Negging: What it is and How to Respond to it

Negging can gradually erode self-esteem and have lasting impacts on a person’s life. 

It may escalate into severe emotional or physical abuse and can occur in various relationships, such as with parents, bosses, co-workers, friends, or romantic partners.

It’s important to realize that even though negging isn’t physical, it can still be a form of abuse. 

While people may make occasional mistakes in their comments, negging is a pattern of behavior that persists over time, potentially desensitizing individuals to its harmful effects.

The manipulator may perform other seemingly nice actions, making it confusing for the victim. 

This can lead to self-doubt and a belief that one is being overly sensitive or has no recourse, playing into the manipulator’s strategy.

Regardless of who the perpetrator is or the circumstances, it’s crucial to understand that negging is not the victim’s fault, and they don’t have to accept it. 

Navigating the world of dating can be challenging, especially with emerging trends and terms. 

Recognizing and responding to negging is crucial for maintaining self-confidence and avoiding toxic relationships.

Read Also: Emotionally Damaged: How People Get That Way, 26 Signs & How to Heal From It

What Negging Means

Negging: What it is and How to Respond to it

“Negging” refers to giving indirect compliments or comments that feel like an insult, often directed at someone, usually a female. 

This emotional manipulation might be hard to notice initially, like when a man says something seemingly innocuous, such as, ‘Oh, you drink like a man.’ 

It’s crucial to understand that negging is not a casual mistake; it’s a calculated move designed to throw you off guard.

Recognizing negging is important because it progresses slowly, and many people may confuse it with teasing or dismiss it as harmless banter. 

The person employing negging tactics might also appear friendly, making you question if you’re being too sensitive. Trust your instincts, as negging is crafted to directly impact your self-esteem.

Ignoring signs of negging can alter your self-perception. While negging can occur in various relationships, it is more prevalent in the dating world. 

In relationships, negging manifests in various ways. It can be a tactic employed from the beginning by someone feeling out of their league or a response to developing jealousy and insecurity as the relationship progresses. 

Regardless of the reason, negging in a relationship involves a man undermining a woman to diminish her confidence and manipulate her into staying.

To protect yourself, it’s crucial to recognize this behavior pattern and know how to distance yourself from someone who engages in negging, whether it’s during a date or within a significant relationship.

How to Spot Negging in a Conversation 

Identifying negging can be tricky, as it involves subtle tactics to undermine a woman’s confidence through backhanded comments. 

Here are some signs to help you recognize negging:

1. Backhanded Comments

Look out for compliments that have hidden meanings, putting you in a perplexing situation. 

The goal is to make you feel uneasy and off balance, especially in public.

For example, someone might say, “I didn’t expect someone like you to be able to pull off that outfit.”

2. Constant Comparisons

If someone is always comparing you to others, making sure you never come out on top, it’s a sign of negging. 

Whether it’s true or not, it’s a clear attempt to point out your flaws and make you feel inferior.

For example:

“You did better on your report card, but maybe next semester you’ll match your brother’s performance.”

“Your old college roommate is running a successful company now, so why aren’t you achieving something similar?”

“Your sister is in great shape. Maybe you should follow her example and start working out.”

3. Constructive Criticism

Neggers often provide criticism under the guise of being helpful.  They insult you, and there’s nothing helpful about it.

However, their real intention is to hurt you, disguising insults as positive feedback.

For example:

“That report was terrible, but I guess the topic is just too advanced for you.”

“I don’t want to ruin your excitement, but that outfit doesn’t look good on you.”

“I know you worked hard on that song, but it really bothers me.”

4. Dismissed as ‘Just a Joke’

When confronted about their behavior, a negger may dismiss it as a joke, making you feel uptight for taking offense.

They use the excuse of “just joking” to make you feel can’t take a joke or laugh at yourself. 

They might say things like, “Lighten up!” or “You’re too sensitive.” 

5. Playing the Victim Card

When caught, a negger might switch tactics and portray themselves as the victim, making it challenging to respond effectively.

They manipulate the narrative to make it seem like you provoked their negative behavior. 

They blame you for their outbursts, claiming you pushed their buttons or didn’t show them enough respect. 

They might accuse you of being needy or not appreciating their love and efforts.

Read Also: How Much is Emotional Distress Worth?

6. They Give You Compliments That Don’t Feel Quite Right

First, they make you feel good, and then they bring you down. This is a common way to keep you feeling unsure about yourself, especially when others are around, so you end up putting up with it with a smile.

For instance:

“Wow, you look amazing! I wouldn’t have the guts to style my hair like that.”

“I’m really happy you quit smoking! Too bad you’ve got those little lines on your face already.”

“Congratulations on winning the ice dancing competition! Maybe you’ll try a real sport someday.”

7. They Constantly Try to Outdo You

Whenever you have good news, they make sure to top it with their own announcement. They do this to take attention away from you and make themselves the center of attention. 

For example, if you tell them you’re engaged, they announce their pregnancy and show off their baby bump. 

