According to Urban Dictionary, a backhanded compliment is an insult disguised as a complement. Winston Churchill was the master of backhanded compliments. Here are perfect examples of Churchill’s backhanded compliments:
Female MP: “Winston, you’re drunk.”
Churchill: “Madame, you’re ugly. But tomorrow, I shall be sober.”
George Bernard Shaw: “Am reserving two tickets for you for my premiere. Come and bring a friend – if you have one.”
Churchill: “Impossible to be present for the first performance. Will attend second – if there is one.”
Certain words may sting, even if you’re a thick-skinned person by nature. Though some of these backhanded compliments were intended to hurt, most of them are offhanded, thoughtless remarks that simply weren’t thought through before they were spoken. Here’s a classic example: “Have you been sick? You look so thin.”
It is possible that backhanded compliments can actually be worse than a simple insult, especially if the remark was purely an innocent, unintentional remark. What makes it worse is because the insult comes on the heels of an encouragement, which makes it even more personal. So does one respond to backhanded compliments?
Fight the urge to retaliate or respond. There will always be that voice in your head wanting to extract revenge by quickly lashing out in impulse. It’s human nature to defend ourselves; however, being catty will not vindicate you in the long run.
Address it. Instead of withdrawing and silently skulking away in hurt when someone makes a comment – intentional or otherwise – that insults or offends you, speak up! If the words were spoken inadvertently, letting the friend know that their humor was out of line can help them be more mindful of future comments. If the backhanded compliment was deliberate, you need to make it clear that you don’t tolerate that kind of communication.
Refuse to harbor a grudge. It’s so easy to lose yourself into wallowing in the aftermath of a petty comment, when there is so much more that could have been done in lieu of the hours spent wallowing. When you find yourself doing a pity party, go the other way and do something to re-boost your self-esteem and self-image. At the end of the day, you are the only one who can make you feel better – or worse – about who you are.