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What is negging?

“Negging” is form of emotional manipulation that involves giving someone a backhanded compliment (an insult spun as praise) to make them feel insecure. It’s often used to gain control or make a person crave approval.

The original meaning of negging can be traced back to the “pickup artist” community, where it was used as a misguided strategy to attract romantic interest. The tactic preys on the target’s self-esteem, creating feelings of inadequacy that the manipulator then exploits.

Is negging a form of gaslighting?

Negging and gaslighting are both forms of emotional abuse that can go hand in hand, but they’re not the same thing.

Negging involves subtle insults masked as compliments to manipulate and undermine someone’s confidence. Meanwhile, gaslighting is a severe form of psychological abuse in which the manipulator makes the victim doubt their own reality, memory, or perceptions.

Negging examples

It can be tricky to identify negging because the comments might seem innocent or even flattering on the surface. Here are some examples of how they can show up:

Backhanded compliments: “You look great for your age.”

Insults disguised as jokes: “I didn’t expect someone like you to understand that reference.”

Subtle put-downs: “You’re pretty smart for a girl.”

Comparisons: “You’re almost as good as my ex at this.”

Disguised criticism: “That’s a unique hairstyle, it really stands out.”

Pretending to be surprised: “Wow, I didn’t think you’d be into something so sophisticated.”

Undermining your achievements: “You did a good job, even if it’s not very challenging.”

Questioning your taste: “Interesting choice of outfit, I wouldn’t have the courage to wear that.”

Doubting your abilities: “I’m surprised you managed to do that all by yourself.”

Minimizing your interests: “It’s cute that you have this little hobby.”

Negging vs. teasing

You may wonder how to tell the difference between negging and harmless teasing or playful banter. The key difference lies in the intent and the emotional impact.

While playful banter is light-hearted and mutual, negging is one-sided and has a hidden agenda. Banter aims to build rapport and is typically reciprocal and enjoyable for both people. You engage in playful exchanges that highlight a shared sense of humor or mutual teasing that doesn’t cause harm or distress.

In contrast, negging aims to destabilize the other person. It might include a joke, but the undercurrent of criticism and manipulation makes the difference. Ideally, playful banter leaves both people feeling engaged and happy, whereas negging leaves one person feeling undermined.

Negging on social media

Platforms like dating apps and social networks have increased the reach and frequency of negging by providing more opportunities for people to engage in it. People can hide behind screens and feel confident while making comments they wouldn’t say to someone face-to-face. You might notice negging in the form of passive-aggressive comments or backhanded compliments in comment sections or direct messages.

The psychology behind negging

Negging is a red flag in relationships that’s likely rooted in power dynamics. One person is trying to create an imbalance by lowering the other person’s self-esteem while elevating their own status.

In general, people may use negging because they want to:

  • Establish a sense of power and control over the other person
  • Test the other person’s limits and see how much they can influence them
  • Mask their own insecurities by projecting them onto someone else
  • Create a dependency where their victim seeks validation from them

How negging impacts well-being

Negging can have profound effects on both the mind and body. Even though the effects of negging specifically have yet to be studied, researchers have established that emotional abuse can have long-term health consequences.1 They may include:

How to tell if someone is negging you

If you think someone may be negging you, but you aren’t sure, here are some tips to help you identify it:

Pay attention to how their comments make you feel. If you frequently feel belittled, confused, or self-conscious after interacting with someone, they might be employing negging tactics.

Look for patterns. If the person repeatedly makes remarks that chip away at your confidence or self-esteem, it’s a red flag.

Consider their intentions. Are their comments constructive and intended to help you grow, or do they only serve to make you feel bad about yourself?

Notice when their words and actions don’t align. If they frequently make you doubt yourself while also seeking your approval, this inconsistency can be a sign of negging.

Get outside perspectives. If you’re still not sure whether someone is negging you, consider talking to a trusted friend or mental health professional to gain perspective on the situation.

How to respond to negging

Responding to negging can be challenging, but here are some strategies to consider:

Stay calm. Keep your composure and avoid reacting emotionally. This prevents the person from getting the reaction they want.

Speak up. Politely but firmly address the comment. For example, “That comment was hurtful. Why did you say that?”

Set boundaries. Clearly state that their comments are unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. For instance, you could say: “I don’t appreciate comments like that. Please stop.”

Walk away if necessary. If the negging continues, you may have no choice but to remove yourself from the situation. In some cases, cutting off contact with the person may protect your mental and emotional well-being.

Seek support. If cutting the person off isn’t possible (such as with a coworker or family member) or if you’re struggling to deal with the situation on your own, consider getting help from a mental health professional.

Visit our directory to find a qualified provider in your area who can offer guidance and support.

About the author

The editorial team at works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.