Is your partner negging you? Here’s how to make it stop

Ever received a backhanded compliment? Known as negging, this form of emotional manipulation can have a serious impact. Here’s what to do if it happens to you.

Ever been left feeling worse after receiving a compliment? Chances are you’ve been negged.

It’s a term that became mainstream back in 2005 when a bestselling book about the strategies “pickup artists” use highlighted negging as a way to make women more susceptible to men’s romantic advances.

“Negging, which translates to ‘negative feedback’, is a term that defines a form of emotional manipulation where backhanded compliments and flirtatious remarks are used intentionally to insult, belittle, shame, undermine and control others – usually women,” clinical psychologist Dr Alissa Knight says.

“Often, the receiver is left feeling very uncomfortable and confused by the negative feelings associated with the manipulator’s negging comments, but that’s due to the fact that they’re cleverly masqueraded as positively intended.”

So what might negging sound like?

Dating coach and blogger at 30EverAfter Iona Yeung says there are a couple of classic examples.

“It could be telling someone how pretty they’d be if they just lost some weight, or how they’d achieve so much if they weren’t so lazy,” Iona says.

Negging isn’t exclusive to the dating world

“I think we tend to see negging at its greatest severity in romantic relationships,” Dr Knight says, “but this type of emotional manipulation can definitely occur in any kind of relationship where one person actively tries to psychologically damage the other person for their own gain.”

Dr Knight, director of The Calming Suite Psychology clinic, says this could be a friendship, a parent-child relationship or a relationship with a work colleague.

“In a workplace setting, there are many cases of employees reporting a sense of feeling completely defeated and unmotivated by countless acts of being singled out at meetings, with a backward compliment about their performance,” Dr Knight says.

What’s the harm in negging?

“Someone who’s constantly on the receiving end of negging could question their own self-worth or constantly look to others to validate their own self-esteem,” Iona says.

Dr Knight adds: “Due to the fact that the receiver is often blindsided by the camouflaging nature of backhanded compliments and flirtation, it can set them up for a greater risk of normalising this toxic behaviour and accepting being treated so disrespectfully.

“It often drives people to stay in unhealthy relationships through a desperate need for validation, attention and approval from others. It also fuels the fear of abandonment and rejection.”

How to deal with negging

Dr Knight says if you’re aware you’re being negged, the first step is choosing an action that best validates your self-worth and the respect you deserve.

“If you still want to have a relationship with the negger, the most important first step is finding the bravery to sit them down and tell them how you feel and what you need.”

Iona agrees. “People who participate in negging may not be aware of their behaviour, so if you’re on the receiving end, it’s best to speak to them and let them know how their behaviour affects you.

“You’ll want to be prepared and give specific examples.”

Dr Knight suggests writing out and rehearsing what you want to say beforehand, to build courage and confidence.

“This can help ensure the negger doesn’t try to twist your words or gaslight you once confronted,” she says.

“Be very open and clear about the ways that the negging comments have hurt you and why you need it to stop.

“And if they don’t immediately provide a very genuine apology alongside a commitment to stop negging you in the future, it’s a moment to sit back and really evaluate whether this person is good for you.

“It may feel hard to let them go but, in the long run, your mental health will dramatically improve as a result.”

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Written by Karen Fittall.