What Is Negging — And How Can You Fight Against It?

One of the most confusing things is interacting with someone who thinks making you feel bad is an appropriate form of flirting. There's actually a term for this behavior called "negging." It's a form of manipulation and verbal abuse used to insult or undermine you with the goal of making you feel bad about yourself. People who neg often do this to gain power over you so that you seek their approval. 

When faced with negging, know that it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the other person's low self-worth and immaturity. They put other people down to make themselves feel better. Therapist Nick Bognar, LMFT put it perfectly: "Negging is a great way to signal to people that you're insecure and a terrible person to be in a relationship with," via Mind Body Green.

According to Dictionary.com, the word "negging" first appeared online in the late 1990s in male "pick-up artist" forums (no surprise there). "Neg" is short for negative comments. Even if you've never heard of this term, there's a chance it's happened to you, whether with romantic partners, friends, family, or work colleagues. Understanding what it means can help you do something about it.

Signs of negging

Negging can take several forms, all in an attempt to make you feel bad and unsure of yourself. One clear sign of negging is when someone gives you backhanded compliments. "Backhanded compliments are things that are said with the same tone of a compliment, but actually put the receiver down," trauma professional and social worker Silvi Saxena shared with Women's Health Magazine. This might sound like, "You're not usually my type, but I'll make an exception," or, " Wow, I didn't expect you to be so smart."

People who neg like to disguise their mean comments as "constructive" criticism. They might tell you what they think you "should" do or look like, but it's often very unsolicited, rude, and unhelpful. It might feel like nothing you do is good enough for that person, as they're trying to get you to rely on their approval. They might also compare you to other people, like their exes or celebrities they find attractive. It might sound like, "You're almost as funny as my ex."

Negging might not always seem super obvious at first, but it's good to have a name for this behavior and to recognize the signs. "If you feel really angry, upset, down on yourself, self-conscious, or on edge after leaving an interaction with a date, it's possible that they have been negging you," Saxena said.

How to respond to negging

Responding to negging depends on how long you've known the person. If it's a first date or meeting, the simplest thing to do is ignore the comment and not waste your energy. But if you feel comfortable standing up for yourself, tell them how their comments hurt you. Their response will speak volumes about who they are as a person. You could say something along the lines of, "It really hurts me when you make those backhanded remarks." They may try to pin the blame on you and say something like, "Wow, you're so sensitive. You can't take any criticism." But hold your ground and remember that they're in the wrong.

Negging can happen in long-term relationships, too. If your partner's behavior doesn't change, it may be time to leave that relationship and think about going no-contact. A good partner should lift you up, not tear you down. As trauma professional and social worker Silvi Saxena told Women's Health Magazine, "If you have to question whether or not you can stand up to them, that is not someone you should spend time with." Reach out to your support system and let them know what's going on. Your friends can help you navigate your partner's problematic behavior and hold them accountable.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.