If you mention having a bad cold, they talk about their near-death experience with pneumonia to make you seem like a complainer. 

When you talk about a hike you took, they talk about backpacking through Europe for a month. 

8. They Insult You Under the Guise of Asking Innocent Questions

They skillfully word their questions to put you down, and if you get upset, they claim it was just harmless curiosity. 

For instance, they might say, “I’m surprised you did well on that report. Who helped you with it?” or “Don’t take this the wrong way, but are you really going to eat all that?” 

9. They Make You Feel Guilty for Expressing Your Concerns

Neggers may discount your feelings to the point where you end up apologizing for standing up for yourself, even when you know you were right.

Instead of addressing the issue, they deny or downplay their mistreatment, ignore your opinions, or point out your faults to shift the blame onto you.

They may even resort to yelling, screaming, or throwing things to intimidate you. 

Signs You Are a Victim of Negging 

Sometimes we unintentionally say hurtful things and upset the people we care about. In those cases, we apologize and try to avoid making the same mistake again. 

However, emotional abuse is different. It occurs repeatedly, and the person responsible rarely tries to change their behavior. 

Here are some signs that you may be experiencing this form of emotional abuse:

  • You often experience the behaviors mentioned earlier, and it’s becoming a regular occurrence.
  • You frequently feel humiliated and disrespected.
  • You change your actions to please the other person.
  • Your relationship revolves around the other person.
  • Everything seems fine until suddenly there’s an explosive argument for reasons you don’t understand.
  • The other person shows little or no remorse for their actions.

How to Deal With Negging

How do you respond when the person not only dismisses your feelings but also turns the situation around and plays the victim? 

First, remember, that each situation is unique, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. 

Here are a few techniques that may help:

1. Recognize Patterns of Negging

It’s important to clearly and precisely recognize negging in order to address it. Use the signs and examples we’ve shared to determine if you are experiencing this combination of negging and unhealthy dating habits. 

Once you are sure that these “casual remarks” are intentional, you’ll be better prepared to take action.

2. Avoid Responding With Negativity

Engaging in a “tit-for-tat” approach may not be the best strategy when dealing with negative behavior. 

Regardless of how hurtful or infuriating the insult may be, don’t stoop to their level and insult them back. 

This will only perpetuate the toxic dynamics of the relationship, and they may respond with even nastier actions. Most abusers tend to behave this way, whether emotionally or otherwise.

3. Express Your Feelings

Despite the fear of being discredited, it’s important to openly communicate how their behavior makes you feel for your own peace of mind. 

This may result in further arguments, but it’s crucial to stand your ground.

4. Pay Attention to Their Reaction

When you express your feelings, observe how they react. If their actions were unintentionally hurting you, they will genuinely apologize and assure you that it won’t happen again. 

However, if the negging was conscious and deliberate, your confrontation may only worsen their behavior. 

They may respond with additional negative remarks to make you feel bad for speaking up.

5. Don’t Let Them off the Hook

 If they offer a genuine apology, accept it. However, don’t let them off the hook easily by saying, “It’s okay”, “Don’t worry about it” or “Let’s just move on.”

By doing so, you give them permission to continue their manipulative behavior. Instead, clearly state that their behavior is unacceptable and demand change.

6. Demand Change in Negging Tendencies

Whether it’s a casual date or a more serious relationship, assertively demand that they change their behavior. 

If you’re just dating, let them know that there won’t be another date until you see a correction in their actions. 

If you’re in a committed relationship, communicate that unless they improve, you will reconsider your decision to be with them.

7. Decide if You Want to Stay

 Regardless of the manipulation you’ve endured, remember that you have the power to choose what you want in your life. 

If, despite expressing your concerns and asking for change, the negging behavior continues, don’t hesitate to end the relationship. You deserve better.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Negging Flirting?

 No, negging is not flirting. It’s a type of behavior where someone tries to control you by attacking your self-esteem.

Is Negging and Teasing the Same?

Negging and teasing may seem similar, but there’s a key difference. Teasing, whether from a friend, partner, or co-worker, has a playful and good-natured tone. It doesn’t aim to belittle you or play with your self-worth.

Negging, on the other hand, often masquerades as a joke or compliment, but the way it’s delivered leaves you unsettling and uncertain about the person’s true intentions.


Teasing: “If you hadn’t given me a surprise birthday gift, I would have dragged you out of your house at midnight and asked for one.”

Negging: “If you hadn’t given me a surprise birthday gift, I would have gone to all your exes and told them to return whatever surprise gifts you gave them.”

Read Also: 50 Hope Messages for Finding Light in Darkness

Final Thoughts 

Staying in an emotionally or verbally abusive relationship can have lasting negative effects such as anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. 

It’s important to remember that you don’t have to tolerate behavior that negatively affects your peace of mind, especially in a romantic relationship where your partner should love, support, and uplift you, rather than manipulate and play mind games.

If you experience negging, understand that it is not your fault and you are not responsible for fixing the other person. It is their responsibility to address their own behavior.


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