10 phrases passive-aggressive people use to undermine your confidence

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Have you ever talked to someone and left feeling confused or down, but you’re not sure why?

Some people use tricky phrases that seem okay at first but can actually make you feel bad about yourself.

This is called being passive-aggressive.

In this article, we’ll talk about 10 phrases that might be hurting your confidence without you even knowing it.

Knowing what to look out for can help you stand up for yourself better.

Let’s get started!

1. “Fine, Do Whatever You Want”

At first glance, this phrase may seem like permission. It sounds like the other person is giving you the green light to go ahead with your plans or ideas.

But don’t be fooled.

When someone says, “Fine, do whatever you want,” they often mean the opposite.

They might actually be unhappy or disagree with you but don’t want to say it directly.

This phrase can make you second-guess yourself. You might wonder if you’re making a bad choice or if the other person is mad at you.

In the end, it can make you feel less confident about what you’re doing.

So the next time someone says, “Fine, do whatever you want,” stop and think.

Are they really okay with it, or are they just saying that to make you doubt yourself?

Being aware of this can help you stand up for your choices and feel more confident.

2. “I’m Not Mad, Just Disappointed”

This phrase is a classic, and it’s particularly damaging because it’s designed to make you feel guilty without giving you a clear path for how to make things right.

It suggests that you’ve not only done something wrong but also let the other person down on a personal level.

The emotional weight of disappointment can be heavier than anger, making you feel like you’re a failure or not living up to expectations.

And that’s exactly what the passive-aggressive person wants: for you to question your worth and abilities.

If you hear, “I’m not mad, just disappointed,” ask yourself whether you genuinely did something wrong that you need to correct, or if the other person is using this phrase to manipulate your emotions and make you feel insecure.

Remember, everyone makes mistakes; it’s part of being human.

Don’t let someone else’s disappointment become a judgment on your entire character.

3. “If You Say So”

This short phrase might seem harmless, but it’s a passive-aggressive way to cast doubt on your words or decisions without openly disagreeing.

When someone says, “If you say so,” they’re subtly implying that they don’t believe you or that your point of view is questionable.

It’s a way to undermine your confidence, making you wonder if what you’re saying is valid or true.

You may find yourself rethinking your statements or questioning your judgment, which is exactly the effect the other person is aiming for.

The next time you hear this phrase, recognize it for what it is: a sneaky way to make you doubt yourself. Don’t fall for it. Stand by your words and decisions.

4. “I’m Just Saying”

This phrase often follows a critical or negative statement, seemingly softening the blow while still letting the original comment linger in the air.

It’s as if the person is saying, “I’m not directly criticizing you; I’m just making a general observation.”

But let’s be honest, they are criticizing you; they’re just not taking full responsibility for it.

Counterintuitively, “I’m just saying” can make the preceding statement seem even worse because it adds an element of dishonesty to the mix.

The person isn’t just making a critical remark; they’re also trying to dodge any accountability for how that remark makes you feel.

If someone hits you with an “I’m just saying,” see it as a red flag. It’s a signal that the person might be trying to disguise a jab as a simple observation.

Instead of letting it slide, you might want to consider addressing the issue directly to prevent further subtle digs in the future.

5. “I Thought You Knew”

This phrase is a masterclass in passive-aggressive behavior, often used to make you feel out of the loop or inadequate.

When someone says, “I thought you knew,” after revealing information that you were unaware of, it implies that you should have been aware, placing the blame squarely on your shoulders for not knowing.

The insidious part of this phrase is that it creates a sense of shame or inadequacy. You start to question your own awareness or intelligence:

Did everyone else know this but me? Am I out of touch? The aim is to destabilize your confidence subtly.

The next time someone tells you, “I thought you knew,” try not to internalize that feeling of inadequacy.

It’s likely not a comment on your competence or awareness but rather a tactic to make you feel less confident.

Don’t let it shake you; nobody knows everything, and it’s okay to be uninformed about certain things.

