10 phrases passive-aggressive people use to undermine your confidence

One of the worst types of people to deal with is the passive-aggressive ones.

They are intent on criticizing you and attacking your credibility, with the goal of making you doubt yourself.

The worst part is that they don’t do this directly. Instead, they mask their distaste by responding in a seemingly innocent way that may even sound positive.

It’s only after the conversation has ended that you realize what they actually meant.

If you find it difficult to determine if someone is being genuine or just behaving in a passive-aggressive manner, here are some phrases to look out for.

1) “You’re sure that’s the best approach?”

Perhaps you were presenting solutions to a problem at a meeting and when it was time for feedback, this was the response.

All eyes are on you as you desperately try to think of something to say. Even though you’d just completed an hour long presentation justifying your point.

Granted, no one can agree on everything.

But this is a clear attempt to question your judgement. Instead of pointing out areas of improvement, these people just want to belittle.

They are counting on you to doubt yourself – especially when you’re in a room full of people waiting for a response.

If you ever find yourself in this situation, remember to keep a cool head and respond calmly. You’ve done what you can, so stand by your point and address their concerns.

In some cases, however, you may receive the next response…

2) “Well, you’re the expert.”

And no, they don’t actually see you as one.

This happens because they may be upset that you didn’t take up their advice and decide to do it your own way instead.

Or they just simply disagree with whatever you’ve said.

In response, they give you a backhanded compliment and you’re left wondering what you did to deserve such a sarcastic reply.

It basically translates to: “You’re going to fail because you didn’t listen to me even though you have no clue what you’re doing.”

This can be exceptionally aggravating when whatever you’ve said was coherent, logical and even backed by evidence.

This may also be their attempt to have the last say and avoid further discussion on the matter.

In these situations, it’s best to walk away.

They’re not going to see reason, and any further attempt to explain yourself will just lead to more passive-aggressive responses.

3) “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

This response usually comes after you tell them about something new you’re embarking on, be it a hobby, project or life decision.

They’re clearly doubting your capabilities and you may start to doubt yourself as well.

You might even reconsider your decision.

I’m aware that some people may react in the same way when they’re genuinely concerned about your next step.

To differentiate between the two, observe how the conversation flows.

On one hand, passive-aggressive people tend to be dismissive when you try to justify your decisions and as mentioned, avoid further discussion on the matter.

On the other hand, people with good intentions will likely encourage you and guide you in your decision-making.

Other telltale signs of passive-aggressiveness is their body language.

Are they smirking, giving dismissive hand gestures or fake smiles? If so, they really don’t mean whatever they say.

They don’t have your best interests at heart and you’re better off not placing any worth on the things they say.

Another way they might express their doubt is…

4) “That sounds great, but you need to be realistic.”

5 phrases passive aggressive people use to undermine your confidence 2 10 phrases passive-aggressive people use to undermine your confidence

Have you ever shared your goals with someone, just for them to pour cold water on everything you’ve said?

It’s as if you hadn’t considered reality, making you sound delusional and perhaps overly ambitious.

I had a classmate who, at fourteen, wanted to become an actor when she grew up. In the conservative environment that we were raised in, acting wasn’t seen as a ‘proper’ career.

As such, everyone she knew told her the same thing – you need to be realistic, you need to wake up your idea.

Even when she started pursuing acting in university years later and picked up part-time acting jobs.

There’d be people telling her to stop this ‘passion project’ of hers and get a safe, 9-5 job just like everyone else.

Luckily for her, she didn’t let what they said dampen her ambition and she’s now working full-time as an actor, earning a decent income – even similar to that of a “safe, 9-5 job”.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember that no one understands you better than yourself.

So if you think you can do it, do it.

5) “I’m surprised you’re taking on more roles. I hope you can handle it.

What they actually mean is this: they have no faith in your abilities.

Instead of telling you outright that you may be overestimating yourself, they would rather respond with a thinly veiled insult.

When I was just starting out at work, I wanted to challenge myself with more responsibilities and decided to take on tasks outside my comfort zone.

Unfortunately, my colleague didn’t see it that way and told me that I was in way over my head. I felt so discouraged that I started to doubt myself and the decision I made.

But I decided to trust myself and power through the process.

Fast forward a couple of years and I managed to secure a promotion as my efforts were recognized.

Guess I could handle it after all.

Always trust yourself!

Because if you don’t, who will?

6. “If that’s what you think is best…”

This phrase often comes up in situations where you’ve made a decision or suggested a course of action.

On the surface, it seems like they’re supporting your choice.

However, the underlying tone suggests doubt and skepticism.

They’re not outright challenging your decision but subtly implying that it might not be the wisest choice. It can leave you second-guessing your own judgement.

7. “Just trying to help…”

This is a classic passive-aggressive remark.

It usually follows an unsolicited piece of advice or criticism that was not well-received.

By framing their comment as an attempt to help, they make it seem like any offense taken is your overreaction.

In reality, their so-called ‘help’ was more about undermining your methods or choices.

8. “No offense, but…”

This phrase is a red flag for passive-aggressiveness.

It often precedes a comment that is definitely offensive or critical.

The speaker uses this as a disclaimer, trying to absolve themselves of responsibility for the hurtful words that follow.

It’s a way of expressing negative opinions while pretending to maintain politeness.

9. “Good luck with that.”

When said in a genuine tone, this is a phrase of encouragement.

But in a passive-aggressive context, it’s laden with doubt and insincerity.

It’s as if they’re saying, “You’re going to need all the luck you can get because I don’t believe you can succeed.”

It’s a subtle way of expressing disbelief in your abilities or plans.

10. “Interesting choice.”

This phrase is often used to mask criticism with feigned intrigue.

Instead of directly saying they disagree or disapprove of your decision, they label it as ‘interesting’ – a neutral word that, in this context, is anything but.

It’s a way of casting doubt on your choices without engaging in an open debate about their merits.

Final thoughts

While we aren’t able to control how people behave or respond to us, we can control how we act.

Remember, it’s only personal if you allow it to be! Try to address the issue at hand so that you’re able to maintain healthy and respectful conversations.

Always practice discretion and understand that not all behaviors require a response.

Sometimes, it’s best to just let things go.

Picture of Elizabeth Koh

Elizabeth Koh

A freelance writer sharing her thoughts on this corner of the Internet hoping they inspire. Constantly seeking opportunities for creative expression and happiness in the little things.

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