Confront a Backstabber

Being at the receiving end of the vitriol or smugness of a backstabber is unpleasant at best and can be extremely damaging at worst, depending on what has been said or done.

A backstabber who is allowed to get away with their underhanded behavior will go on to do it again, maybe to you, maybe to someone else. Confronting a backstabber can help you to fix the problems that they've created, and it can also put a stop to their ways when they realize you're willing to stand up to them.

If you're unlucky enough to be messed about by a backstabber, here are some suggestions for confronting them.


  1. Try to understand why some people "Handle a Failing Friendship" or double-cross. A backstabber is someone who pretends to be your friend, or to be on your side, and then turns around and does or says things that lead to you being harmed, exposed, or treated badly as a result of things they suggest or reveal. Backstabbing is a form of manipulation and reveals a person who is disloyal, insecure, and very unsure of their own place. Understanding the motivations behind backstabbing can help you to find ways to deal with it, as well as showing you that the backstabber is very often a person with poor emotional resources and is probably a very unhappy individual. While that doesn't excuse their behavior, it can reassure you that the backstabber is probably like this with many people and needs to be treated objectively as someone to be careful of. Reasons why people resort to backstabbing include:
    • Inability to make close friendships or keep friendships, and perhaps a fear of getting too close to other people in case they're hurt. Gossiping in a mean-spirited way can cause them feel they're more attractive to people they'd like to have friendships with.
    • Inability to get where they want to in life because they're not talented, dislike hard work, cannot figure things out, or they're afraid of doing the innovative things themselves. Their greed for promotions, profit, or bettering their position can cause them to see backstabbing as an easy path through.
    • Seeking to impress someone else. This can be the case where the person doesn't feel they're getting enough attention or respect from someone in authority or someone they wish they could spend more time with. It can be made worse where you're spending time with the person the backstabber would like to befriend.
    • Jealousy. An insecure person who also harbors jealous thoughts about someone else can easily resort to backstabbing as a way of feeling superior over the subject of their desire and can even view this as a sort of "revenge", as a way of taking down someone's strengths, to make themselves appear and feel stronger.
    • Stupidity. Some people just don't understand the limits of dropping other people in a mess. It might amuse them, or it might be because they don't really understand the extent of the ramifications involved in undermining another person, but they just don't think about what they're doing and the harm they're causing.
    • Protect Yourself from Someone Who Wants Revenge. Perhaps you did something (knowingly or unwittingly) that they don't feel that they can forgive you for, and this is their sneaky method of getting back at you. In this case, look at what you might have done in relation to this person. Try to see whether there is something that might have caused them to feel so angry or disoriented that they wanted to hurt you.
  2. Look after yourself first. The fallout from a backstabbing episode can be monumental, depending on what the backstabber has revealed about you, or has said about you. It's important to do what you can to remedy the fallout through talking to the relevant people, and doing anything else that needs to be fixed. Some things that you might need to do include:
    • Reflecting on the consequences. Before you do anything else, take some time to assess the damage before rushing in to try to patch it up. Perhaps things seem worse than they are because the disloyalty is blurring your perception. Take at least a little time to work through the consequences to decide whether you need to do anything, or whether it's best left to just fizzle out with time. If you do realize that things need to be done to repair the damage, then write out a plan of action to help keep you organized and panic-free.
    • Asking other people involved if the things said are true. Seeking to expose the layers of lies can be a useful way of finding out how far the backstabber has been weaving a web of deceit. For example, if the backstabber says A doesn't like you and you go and ask A if this is true, A may say the backstabber said the same about you not liking them...
    • Apologizing to people if anything negative you've said has been revealed. Don't grovel; be truthful, apologetic, and focused on where you're headed next, now that you've learned a big lesson.
    • Explaining to people why what has happened is out of context, untrue, or convoluted. Don't exaggerate or make up stories; just be clear on the real facts and highlight how the backstabber might have got things twisted in the retelling.
    • Letting people know that you're going to the source of the rumors or tattling and sorting things out before they get worse. This will show people that you mean business about fixing what the backstabber has done or said, and that you're not afraid of facing the person directly.
  3. Make a decision to confront the backstabber. You might prefer to change the word "confront" to "meet with", "discuss things with", or "talk things through with" the backstabber if "confront" is too bold and aggressive a word for you. Whatever you call it, making the decision to call the backstabber on his or her behavior is a bold step and one that you'll need to approach with courage and fortitude. Make sure you've got your facts straight, and that you feel strong and calm enough to talk to the backstabber without lapsing into emotional overdrive; remember that a backstabber is a manipulative personality and will try to turn your emotions back on you to make it seem as if they are not in the wrong or that you have misunderstood things.
  4. Prepare your approach. If you already know what you want to say, then go ahead. However, for many people, the thought of confronting someone openly about something rude or nasty that the other person has done, can be confronting in itself. The answer to nerves is to pre-script your approach so that you know what you want to say, even if you don't remember the exact words on the occasion. The types of things you might like to pre-script include informing the backstabber that you'd like to talk to them, putting together the facts of what has happened and how you've been impacted by the backstabbing, finding more constructive words than "backstabbing" to explain what has happened (so that you can remove the emotional anger), and crafting what kind of solution you'd like to see come out of this talk. For example, you might write down something like the following:[1]
    • "I have something I'd like to talk to you about. I'd like you to hear me out about it before you give your response. I need your help in clarifying why you've chosen to say/do X, Y, Z, which has resulted in X, Y, Z. I don't know why you felt you needed to do this, and it has been hard for me to [know that J, L, and K are now involved too/to bear the brunt of the consequences, etc.]. And while I don't know what motivated you to [disclose things that I told you in confidence/say such personal things about me/suggest that I'm not good enough to the job, etc.], I do know that I won't accept this happening anymore. I've spoken to J, L, and K and explained my side of things. They seem to understand much better now what has happened. Then either: [(Personal): I would now like you to understand better too, that I am not someone who stands by while my dignity is not respected.] or [(Work): If you have a problem with me, I'd like this resolved now so that we can work together more effectively and to ensure this doesn't happen again.]