6. “No Offense, But…”

The phrase “No offense, but…” is usually a preamble to something offensive.

It’s a classic example of sugar-coating criticism or an insult to make it seem less harsh than it is.

The person using this phrase knows they’re about to say something that could hurt your feelings or undermine your confidence, and they use these three words as a flimsy shield against any backlash.

This is a cowardly way to deliver a low blow. It’s designed to put you in a position where, if you react negatively, you’ll seem overly sensitive because, after all, they said “no offense.”

The next time someone says, “No offense, but…” brace yourself for what’s coming and try to assess it objectively.

Is there any truth to what they’re saying, or are they simply aiming to undercut you?

Either way, don’t be fooled into thinking their prefacing phrase absolves them from the impact of their words.

7. “Just Joking!”

This phrase is often used as a quick escape route after someone has said something that belittles you or crosses a line.

By appending their insulting or hurtful comment with “just joking,” the person tries to shift the responsibility for any offense onto you, implying that if you take issue with their remark, you’re the one who lacks a sense of humor.

The problem with “just joking” is that it’s often not a joke at all.

Instead, it’s a thinly veiled attempt to demean you while avoiding any blame for doing so.

In essence, it’s a one-two punch: first undermining you and then challenging your reaction as overly sensitive.

If someone hits you with a “just joking,” take a moment to evaluate the situation.

Was the joke genuinely harmless, or was it a cover for something more malicious? Trust your instincts.

If it felt like a dig, it probably was, no matter how much they try to label it as humor.

8. “You’re Too Sensitive”

Being told “You’re too sensitive” can actually be a sign that the other person is being insensitive.

This phrase is often used to invalidate your feelings and reactions to their behavior.

It’s a way of saying, “The problem isn’t what I said or did; it’s your reaction to it.”

What makes this particularly cunning is that it plants a seed of doubt in your mind.

You start wondering, “Am I too sensitive? Am I overreacting?”

You might even start to believe that your emotional responses are unjustified, leading you to disregard your own feelings and gut instincts in the future.

When someone accuses you of being too sensitive, it might be the very moment to trust your sensitivity.

It could be signaling that this person is not treating you with the respect or kindness you deserve.

Remember, labeling someone as “too sensitive” is often more about dismissing their feelings than it is an accurate description of their emotional state.

9. “Don’t Take It Personally”

If someone tells you “Don’t take it personally” right after delivering a critique or insulting comment, you should hear alarm bells.

This phrase is frequently used to absolve the speaker of any guilt or responsibility for the impact of their words or actions. It’s a way to say something hurtful or critical while sidestepping any fallout.

Let’s get raw and honest: when someone says “Don’t take it personally,” they often mean the exact opposite.

They want their words to affect you; they just don’t want to deal with the emotional consequences.

It’s a manipulation tactic meant to make you feel small while keeping their own hands clean.

If you encounter this phrase, recognize it for what it is—a cop-out.

Your feelings, reactions, and personal experiences are valid.

Nobody gets to belittle you and then dictate how you should feel about it.

Don’t let anyone hide behind this cowardly phrase to undermine your confidence or self-worth.

10. “I Didn’t Mean to Hurt Your Feelings”

This phrase sounds like an apology, but it often isn’t.

In fact, it’s a clever way to shift the focus from the speaker’s actions to your reactions.

Instead of taking responsibility for what they’ve said or done, they make it about your feelings, subtly implying that your emotional response is the problem, not their behavior.

In a raw and honest light, this is a selfish act. It’s an attempt to absolve themselves of guilt without actually addressing the issue at hand or how it impacts you.

It allows the person to feel like they’ve done their part to mend the situation, even when they haven’t actually made amends or sought a genuine resolution.

The next time you hear “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” be cautious.

While the person may indeed not have intended harm, the focus should be on the action that caused the hurt, not just your reaction to it. A sincere apology takes responsibility; it doesn’t deflect it.

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

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With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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