26 phrases passive-aggressive people use to indirectly criticize you

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It’s impossible to get along with everyone all of the time.

So often loved ones, colleagues, friends, and even total strangers can rub us up the wrong way.

But it’s not always so easy to communicate that annoyance.

So instead, we swallow it down — thinking that we are somehow keeping the peace by doing so.

Yet, these negative emotions when they’re not expressed have a habit of seeping out still.

Cue: Passive-aggression.

Rather than being able to speak what’s on their mind, a lot of people turn to this sort of indirect confrontation instead.

That’s why if you ever hear the following phrases, it’s most likely a passive-aggressive way of criticizing you.

1) “Well, if I’d known”

The suggestion here is that they are in the dark about something, and that’s your fault.

The responsibility lies with you.

They’re not a mindreader, so how could they know?

It’s actually a way of chastising you and shifting the blame back your way.

2) “Ok, I’m confused”

They’re not confused.

But they are highlighting that what you are saying or doing has:

  • Inaccuracies
  • Inconsistencies
  • Holes in it that don’t make sense

But rather than say that outright, they make out as if the situation isn’t clear.

It’s a subtle way of asking you to get your act together.

3) “Just kidding”

This one applies to all those statements that someone tries to buffer with a sentence like:

“I was only joking.”

So much passive-aggression is masked through sarcasm or played off as humor.

But most of it isn’t funny, it’s just mean.

They are venting their frustrations yet trying to play it off as just a bit of fun.

4) “No offense”

Whenever you hear these words uttered, you know to brace yourself.

Because coming your way is one whopper of an insult.

But it’s ok, as they have already told you that there is no need to be offended, right?

Er, nope.

It in no way mitigates rude, unkind, or tactless comments to claim that it isn’t your intention to hurt someone’s feelings.

If you need to say this, you already know it is offensive.

5) “Don’t take this the wrong way but…”

Basically, see all the exact same points as above.

Is there a right way to take what you’re about to say?

Probably not.

6) “Just a friendly reminder”

I have some sympathy for this one.

I can imagine it was born out of the need to:

  • Try to get someone’s ass in gear
  • Whilst simultaneously remaining “polite” about it

The trouble is, it’s become a cliche. We know the real meaning behind it is:

Get a friggin move on.

As uncomfortable as it can feel, it’s better to be direct.

Because direct doesn’t have to mean rude.

7) “Suit yourself”

You’ve chosen an option that they don’t like. They’re totally not ok with it.

It goes against what they want to do, or how they feel about the matter.

But they are pretending that it is your right to decide.

The truth is they think you’re wrong and want you to reconsider.

There’s also a strong hint of selfishness loaded in there.

The implication is that you are doing what is best for you, and nobody else.

8) Why don’t you…?

Whenever we ask this “question” it’s actually just a statement in disguise.

And let’s face it, probably a judgmental one.

That’s why it’s wrapped in a question, to make it sound more like a friendly suggestion that’s just crossed their mind.

But it’s not.

It’s advice that they think you should closely follow.

9) “You’re very sensitive aren’t you?”

Being sensitive is a strength, not a weakness.

But in this context, we know full well that they don’t mean it as a compliment.

The clear suggestion is that you’re:

  • Overreacting
  • Melodramatic
  • Unreasonable
  • Hot-headed
  • Being pathetic

But maybe, just maybe, you’re not “too sensitive”. Perhaps they are just a jerk.

10) “Calm down”

Never in the whole history of people saying calm down has it led to that.

It’s not as though those words have some mystical soothing powers that allow a wave of serenity to wash over you.

Quite the opposite.

Usually when we’re told to calm down, it winds us up even more.

That’s because it’s a passive-aggressive way of taking the moral high ground.

It says that you are overreacting and can’t keep a hold of yourself.

They on the other hand are smug and superior.

11) “Why am I not surprised?”

You’ve let them down, disappointed them, or generally failed…

But hey, they expected it of you.

This passive-aggressive phrase is absolutely loaded with disappointment.

