Negging: How to Recognize and Overcome It

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Negging is a form of verbal abuse, and it’s often used to manipulate or control a person. It involves making negative comments about someone’s appearance, character, or behavior in an effort to make them feel bad about themselves.

This can be done directly or indirectly, for example by pointing out the flaws in their arguments, or belittling their accomplishments. Negging is often subtle and hard to detect—it may not even be obvious that someone is doing it at first, but over time its effects can add up and lead to feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem.

Negging can be as simple as making a backhanded compliment, such as “You look nice today for someone who’s not usually so stylish.” Although it can be difficult to recognize negging since the comments are often veiled, its aim is always the same: to make the other person feel worse about themselves and thus gain power over them.

Negging in Dating

Negging is often used in dating, where it can be hard to recognize when you are just getting to know someone. The goal of negging in this context is usually to gain power and make the other person feel insecure so that they will be more likely to give in to the manipulator’s advances.

Examples of negging in dating include making critical comments about a person’s appearance or clothing, teasing them for their interests or hobbies, or belittling their accomplishments.

Negging can also involve lying or exaggerating the manipulator’s own achievements in order to make themselves seem superior.

Negging in Relationships

Negging can also occur in established relationships. It may take the form of insults or criticism disguised as “constructive feedback,” or attempts to control how a partner looks, acts, and behaves. In these cases, negging is often used as a way to maintain power in the relationship.

Negging can be especially damaging when it’s done by someone who claims to love and care for their partner—this kind of negging undermines trust and can lead to feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem over time.

Why Is My Partner Negging Me?

Negging is often done as a way to gain power and control in a relationship, but it can also be a sign of deeper issues such as insecurity, low self-esteem, or even narcissistic tendencies If your partner is negging you, it’s important to understand why they are doing it so that you can work together to address the underlying issue.

Negging can be hard to confront, but it’s essential to speak up and let your partner know that their behavior is unacceptable.

Signs Someone Is Negging You

To identify negging, pay attention to how you feel when someone makes a comment:

  • Do you feel belittled or insulted?
  • Are they comparing you unfavorably with others?
  • Does it sound like they’re trying to make you doubt yourself?

If so, it’s likely that they are negging you.

Examples of Negging

Below is a list of signs that someone may be negging you along with examples. However, remember that not all of these behaviors are necessarily indicative of negging and may be part of your partner’s personality or simply a misunderstanding:

  • Disparaging comments: “That dress doesn’t look good on you.”
  • Unwarranted criticism: “I can’t believe you did that. What were you thinking?”
  • Jokes at your expense: “Ha, did you really just say that?”
  • Sarcasm: “Yeah right, like that would ever happen.”
  • Undermining your accomplishments: “Your success was all luck anyway.”
  • Backhanded compliments: “You look better without makeup.”
  • Being dismissive or unsupportive of your ideas and ambitions: “You don't really think you can do that, do you?”
  • Excessive teasing in a negative way: “What is wrong with your hair today? Did you forget to brush it?”
  • Withholding positive words or compliments: “That’s nice, I guess.”

It is essential to take note of how often these types of comments and behaviors are used by your partner and the context in which they occur. If you're wondering why your partner is negging you, it is possible that they are trying to control or manipulate you into feeling insecure or inferior.

It could also be due to feelings of insecurity or fear on their end. Ultimately, it really depends on the individual's motivations for using negging as a tactic in your relationship.

Is Negging a Form of Gaslighting?

Negging can be considered a form of gaslighting because it involves manipulating someone's emotions or reality in order to gain power and control.

Gaslighting, though, usually involves more overt forms of manipulation that are meant to make the victim doubt their own thoughts, memories, or perception. Negging is often used as a way to undermine someone's self-esteem or self-worth.

How to Respond to Negging

If you are in a relationship with someone who is negging you, it is important to address the situation as soon as possible. Here are some tips on how to respond to negging:

Remain Calm and Composed

It is important to stay composed when confronted with negging so that you can communicate your feelings effectively and clearly.

Speak Up

Make sure your partner knows how their behavior makes you feel. Explain that belittling or insulting comments hurt your feelings and make it difficult for you to trust them. For example:

  • “When you make jokes at my expense, I feel disrespected and belittled.”
  • “I don't feel like I can trust you when you talk to me this way. It makes me not want to be around you.”

Set Boundaries

Establish firm boundaries about what kinds of comments are acceptable or unacceptable in your relationship. Make sure they understand that negative or manipulative behavior will not be tolerated. For example:

  • “It's not okay for you to try and make me feel inferior or bad about myself in any way.”
  • “I expect communication to be respectful and supportive, not demeaning or insulting."
  • “If this kind of behavior continues, I will have to reconsider our relationship.”

Seek Help If Needed

If you are having trouble communicating with your partner or finding ways to cope with their negging, seek out professional help from a therapist. They can help you work through any underlying issues and come up with strategies for dealing with negging in the future.

Find Ways to Cope

Take time for yourself, practice self-care activities such as exercise, hobbies, or journaling, and find a support system of friends and family that can provide emotional support during this difficult time.

Negging can be difficult to overcome, but understanding why it is happening and learning how to respond effectively can help create a healthier dynamic in your relationship. Remember that no one deserves to be treated poorly and that speaking up is always the best option when faced with negging. With time and effort, you will be able to establish healthier communication patterns in your relationship—ones that promote mutual respect and trust.

The key is to remember that no one deserves to be treated poorly. If you are struggling with negging in your relationship, don't hesitate to reach out for help. With time and effort, you can overcome negging and create a healthy balance between respect and trust.

Signs of Safe, Healthy Flirting

When it comes to determining the difference between flirting and negging, there are a few important aspects to consider. Healthy flirting should be consensual and involve mutual respect for boundaries. It should also feel fun and light-hearted.

On the other hand, negging involves manipulative comments or behaviors that make you feel inferior or bad about yourself in some way.

Signs of healthy flirting include:

  • Genuine compliments (e.g., “I love your smile”)
  • Friendly banter (e.g., “That's a great shirt! Where'd you get it?")
  • Open conversations about interests and hobbies
  • Respectful physical boundaries (e.g., no touching without permission)
  • Mutual laughter and smiling
3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. University of California. How To Utilize ‘The Neg’ Wisely.

  2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Effects of Backhanded Flattery.

  3. Grapsas S, Brummelman E, Back MD, Denissen JJA. The "Why" and "How" of Narcissism: A Process Model of Narcissistic Status Pursuit. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2020 Jan;15(1):150-172. doi:10.1177/1745691619873350

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."