We are masters of the back-handed compliment, the flattery which is actually a form of provocation, the kings of seemingly pleasant comments which are really put downs. We appear with that radiant and broad smile as we then slip a stiletto knife between your ribs with deft ease. Nobody else sees us do this. It appears to everyone else, as we stand there with our false smile plastered across our faces, that we are giving you a loving hug. Our outside appearance to the world and the maintenance of our façade remains intact as we slip through your defences and land a blow against you. We revel in seeing you smiling in return, your eyes lighting up with delight at our benign manner towards you only then for you to realise the import of what we have actually said. As the metaphorical dagger pierces your skin, you realise that is actually meant by what we have said to you. It appeared as a compliment but in actual fact we have told you something which will trouble you, upset you or anger you. Your eyes narrow with confusion and we see that look of uncertainty cross your face as you cannot quite believe what is happening. Did you hear what we said correctly? Have you misinterpreted the comment that we made? Did we really just say that? We can see how you are torn between wanting to accept the supposed compliment and then that sinking sensation as you realise that we have just made a barbed comment which appeared to be a pleasant one. The look on your face is akin to the look of bewildered astonishment that one might see on a wildebeest as it is brought to ground by a hungry lion and is eaten alive from behind. It cannot quite comprehend what is happening and neither can you.
What makes it worse is that to everyone else we appear to be smiling, hugging you and being pleasant. You want to react. You want to push us away from you. You want to chastise us, lash out and reprimand us for what we have just said, but the way that we framed this back-handed compliment means that you would appear mean, ungrateful and churlish if you did so. Just as we remain close to you, holding you, dagger still lodged between your ribs as we slowly twist it, you can do nothing but remain where you are as everyone else looks on thinking that we are being pleasant to you. We know that because you are a decent and pleasant person you are conditioned to accept the compliment and not rail against it, even when you realise that it is actually hurtful. This allows us to see just how strong our control over you is. If you react to the barbed comment and lash out at us, crying or shouting at us for our remark, then we gain fuel. If you remain silent and confused by it, unable to mask your hurt and disappointment, we still gain fuel but we also derive a significant indication of our power over you. We are able to make a hurtful remark seem like a compliment and have you accept it. This is a useful way for us to put you down whilst appearing to be pleasant. It also allows us to reinforce our perceived superiority over you through the application of this control. This technique also utilises our favoured mechanism of plausible deniability. There is a degree of ambiguity whereby if you attempted to pin the blame on us for precisely what we have intended to say, we would be able to reject that assertion. We are able to accuse you of reading too much into it, twisting our words and over-reacting. All favourite methods of rejecting you intended blame and of stoking the emotional fires further. We can feign hurt by stating we were paying you a compliment and you have taken it the wrong way. Again. We then want you to apologise, soothe us and feel guilty for trying to suggest that we would do anything other than be pleasant to you. Of course, this technique where we come with smiles as we plunge our critical knife into you, is one which we revel in deploying and is just part of our arsenal that is designed to mess with your thinking. Did we say what you thought we said? What did we really mean from that comment? Are you in fact over-analysing it or should you trust your initial judgement here? All of these factors unsettle, confuse and undermine you, eroding your confidence and clouding your judgement. It is all par the course and entirely why we behave as smiling assassins. There are numerous ways this is done and here are seven of the often used back-handed provocations.
We will talk to you in a condescending tone for the purposes of belittling you, making you feel inferior and causing us to look far better by comparison. We offer unwanted advice, talk to you from the position of always knowing what is right and what is best. Of course, should you challenge this overly paternalistic approach to the way we deal with you we will point out that we only want what is best for you, that we are only trying to help you and do have your best interests at heart. Is it a crime to do that for you?
- Insider Jokes
We will engage in making comments which cause members of our devout coterie to laugh and giggle but you are left in the dark as to what is so funny. We will use terms that amuse us and our followers considerably but seem meaningless to you. This will make you feel uncomfortable and isolated and if you should commence some kind of protest we will point out that we have not involved you because you would be bored by the silliness (thus inferring you have no sense of humour but making it seem as if you are above our schoolboy sniggering and this is a good thing) or that you would not be interested in our style of humour because you are too highbrow for such base comments and observations.
- Our Ex
We will repeatedly mention that our ex is still in love with us, indeed he or she still tries to contact us and they leave messages and have telephoned us a few times. Of course we tell you that you have no need to worry because that was in the past and we are with you now, you are the person that matters. This is designed to make it appear like we can brush aside the presence of our ex because we are in love with you. In fact, although it sounds like this, we use it as a means of securing carte blanche for mentioning the ex on many occasions so it unsettles you. Of course you are hamstrung from saying anything because that would make you seem insecure and you do not want to show that this is true. Thus we feel free to keep making mention of our ex and continue to triangulate them with you.
- Ignoring You
We ignore you and dole out a silent treatment with all of the fuel providing and control ramification which arises from this particular manipulation. Should you even begin to protest we point out that we are so glad we are with you because you understand our need for space and some time to ourselves. This appears like a compliment and is designed to flatter you into allowing us to keep doling out these silent treatments as and when we want in order to ignore you because we can then focus on gaining fuel from other parties when we are apart from you.
- The Ex Again
We talk incessantly about the qualities of the ex, highlighting all of their many wonderful attributes (which of course is a sudden change from when we were calling them demon spawn when we first seduced you but that’s all changed now). We babble on about how marvellous they are, the funny things they said, how beautiful they looked, the achievements they secured and so on before telling you that we are so pleased that you are so understanding that we can talk about past relationships with you. This supposed compliment restricts you from commenting adversely but we know that inside you are fuming and desperate to reprimand us in some way. How we delight in knowing this and seeing you’re trying to maintain a pleasant smile when inside we know you are dying.
We flirt shamelessly and we know you see us doing this. We also know how it hurts and angers you but we fire a compliment your way by telling you that it is refreshing to be with someone who allows us to be ourselves, someone who is not jealous and someone who is so trusting. These compliments are designed to keep you quiet as we get on with doing what we please. We draw fuel from those we flirt with and all the while we keep casting backward glances to the trusting you seeing the gathering anger in your eyes.
- Spending Time with Others
We spend time with other people. It may be chatting someone up in the bar, hanging out with our friends, chasing down new prospects, wowing the crowd at a work function and so on. This blatant fuel-gathering is crucial to us and when we wander in later after our third consecutive night out we head you off at the pass by praising you by saying how lucky we are to have someone who understands that because they get all of our attention most of the time, we need to be able to spend some time with other people. Once again, this comment is designed to back you into a corner and have you standing, arms crossed and fuming, teetering between our control and providing us with even more fuel.