June 25, 2021

What Is Negging? 5 Signs And What To Do About It

You may not have heard of negging, but you may have experienced it.
Written by
Ella Dorval Hall
Published on
June 25, 2021
Updated on
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Have you ever been around someone that purposely acts disinterested in order to get your attention? Or someone who gives you a backhanded compliment and then says “you’re so sensitive” when you call them out? Those are just a few examples of negging. 

What is negging? 

When a comment or action is designed to lower your self-esteem in order to make you vulnerable to sexual advances, that is called negging. It’s often done by giving someone a compliment and an insult at the same time, like a backhanded compliment.

Negging was created by Erik von Markovik, a famous Pick Up Artist (PUA) who taught men how to use misogynistic tactics, like negging, to pick up women. While this is never an appropriate or healthy dating tactic, sadly, a whole industry is built around PUA that still exists today. 

Neil Strauss, another infamous PUA who worked closely with Markovik, said in a New York Times article that “a neg holds two purposes: to momentarily lower a woman’s self-esteem and to suggest an intriguing disinterest.” 

While negging originated from cis men teaching other cis men how to pick up women in bars, it can happen between people of any gender and take place on dating apps, flirting in bars, or even in long term relationships.

5 signs you’re being negged

Being able to identify signs of negging can make it easier to deal with the situation. Here are five signs someone is negging you. 

1. Giving backhanded compliments 

One of the most common examples of negging is backhanded compliments. The person negging will make you feel good and then cut you down in order to lower your guard. One UK study suggests that negging “combines the delivery of compliments alongside subtle insults to undermine the self-esteem of a woman.”

Some examples of a backhanded compliment include, “You look great in that shirt, I can’t believe you’re confident enough to wear it,” “You’re much smarter than I expected,” “You actually look really pretty without makeup on.”

2. Criticizing you and pretending it’s constructive

Someone might act like they are giving you feedback, but in reality, they’re just criticizing you and pretending it's constructive in order to lower your self-esteem. Melinda Carver, a relationship coach and author, told Bustle, "When your partner overcriticizes you... it demoralizes you and reduces your self- esteem… you then twist yourself into a pretzel to change [yourself] to please your partner. This pattern of behavior of constant criticism from your partner is a form of control to diminish you and make you dependent on them.”

This criticism is a tactic that is used in negging. It might be someone saying, “I know you worked really hard on this, but it's just not what I expected it would be.” Or perhaps they might say, “Why don’t you wear something different?” Or, “I just don’t think you’re good enough at [X] to make a career out of it. I’m only trying to protect you.” 

3. Comparing you to other people

Comparing you to other people is another way that cuts down someone’s self-esteem and reinforces the power dynamics between the person negging and the person being negged. 

These negs can sound like, “You know you’re really pretty, I mean not pretty like all the other people in here, but still really pretty.” It might be someone saying, “You’re cool. I’ve dated a lot of really cool people, but I think you’re cool too.” Perhaps they’ll say, “I wish you dressed more like [X], they have really good style.” 

4. Making you crave their approval

Because negging undermines your self-esteem, it can make you feel like you constantly need the approval of the person negging you in order to feel good about yourself. Relationship Coach Claudia Cox told Elite Daily “People who neg usually have low self-esteem. They are insecure in their social skills and their ability to attract someone in a healthy way, so they resort to undermining their target’s self-esteem. Their goal? Make the other person feel like they have to seek their approval.” Often, craving the approval of the person negging you can make you want to change or contort yourself to be the person you think they will approve of. 

If someone is negging you, it might feel like you need their approval for things like what you’re wearing, who you want to hang out with, the activities you’d like to do, the foods you want to eat, and more. 

5. Saying “I’m just joking” when you push back

When you call someone out on negging, they might use the excuse that they’re “just joking.” Don’t accept this. They can try to maintain control in the relationship by making you feel like it’s your fault that you don’t think their “joke” was funny by saying things like “You’re so sensitive,” “I was just joking around,” “Why don’t you have a sense of humor,” or “Relax a little.” 

How to respond to negging

When someone is negging you, call them out on it. While it can be difficult to speak up in situations where we feel less powerful or our self-confidence has been attacked, it can help to name how the behavior or the person is harming you. You can do this by saying how the person is making you feel and what you need from them. For example, you might say, “I feel really insecure when you say X to me and I need you to stop.” 

A person who is prone to negging or following PUA tactics may not be respectful or receptive even when you express hurt, however. It’s important to remember that this person is acting out of their own insecurities, and their comments about you are not true — no matter how real they may feel. In this situation, you should do what you need to take care of yourself. 

If it feels empowering to stand up to them, you can respond again. If they don’t back down and continue to neg or harass you, seek support. If you’re in a bar or restaurant you can tell an employee that the person is making you feel uncomfortable and request that they are asked to leave. If you’re in your home with your partner, text or call a friend, family member, or professional (like a therapist, if you have one) and let them know what is going on and how they can support you.  

Remember you also have the option to just exit the situation at any time. You can walk away from them in a bar, report them on a dating app — and no, you don’t need to be “polite” or “nice” about it. However, if you’re in a long-term relationship, it can be more difficult to distance yourself from the situation. If you feel safe, you can leave the space you’re in and seek help from someone you trust. If negging is a consistent pattern in this relationship, it might be helpful to look for support from family, friends, or a professional on how to move forward.

The bottom line

A neg can sound lots of different ways, but ultimately, no matter how it manifests, the comment will be designed to lower your self-esteem in order to make you vulnerable to sexual advances or create power and control in the relationship. Negging is never an appropriate way to pick someone up, to keep a partner interested, or to try to get what you want. But, being able to identify negging is one way we can begin to protect ourselves from it.

Reviewed for Medical Accuracy

Ella Dorval Hall (she/they) is a white, eating disorder recover-er, sex and pleasure educator. She's worked at a national sexual health organization, Healthy Teen Network, training educators how to teach evidence-based sex education curriculums. Ella now hosts workshops, writes, and does 1:1 education that brings people the information and skills they need to actually enjoy sex. You can find more of Ella’s work on Instagram @unlearnings3x.

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