[6 Minute Read]
So, you just started dating someone, and they seem pretty great! Things are going well when, one day, they start to make little…Comments. “Are you sure you should wear that? It doesn’t seem like your style”. You try to look at it from a positive perspective - maybe they’re just giving you their honest opinion. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, right?
You ignore it and some time passes, but the comments continue. Now, you’re seeing a pattern. The comments start to seem a little…Insulting.
- “You're pretty smart for someone who doesn't seem like they’d understand these things.”
- “That’s strange, my ex never had a problem with my sense of humor”.
- “You're actually really funny for someone with your looks.”
- “I love how you're so low-maintenance. I'm not used to that.”
Your normally healthy self-esteem gradually declines. You even start to feel a bit insecure in the relationship, questioning your words, appearance, and choices. “Why am I being so sensitive?”, you begin to wonder.
It’s not you, my friend. You’re probably being negged.
What is "Negging"?
Negging is a manipulative tactic that some people use to undermine someone's confidence in order to gain control or attention. Negging consists of backhanded compliments, constant passive aggression, subtle insults, or criticism with the intention of making the recipient feel insecure or inadequate. It doesn't occur strictly between romantic partners, but in the realm of dating and relationships, negging can have profound effects, eroding self-esteem and damaging the foundation of a healthy connection.
When the person negging is called out for their behavior, they often deny it and try to flip things around, responding with remarks like “You’re always making me the bad guy” or, “You’re making a big deal out of nothing”. The perpetrator often insists their remarks are flirting, jokes, or playful banter, creating confusion and emotional distress for the target. The truth is that negging is a form of subtle (but very serious) verbal abuse. It's not cute and it's not ok.
Why do people neg?
This behavior is rooted in a power dynamic where the negger seeks to assert dominance by diminishing the neggee's sense of self-worth. Why a person negs can vary, but oftentimes their own self-esteem is low and they are threatened by their target’s independence, confidence, or the possibility of being left. The person negging usually doesn’t feel like their “target” is worthy of respect, kindness, or patience. They see it as playfully "taking you down a peg" or humbling you, but it's really just bullying and they're a flaming asshole.
Consequences of Negging
1. Erosion of Self-esteem
Negging can chip away at your self-esteem over time. Constant exposure to critical remarks can lead you to internalizing the negativity, questioning your own worth and capabilities.
2. Manipulation and Control
Negging is a form of psychological manipulation, whether the negger is conscious of their behavior or not. The negger aims to control the narrative within the relationship, creating a power dynamic that leaves the victim vulnerable and more likely to acquiesce to the negger's desires.
3. Breakdown of Communication
Healthy communication is vital in any relationship, but negging introduces a toxic element that hinders open and honest dialogue. The victim may become hesitant to express themselves for fear of facing further criticism.
What to do about Negging
1. Recognize the Behavior
Sometimes the line between negging and harmless teasing can be a little blurred, but negging feels much more personal. It's generally directed at things like your appearance, intellect, character, or skills. If you're not sure if someone is negging you, get comfortable with asking them this question: "What did you mean by that comment?" It's a reasonable question. It's not argumentative or accusatory to ask someone what they meant. If they can't answer you without further being a jerk, you're probably being negged. As it’s not really possible to give a totally comprehensive list of every type of negging remark, you can also run the comment by a trusted friend or therapist for some feedback. There are also quite a few books out there that go into deeper detail around recognizing verbal abuse and manipulation, such as The Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans.
2. Set Boundaries
Assertive communication will help you here, and a simple “Those kinds of comments are not ok with me. Please don’t talk to me like that.” is a good start. However, don't expect the negger to change just because you asked nicely. Think about what you should do next if your boundaries are ignored (such as limiting contact). Remember, setting boundaries does not guarantee they will be honored. You can’t make someone respect your boundaries, so it will be up to you to do what’s necessary to create change in your situation.
3. Nurture your Self-esteem
If you think you're being negged, it's a great time to start showing yourself some serious TLC. Hang out with friends, spend time on your hobbies, pamper yourself, and repeat positive affirmations. Check in with your self-talk: are you speaking to yourself with love and kindness? This is the time to really bolster your confidence. Make sure that your self-esteem is being nurtured at every step. Treat it like the treasure it is. It will help you see the bigger picture and not lose sight of your negger's true nature.
4. Seek Support
Reach out to trusted friends, family, mentors, a supportive online community, or a therapist. Discussing your experiences can provide valuable perspectives and guidance on how to navigate the situation.
5. Consider Ending the Relationship
Negging is unacceptable, and a relationship where it's a persistent issue is not worth maintaining. Is it really worth your time and energy to constantly try to "educate" a grown person on how to treat you throughout your relationship? That's no small task, and you weren't put here on this earth to be someone's unpaid therapist (or punching bag). A healthy partnership should uplift both individuals, not tear one down. Start seriously thinking of an exit strategy. You may feel afraid to lose the relationship, or you may think about the “sunk cost fallacy” (hesitating to leave because you’ve invested so much time and energy into it), but trust me - no healthy, loving relationship is built on negging. If your needs and feelings are not respected, it's time to go.
If you truly feel like you can’t leave the person or limit contact with them, consider the possibility that you may have some abandonment (or other) issues to work through. Start to ask yourself why you tolerate this kind of behavior. That’s a pretty heavy question, so consider going to a therapist for help unpacking it. The pain you’ll feel if you stay will far outweigh the initial loneliness or anxiety around ending things. If the situation is dangerous and difficult to physically leave, the National Domestic Violence Hotline may have resources that can help.
Remember: you are a beautiful BADASS worthy of respect and kindness. Start believing in these words. Give yourself some credit: it may be hard to walk away, but you are built to survive it.
It can be hard to recognize negging if it's been going on for awhile, but it's important to remind yourself that this behavior is not acceptable (and NOT your fault). Don't sit around waiting for the other person to change. Set some boundaries and think seriously about whether or not the relationship is serving your well-being. Healthy communication in relationships looks like mutual respect, support, and positive affirmation rather than subtle insults or undermining remarks.
There are so many kind people out there in this world who are willing to treat you with love and respect. Don’t just hope for it or long for it - Demand it, and don’t expect any less. You are worthy of it.