Negging, not to be confused with nagging, is a form of emotional manipulation according to mental health experts. It’s when a person belittles someone else with their comments, labels it as constructive criticism all in an effort to gain control. The person doing the negging usually has low self-esteem and because of how they feel about themselves, try to project onto their others their own insecurities.

This isn’t just seen in romantic relationships, although usually it happens there most often. Negging can occur between parents and children, management and employees, coworkers and even friends. Where nagging used to be the worst version of a word that sounds like negging, being asked and almost harassed to do something over and over, negging takes the cake. But how and why is negging happening in real life relational dynamics? Here’s our take on what it is and how to respond to negging. 

What Is Negging?

Though often done with the hopes of being brushed off, negging is a form of verbal abuse. It’s emotional manipulation that’s conducted in an effort to control someone else. Experts, which can be some of the most significant people in our lives, often use backhanded compliments to get the job done.

They’ll usually comment on the appearance or behavior of someone they know and/or “admire.” In these ways, they achieve making someone feel self-conscious or regretful about their decisions and how they express themselves. This behavior, over time, can really start to deplete the self-esteem of the receiver. That’s why it’s important to know how it happens and how best to respond.

How Does Negging Happen?

Negging is not only characterized by backhanded compliments although it is one of the easiest ways to perform and identify the behavior. They can come in the form of perceived humor, but also as constructive criticism. Often descriptive of a narcissist, this behavior is typical of someone who deeply values themselves and their own ideas over that of others (to the point of it being harmful). The person on the receiving end is compared to a standard whether it exists in the form of an ex or an ideal from their fantasy world. And because this stems from low self-esteem, they busy themselves with everything except healing including but not limited to putting down those around them.

This can happen in any style of relationship resulting in continued or escalated behavior (i.e. physical abuse). Talking to someone, whether the conductor or receiver, is always a start. If this resonates, consider speaking with a trusted confidant and/or a professional. Ahead of that step though is figuring out how to respond. 

How To Respond to Negging

Mental health experts suggest that the receiver of the negging remain calm enough to communicate their feelings clearly. By avoiding flaring with anger, which is a valid emotion, they can be effective in communicating their response which needs to be valid to the overall goal as well. This means crafting a response to communicate, not holding the feelings inside. This does not benefit the receiver, only the conductor. Make a connection between their behavior and the emotions experienced as a result. One could even go so far as to tell the conductor how their behavior makes the receiver feel about their relationship. After the feelings have been expressed, it’s recommended that the receiver sets boundaries around their emotions.

Setting boundaries can look like limiting contact with the conductor or speaking up in the moment when the negging happens. In any case, help can come in the form of a close friend or loved one. It can also come in the form of speaking to a therapist. We encourage anyone who is negging to acknowledge and change their behavior as we also encourage the receiver to feel empowered to choose themselves.