If you hear these 7 phrases, someone is secretly trying to undermine you

We’ve all been victim to them at some point in our lives…

The backhanded complimenters coated in sugar, the subtle saboteur dressed up as a soft and innocent kitten, the masters of microaggressions cosplaying as your BFFL. 

Sometimes, caustic and cruel statements don’t show up as outright insults. Instead, they come as carefully crafted phrases designed to very slowly chip away at your confidence, leave you questioning your decisions, or make you feel small and worthless.

Being able to spot these sneaky and nasty phrases and shut them down is key to maintaining boundaries which allow you plenty of self-respect, and signal to others that you won’t allow any outside disrespect.

 Sounds pretty important, doesn’t it?

So, settle in as we uncover 7 of the phrases the less-than-pleasant individuals out there use to undermine you. 

Let’s all wave disrespect goodbye!

1) “You’re so brave for…”

At first glance, this one sounds like a compliment, and a BIG one at that. 

We all want to think of ourselves as bold and brave and fearless. You bet that as knights or adventurers, scary monsters or ghoulish dragons wouldn’t have us running in fear! 

But, in times like these when a statement such as the above sounds something like:

“You’re so brave for trying out that haircut! I personally could never…”

“You’re so brave for speaking up in that conference! Especially when no one else normally does.”

“You’re so brave for having a cookie after that big meal! I know my waist wouldn’t be so forgiving…”

I think we can agree that the above phrases drip with condescension. They imply you’re doing something weird, something risky, something inappropriate…

When in reality, you’re simply living your life, and living it well.

How to shut it down: A simple, “Thanks, but I don’t see it that way,” can often do the trick. Occasionally, silence is your best friend. Just remember: People tend to say statements like these out of jealousy or spite for your freedom. 

2) “With all due respect…”

Move aside! Disrespect incoming!

This phrase is often a precursor to a thinly veiled insult which lacks any and every form of respect imaginable. It’s the verbal equivalent of putting on boxing gloves while claiming you’re just sparring.

“With all due respect… Your opinions suck and you’re an uneducated loon.” (Well, maybe not that cutting but you get the picture!

How to shut it down: Don’t let them off the hook, but don’t get fired up and start jabbing back either. Respond with something along the lines of, “I’m not sure what respect has to do with what you’re about to say, but go ahead.” 

If they choose to still go for a low blow and offend you, take a moment to breathe, to release the frustration you feel, and to communicate the fact that you don’t consider their communication respectful – regardless of the precursor.

3) “I’m just being honest…”

This one is usually the go-to excuse for people who deliver up hurtful comments under the guise of just trying to be helpful. It’s often a way to mask their own insecurities or a desire to belittle you.

“I’m just being honest, but he’s not that into you.” (He’s totally into you. She just wants him for herself.)

“I’m just being honest, but that skirt is kind of fugly.” (The skirt is fine and you should wear what you want. She just gets a kick out of putting others down.)

Of course, there are times when honesty should be met with open arms, but when it comes with a brutality that tears at sensitivities and has no qualms over hurting feelings, it isn’t welcome.

How to shut it down: Remind them that honesty doesn’t have to be brutal nor hurtful. “I appreciate your honesty, but could you phrase that more constructively?” / “I appreciate your honesty but I’m happy with my decision.”

4) “You’re too sensitive…”


My least favorite amongst these smarmy, cutting phrases.

This is a classic way in which outsiders can invalidate your feelings and make you question your reactions. People who have little consideration for hurting others and can’t handle being called out on their own bad behavior often use it.

An example might be a vicious and disarming joke about how you’re needy and clingy, like a koala. Teehee!

Should you get upset about this blithe insult, they snap back and call you sensitive and dramatic. Who gets upset about being compared to a koala, you crybaby?!

If a mean and malicious statement makes you upset, stand your ground. Your feelings are valid.

How to shut it down: If someone tries to belittle your reaction by calling you overly sensitive or dramatic, stand your ground. 

Tell them that you are your own person with your own responses, and if they don’t care enough to accommodate your needs, you don’t need them in your life. 

The door is that way!

5) “You’re not being realistic…”

Imagine you’re regaling a friend, partner, or family member with dreams and aspirations. 

You want a big house with a host of willow trees that sway on gusty days. You want a sports car… no, a vintage car. You want to marry in your 30s and have two children – one boy, one girl. You want to have a bestselling novel published in the next decade…

And instead of listening eagerly to your dreams and asking for further details on this vision that keeps you motivated, they clap back with a bemused expression and tell you to bring it back down to earth

Talk about a mood killer!

How to shut it down: “I’m not interested in what’s ‘realistic,’ I’m interested in what’s possible.”

Dream big and shoot for the stars! The naysayers can watch you as you soar.

6) “You always…” / “You never…”

As much as hyperbole adds a certain je ne sais quoi and a flair of drama to life, it’s not necessary (unless you’re applying it to your dreams!)

These blanket statements overexaggerate and leave little room for…reality.

Because the fact of the matter is that we don’t do something to extremes all the time.

For example, “You never help me clean up,” is unhelpful because the likelihood is that you do sometimes clean – even if you need to do so more often. 

And although these statements are often uttered in the heat of the moment, out of rage and reactivity, they lead to oppressed conflict resolution and tend only to heighten already fiery emotions.

How to shut it down: Call them out on their hyperbole. “I definitely don’t always do that, and I can think of several times when I’ve done the exact opposite.”

7) “That’s interesting…”

This one isn’t always bad. Often, the things we learn from others are truly interesting, and it takes a moment or two of processing to get up to speed and engage better with the topic.

However, this seemingly harmless phrase can be incredibly patronizing when delivered with the right tone. 

You know the one I mean; it’s the verbal equivalent of a slow, deliberate clap – insincere and absolutely dripping with sarcasm.

How to shut it down: Respond with a simple, “Thank you.” Their tone might have stung, but take the high road, be the bigger person, but also show you’re not buying their faux interest.

How to become a comeback wizard

The key to shutting down undermining behavior is to stay calm, confident, and assertive. 

CCA, people!

Don’t get dragged into an argument or stoop to their level. 

Instead, focus on your emotional regulation and learn to respond, not react.

Know that a well-placed comeback can disarm your detractor and put you back in control of the conversation.

You’re not obligated to tolerate anyone’s attempts to undermine you. If you find that someone consistently employs the above phrases and you believe them to have less than pleasant intentions, consider enforcing stricter boundaries or walking away from the relationship altogether.

Speak your truth, stand your ground, and don’t be afraid to put them in their place.

8 signs someone is trying a bit too hard to seem classy

If you recognize these 8 behaviors, you’re dealing with a poor communicator