An Important Announcement from Garbo

Negging: How to Recognize It And What It Means

August 5, 2022
Asia Lin

Do you feel your partner is constantly making indirect negative comments about you? This perplexing behavior is known as negging, and strangely, it is frequently used as a form of flirting.

It can be notoriously hard to distinguish because it is done under the guise of being funny or flirting. But make no mistake about its real intentions — because that’s part of the manipulation. It’s a sad attempt to make someone feel better about themselves by putting you down.

Negging has joined the toxic dating trends of “ghosting” and “gaslighting” and has become widely used on dating apps and social media. Needless to say, it can be a major red flag of what’s to come.

What is negging?

Negging is a form of emotional manipulation whereby someone insults you with a backhanded compliment to undermine your self-esteem and make you vulnerable to them, in which you crave for their approval.

It targets your insecurities with the intention of making you feel worse about yourselves in the hopes that they’ll get validation from you. Licensed clinical psychologist Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, LCP, Ph.D., states that "negging is a form of abuse.” You might think that because it’s not physical, it’s not abuse but negging is an act of verbal emotional abuse.

To understand what negging is, it is essential to know that it is derived from neg, which means negative feedback. The term negging first appeared in the world of "pickup artists," and became a global phenomenon following the publication of a book by a music journalist, Neil Strauss. In 2004, he wrote a New York Times article explaining that ''neg'' is neither a compliment nor an insult, a neg holds two purposes: to momentarily lower a woman's self-esteem and to suggest an intriguing disinterest. Gross, right?

Over time, negging can damage your self-esteem and alter the way you live. It can also spiral into severe mental health problems for the person on the receiving end. Below are examples of negging and what you can do when you encounter negging.

Negging examples

Are you unsure of the intention’s of your partner’s compliment? Well negging can be so subtle and insidious that you may not recognize it for what it is.

Here are some examples and signs of negging to help you identify this in your relationships. Remember — negging doesn’t just happen in romantic relationships, friends and families can be culprits too.

1. They give you backhanded compliments.

Any comment that blurs the line between an insult and a compliment is considered a backhanded compliment. These remarks are sometimes referred to as left-handed compliments or stealth insults.

For example:

  • “You can be so beautiful when you have makeup on!”
  • “You look really good from far away.”
  • “This dress is amazing! It makes you look so much thinner!”

2. They insult you under the guise of "constructive criticism."

Their criticism is not constructive but rather hurtful. It is a tactic that narcissists use to place themselves in the “chooser” role.

For example:

  • “You’d look better if you lose 10 pounds.”
  • “I think you should know that your new haircut makes you look weird.”
  • “I know you put a lot into writing this report, but it’s garbage.”

3. They compare you to others

This really matters when it is a comparison that makes you feel super gloomy and insecure. Whether the statement is true or not, you shouldn’t feel the need to compare yourself to anyone else, nor should your partner.

For example:

  • “Your best friend is in such a great shape. You should workout with her.”
  • “Did you see Mary? I like what she’s wearing — you should try wearing stuff like that.”
  • “You are just as funny as my ex today.”

4. They disguise insults as questions

They carefully word the question to make you feel super conscious and think that you’re making something out of nothing.

For example:

  • “I’m surprised you managed to finish that annual report. Who helped you with it?”
  • “Not to be rude, but are you sure you’re going to finish all that food?”
  • “Why don’t you wear something different?”

What to do if someone is negging you

One of the simplest ways to respond to negging is to ignore and not engage in their pointless comments and conversation. If someone is attempting to evoke an emotional response from you, choose not to give it to them. It is also a waste of time to explain to someone that can not respect you. It is not your responsibility to change their abusive behavior.

However, if you are comfortable confronting them, you can make it clear to them that you are not okay with the way they are speaking or treating you. But take caution because they might then resort to more abusive behaviors, such as gaslighting, in response to your confrontation.

If you think it is safe and this person will be able to understand what you’re saying, you can possibly tell them something like, “your comments often make me feel humiliated and disrespected.” You should keep the focus on how the person’s actions are affecting you rather than starting with an accusatory statement and emphasize that their manipulative tactics won’t work on you.

Because negging often occurs early on in a relationship, it’s a major red flag for potential bad behavior to come. But, confronting someone who is negging you (especially if it s a repeated tactic) must be treated with care because they could have a negative reaction to being confronted and with you setting boundaries and expectations. Please always use caution and if you need help, talk to a friend or call a hotline.

We all desire and deserve a healthy relationship, but some times we find ourselves stuck and entangled in a toxic or even abusive relationship.

Emotional abuse isn’t an accident but a reoccurring tactic perpetrator use to manipulate your insecurities to make themselves feel better.

If any of the following apply to you, you may be experiencing emotional abuse.

  • You’re experiencing some of the behavior listed above on a daily basis, and it’s becoming all too familiar
  • Dismisses and minimizes your feelings
  • Making excuses and never apologizing
  • Make it difficult for you to trust others

You can take our emotional abuse quiz to identify patterns in your relationship and learn more about this form of abuse.

The Bottom Line

Negging is a low-grade insult that attempts to knock you down a peg by belittling or attacking your positive qualities, be it your physical appearance, intellect, academic accomplishments, careers, hobbies, talents, sense of style, or natural charisma.

Always pay attention to how another person's behavior makes you to feel. If you are feeling more and more insecure being around this person that is a red flag and you should consider if you want this person in your life.

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