Yet rather than say they feel hurt or frustrated, they make out like they knew it was coming all along.

You make a habit of doing the wrong thing, so what else should they expect of you?!

12) “For future reference…”

Meaning:

You’ve messed up, and I don’t want/expect this to happen ever again.

But rather than state my displeasure about what’s taken place, I’ll just try and turn it into a preference for next time.

That way, it will look like I’m not complaining when really I am.

13) “Correct me if I’m wrong”

**Smart-ass alert.**

You’re about to get schooled.

It’s just a way of giving someone a stripping down but pretending to be humble about it.

They know they’re not wrong. And even if they were, they definitely don’t want to be corrected.

14) “Let me know if I misunderstood”

Similarly to the point above, they haven’t misunderstood. They know this.

But they’re going to spell it out to you to highlight their disbelief. Because they do think that you have misunderstood.

So when they say:

“This was my understanding of our agreement, please let me know if I misunderstood.”

What they really mean is, you’ve got it wrong.

15) “Going forward…”

You’ve f*cked up.

Next time, don’t f*ck up.

Here’s how you avoid f*cking up again.

16) “I’m actually pretty impressed”

This is one of those back-handed compliments.

Whilst on the surface it seems like a nice thing to say:

Hey, you’ve done a good job.

There’s still a pretty big caveat. Because they are surprised you did okay.

They would never expect competence or skill from you.

So they’re blown away by the fact you’re not totally useless.

Wow, high praise indeed!

17) “I heard you the first time”

Rough translation:

Stop repeating yourself.

You are tedious, nagging, boring and it’s getting on my nerves.

18) How are you getting on with that?

For the love of God, hurry up.

Their patience in waiting for whatever it is they’re having to wait for is probably fraying.

It’s a “polite” way to say what’s taking so long?

And it’s likely being said through gritted teeth.

19) “Whatever”

Uttered by hormonal teens up and down the land.

This is a way of holding up the middle finger to whatever you have just said.

Their disdain is not particularly disguised either.

It’s a simple dismissal that says they don’t care about your opinion, comment, or request. 

20) “You’re so lucky”

Why is this a passive-aggressive criticism?

Because they are not sincerely happy for whatever good fortune may have come your way.

Instead, they’re pretty envious.

This phrase almost says:

What have you done to deserve this?

It’s not hard work, skill, talent, or your shining personality. It’s only blind luck which doesn’t seem fair.

21) “If only you applied yourself”

This is the sort of thing your parents or teacher would say to you when you’re not getting the grades they want.

Whilst it hints at your potential, the main point is that you’re not trying hard enough.

And that’s not only a shame, it’s a huge disappointment.

22) “Got it”

Stop going on at me.

I’ve heard you, I’ve understood, now please shut up.

23) “Why are you getting so upset?”

There is absolutely zero concern or curiosity in this question.

They are not trying to understand your point of view.

They are not inviting you to share your feelings. They are chastising you for experiencing them.

It’s an incredibly invalidating thing to say to anyone in distress. And only expresses their irritation at your emotional display.

24) “I should have known better”

“…than to trust you.”

“…than to think you could handle this.”

“…than to leave this to you.”

They are not shouldering the blame here. They very much believe it’s all your fault.

Yet playing the wronged martyr highlights that they gave you a chance (against their better judgment) and you’ve let them down.

25) “I’m only saying this because I care”

Their alleged concern for you (whether it’s genuine or not) is the justification for the criticism that is no doubt about to follow.

Whether it’s that you:

  • Need to get your life together
  • Have been neglecting yourself or others
  • Are doing something destructive that is bound to catch up with you

The truth is that they may well care about you. But they’re also letting you know that you’re screwing up.

26) “If you like it, that’s all that matters”

There’s no two ways about it, they’re criticizing your taste.

Perhaps they think this is kinder than coming straight out and saying they don’t like it.

But it’s perfectly clear what their thoughts are.

And putting it in this way just seems sort of patronizing.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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