9 phrases passive-aggressive people use to make you feel insecure

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Does it ever feel like someone is subtly undermining you?

You’re not alone.

Often, it’s not the loud, obnoxious types we need to worry about. It’s those who cloak their negativity in kindness, the passive-aggressives.

You know the type…they drop a seemingly innocent comment which leaves you questioning your self-worth.

It’s a toxic behavior that can leave you feeling insecure and on edge.

Now, they may not be doing this intentionally. But that doesn’t make it any less damaging.

Today, I’m going to expose the nine phrases passive-aggressive people use to make you feel insecure.

Some of these might hit close to home.

1) “I’m not mad.”

How many times have you heard this one? It’s a classic.

This phrase has been thrown at me more times than I can count, usually accompanied by a tight smile and narrow eyes.

Just last week, I was working on a group project and I noticed my colleague, let’s call her Sarah, was unusually quiet. When I asked if she was okay, she hit me with the ‘I’m not mad’ line.

But her body language told a different story – crossed arms, avoiding eye contact and short replies. It left me feeling uneasy and questioning if I’d done something to upset her.

2) “Whatever you want.”

This one is a master of disguise, often wrapped up as flexibility or easy-going nature. But in reality, it’s a subtle way of shirking responsibility and setting you up for potential blame.

Take my friend Josh for example. He’d always let his girlfriend choose where to eat, with a dismissive wave of his hand and the phrase “whatever you want”.

But if she picked a place he didn’t like, he’d spend the entire dinner complaining about the food, the service, the atmosphere. It left her second guessing every decision she made.

These two phrases are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to passive-aggressive behavior. But recognizing them is the first step to handling such situations better.

3) “I thought you knew.”

This is a sneaky one. It’s a phrase that passive-aggressives use to plant seeds of doubt and make you question your awareness or competence.

Consider this, in a study conducted at the University of California, participants who were regularly exposed to such undermining comments showed a significant decline in their performance and self-esteem.

This phrase is particularly harmful in the workplace. Imagine missing out on an important meeting because no one informed you. When you bring it up, you’re met with “I thought you knew.” Suddenly, you’re left doubting your own abilities and questioning your place in the team.

4) “I’m just joking.”

Humor is a powerful tool. It can bring people together, lighten a heavy atmosphere, and make tough situations bearable. But when misused, it can be a weapon to belittle and undermine others.

I’m just joking” is a phrase often used to mask hurtful comments. The person on the receiving end is left feeling uncomfortable and insulted, but they’re denied the right to express their feelings – after all, it was just a joke, right?

This phrase has the power to turn laughter into tears, confidence into insecurity. It’s not just about the words spoken, but the sting that lingers behind them. Remember, a joke at someone else’s expense is never truly funny.

5) “Don’t take it personally.”

Ah, the classic deflection. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this one.

Just a few months ago, I was working on a project that I was really passionate about. I put in long hours and a lot of effort to make it perfect. When I finally presented it to my boss, he dismissed it with a wave of his hand and a casual “Don’t take it personally, but this isn’t what we’re looking for.”

His words stung. They invalidated all the hard work I’d put in and left me feeling disheartened and insignificant. And the worst part? I was denied the right to feel upset about it because I wasn’t supposed to take it personally.

This phrase is a clear example of passive-aggression, dismissing your feelings while delivering an underhanded blow. It’s important to remember that your feelings are valid and you have every right to take things personally when it involves your hard work and dedication.

6) “No offense, but…”

This is a phrase that almost always precedes an offensive statement. It’s a preemptive strike, designed to absolve the speaker of any guilt or responsibility for the insult that follows.

I remember back in college, a classmate once told me, “No offense, but your presentation was really boring.” The words were curt and the tone harsh, leaving me feeling inadequate and embarrassed.

Remember, if someone feels the need to preface their statement with “no offense”, they’re probably about to say something offensive.

7) “If I were you…”

This phrase may seem benign, but it’s often used as a passive-aggressive way to imply that you’re making poor decisions or are not capable of handling your own life.

In my first job out of college, my supervisor loved using this phrase. “If I were you, I would have finished this task differently.” It was her way of saying that I had done something wrong without directly criticizing me. It left me constantly doubting my abilities and decision-making skills.

8) “You’re overreacting.”

This phrase is a classic gaslighting technique. It aims to make you question your own feelings and reactions, causing you to feel insecure and unsure of yourself.

A study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that people who regularly encountered gaslighting had higher levels of stress and lower self-esteem.

9) “Fine.”

The one-word dismissal. This is perhaps the most passive-aggressive phrase of all. It suggests dissatisfaction, disappointment, or disinterest without actually saying so.

My brother was a master at this during our childhood squabbles. If he didn’t get his way, he would just shrug and say “fine”, leaving me feeling guilty and worried that I had upset him.

These phrases might seem harmless on the surface but can have a profound impact on your self-confidence and mental health. Recognizing them is the first step to asserting your worth and standing up for yourself. Remember, you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise.

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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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