      Follow with: I believe that when people do things that are not kind or caring toward another person, that this is based on their own fear, unhappiness, or hurt. If that's the case for you, I'm willing to talk about it with you if you want and I will support you. But I will not tolerate being taken advantage of or having you believe that it is OK to undermine me in front of my colleagues/friends/family, etc. If you're willing to talk about this now in an open and friendly way, that'd be great. If you need more time to think over what I've said, then we can get together and talk this through a bit later. If you don't want to talk about it at all though, please understand that I will not stand around waiting for you to do this to me again and I will take action to protect my reputation including [asking to be relocated to another team/staying away from you/not divulging anything more to you, etc.]. If that is the case, I'm sorry but I cannot allow this to happen again."
    • Role Play in Paragraphs this discussion before seeking to have it. This will give you the opportunity to remember the major points and will give you a sense of reassurance that you've already trialed the discussion.
  5. Ask to speak with the backstabber. Try to arrange it so that it's at a time and place where you will feel comfortable. Perhaps over a cup of coffee or milkshake, perhaps in a quiet room at work or school, or perhaps in the local park. Make sure that it's somewhere that you also feel safe, especially if you suspect that this person might be a bit unstable or react badly.
    • If the backstabber isn't so keen to speak with you, or you suspect that they'll refuse to talk with you, try the tactic of simply baling them up somewhere and starting to talk to them when they can't get away easily. This might be at the end of lunch or a meeting, for example. Realize that doing this will make them uncomfortable though, and that they may be much more likely to respond to you negatively than if you give them the space to be more honest and less defensive.
  6. Avoid being rude or aggressive. Take an assertive approach to talking with them and one which shows that you're more interested in understanding than in retaliating or telling them off. While being at the receiving end of backstabbing isn't good, and the repercussions may be damaging to you, you can usually mend the damage over time but harboring internal anger will damage you far more than the external consequences of backstabbing. If you approach the discussion with both an assertive and compassionate frame of mind, you're more likely to get somewhere than if you're hot-headed and righteous. The following things are important when talking with someone who has hurt you:[2]
    • Stick with "I" statements, to express how you're impacted, how you're feeling about what has happened.
    • Remove judgmental statements that include "you are... [mean/thoughtless/difficult/stupid, etc.]". This will only cause the other person to feel threatened and defensive and they'll respond by fighting back and being Avoid Spiteful Girls instead of talking openly.
    • Maintain eye contact, keep your posture relaxed but straight (preferably standing with one foot slightly in front) and don't blink or look away a lot. Project confidence to make it harder for the backstabber to avoid taking you seriously.
  7. Listen to their response. It is important to remain open-minded and to be prepared to understand what motivated the other person. You might discover that it is something that you did or said that motivated them, and that you might actually need to apologize and repair some bridges too. Even where you've done nothing to provoke their backstabbing behavior, be prepared to listen to their story. There can be a multitude of reasons and maybe they need someone to talk to, someone to confide in and in some peculiar way, you might just be the person who opens that door for them. Realize that if they feel OK about backstabbing you, they may have done it many times before and you might just be the first person who has been prepared to listen to them and not just ignore them or retaliate.
  8. Tell them how you feel about your future relations. After you've heard them out and responded to anything that you feel you need to explain, or accepted your share of the problem if necessary, then make it clear how you feel about where the two of you are headed in future situations. In the pre-script above, it was suggested that you make it clear to the backstabber that things change or you will take action to make sure that this person cannot harm you again. Let them know that you'd like to remain their friend/coworker/supporter but that this can only occur if they stop undermining you. It may be evident to you by this stage that you don't want any further interactions with them; if this is the case, be clear about it and let them know that your relations will remain civil and professional but nothing more.
    • Whatever you decide about staying in touch with them, at least let them know that you won't be saying anything negative about them, ever. That will likely be a shock to their system since they're so used to being negative about other people, that being made aware that someone else won't do this can be very eye-opening.
    • If the backstabber is someone in a position of authority, such as your boss, try to get a written record of the "clarification procedures" for fixing the situation that you've reached during your discussion.[3] This way, you can refer to the written record if things aren't improving or you get into deeper problems later on.
  9. Seek to understand what motivated them and do this with a view to forgiving them. Bear in mind that forgiving a person doesn't mean you agree with them, or want to spend time with them; it's about enabling you to let go of what has happened to get on with your life, otherwise even if you banish them physically, you can end up carrying them in your head space.
    • Don't excuse their motivations, just be conscious of what causes people to behave the way they do. In turn, use this as a lesson for future encounters with this person and with people who have similar tendencies. Forewarned means that you'll be less vulnerable to such situations and more likely to take precautionary action that heads backstabbing behavior off before it occurs.


