceive a potential social risk in your outfit, and you’re courageous for defying it.

While it’s good to appreciate someone’s unique style, this phrase unintentionally casts doubt on your fashion sense or suggests that you might not fit in. Fashion is a form of self-expression, and everyone should feel free to wear what makes them comfortable and confident without needing to be labeled as “brave” for it.

Originally from Australia, Emma Mills graduated from the University of Queensland with a dual degree in Philosophy and Applied Linguistics before moving to Los Angeles to become a professional matchmaker (a bit of a shift, obviously). Since 2015, she has helped more than 150 people find lasting love and remains passionate about bringing amazing singletons together.

Emma is also the author of the upcoming Hachette publication, "Off the Beaten Track: Finding Lasting Love in the Least Likely of Places," due out in January 2025.