  • Don't let anybody say it's your fault. If you are blameless, ignore them.
  • Doing good deeds for many and being friends with as many other people as possible in your mutual circle will deflate the damage that a backstabber might do. The more that people know you as the nice person in all this, the less they'll be taken in by a backstabber personality.
  • If you don't feel like you can deal with this alone, speak with someone you trust to get their guidance. This might be a teacher, a trusted adult, a coworker, a friend, your mom, etc.
  • If the backstabbing results in libel, slander, or malicious intent, speak to your lawyer about what to do next.[4] In this case, confronting a backstabber may not be the best idea until the legal issues have been sorted out.


  • Be aware they may have a completely different view of what's right or wrong, think that it's justified to backstab someone for jealousy or to "stand by a friend right or wrong." It can begin with someone else doing you wrong and the backstabber standing by that friend to attack you too. If they think they're doing what's right, there's no way to change their mind about it.
  • Be aware they could turn others against you as well and turn things into an all out war
  • Avoid turning the situation into a war zone. In most cases, backstabbers will be around you because you work, study, live, or play with them and your mutual friends/coworkers/family members. It is better to find a civil way to tolerate one another than to carry on an unending tension.
  • Manipulators will respond to being confronted by trying to confuse you, to frustrate you, or to throw the blame back on you.[2] Be aware of this and be ready to remain assertive and to see this as something that needs solving for your sake, not theirs. Keep focusing on your "I" statements and on solutions rather than getting bogged down in the minutiae of what happened and how they don't feel responsible.
  • If a backstabber suggests that you're overreacting, inform them politely that you're entitled to react to what you perceive as disloyalty or betrayal.[4] Naturally, remain as objective, calm, and diplomatic as you can but don't let them bait you into thinking that your emotional reaction means you're wrong about it.

Things You'll Need

  • Paper and notepad for pre-script.

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Sources and Citations

  1. With a big thanks to Dr. Phil for the gist of this, at Dr. Phil, "Stop being such a bully", p. 179, in The Oprah Magazine, Love Your Life!, ISBN 0-8487-3365-7
  2. 2.0 2.1 Martha Petrie Sue, How to handle backstabbers at work,
  3. Minyanville on Divine Caroline, Ten tips for dealing with backstabbing coworkers
  4. 4.0 4.1 How to get rid of stuff, How to get rid of backstabbers,