Negging: Signs, Psychology, And How to Improve Relationship Standards!

Was it a compliment, or a backhanded jibe at your self-esteem? It’s time to understand negging to ensure you entertain healthier relationships!

Written by Samantha Gregory

On Mar 31, 2023 – 12 minutes read


Have you ever been out on a date and felt like you were receiving negative comments in the guise of compliments? While this may be a confusing experience to have, the unsettling feeling in your gut may be telling you that your date isn’t as nice as they appear to be. However, since nothing negative has been said directly, you may not be in a position to call them out on their behavior immediately. Long story short, it may only be after the date that you may realize what happened. 

Does this experience sound familiar? 

If your answer is yes, you’re not the only one. While the internet has labeled terms like narcissists, gaslighting, and other manipulative traits as words of the year since 2020, these are just obvious signs of toxic behavior. We often forget that emotionally damaging and abusive traits are often a lot more covert and seep through the boundaries of niceties in public or private settings. 

But is negging limited to romantic relationships?

What makes negging more injurious to one’s emotional health is how it can come from friends, family, colleagues, bosses, and even strangers. 

For those who may have experienced negging in a relationship, this article is your new guide! From science-backed reasons to how one can handle casual or insidious negging, we’ll tell all! 

What Is Negging?

Before we get into the heavy details, let’s start with a few negging examples.

“Wow! You’re really stunning for your dusky complexion! Always reminds me of the story of Black Beauty!”

“How courageous of you to sing in front of an audience like that! I wouldn’t be able to do it, with a voice like that!”

And saving the best (or worst) Tinder date quip for last:

“Oh, you look better in person than in your photos!”

As you can see from the illustrated negging examples above, these words may often be said with a sweet demeanor but are intended to hurt. If you’re looking for the definition of negging, we have one that summarizes the means, motive, and effect perfectly.

What Is Negging?

“Negging is an emotional manipulation technique aimed to make the receiver feel low on self-esteem, and hence lower their standards to the aggressor. This is often carried out disguised as good-natured quips, compliments, or flirting, but is a way of making the manipulator feel better about their insecurities and inabilities. The effect of constant negging can lead to emotional vulnerability to the point where you rely on the said person’s approval to feel secure.”

To put it simply, it is a malicious but very covert way of damaging someone’s sense of self, confidence, and authenticity. Negging can come in various degrees from people like teachers, parents, neighbors, your local beautician, and even a random stranger. All they need to exhibit is the common thread of being bullies, but nice enough to get away with it(1).

What Is Negging In Dating?

If you looked up negging synonyms online, you would find toxic positivity, backhanded compliments, and gaslighting abuse at the top of the list.

When you’re dating someone new, it may be hard to tell whether they’re fooling around or negging you. It’s especially difficult if the person happens to look mature on the outside with the habit of constantly joking around.

So when do you know if your prince charming is actually just kidding or is in fact a court jester? We’ve got a simple way for you to identify negging from funny banter.

Negging in romantic relationships, especially when you’re out on the first few dates, is meant to make you feel inadequate and lacking, so that you may drop your standards for the potential match. Sadly, we’re seeing negging turn into one of the most popular forms of flirting, especially if you’re meeting through online dating sites. Negging essentially focuses on highlighting your flaws without making the candidate seem mean- instead, you may start to feel like you’re lucky that they could make time for a date with you. 

What Is Negging In Dating?

The need to create an imbalance in power is often a method that manipulators use to get you hooked on the relationship; wanting more, giving more, and waiting to be good enough. The push and pull of a compliment and jibe get you trauma bonded into the wrong relationship quickly, especially if you have weak personal boundaries and unresolved emotional baggage.

“So are they really negging me or am I just being oversensitive?”

The simplest way to tell when a person negs you is by gauging your emotional aftertaste. Did it make you feel warm and happy? Or, did you feel a weird churn in your gut? 

Genuinely good men and women would always leave you feeling better than you were before you met them, irrespective of whether the date works out or not. The trait of kind people is to shower their confidence and enthusiasm onto everyone they interact with. 

So, if a date interaction with a hotshot and reputed personality leaves you feeling secretly insulted, it’s probably because you were negged. There is an ocean of examples of negging a girl on Reddit and Twitter you can look up to make sure- since most of them aren’t very original!

Instead of chasing them for another date because you want to make a better impression next time, swipe a hard left on their entire personality to protect your heart and mind!

The Psychology Of Negging Explained

It’s easy to assume that the person who negs another may have a superiority complex and really believes that they are better than the others. However, the truth is a bit contrasting.

People who tend to initiate negging are low on confidence and self-esteem themselves, which makes them feel not good enough. Rather than dealing with their emotions and self-image in healthy ways, they resort to the trick of making others doubt their worth to feel better. It’s a twisted way to feign superiority in front of others but is quite effective. Because negging is a play of words mixed with external cheeriness, it also makes it easy to get out of tricky situations by not getting caught in the first place.

The reason why this method of soft manipulation is so effective is that most of us don’t expect the dichotomy of mean and nicely wrapped in a loaded statement. Moreover, we’ve been conditioned to evade conflict based on assumptions, where your instinct is your only guide. As a line of three generations where learning to trust your judgment isn’t openly cultivated, negging is the byproduct of tolerating covert bullying from a young age.

While the person who negs can feel the satisfaction of getting under someone’s skin, the victim often feels undervalued, worthless, and low on confidence. When called out, the manipulator can easily get away with the excuse of humor and the other being an overthinker. 

Ultimately, negging can lead to psychological damage to the personality by dulling one’s shine and making them insecure, defensive, and self-gaslighters. It can become a doorway to toxic relationships in a personal, academic, or work setting because negging erodes away your dignity and ability to enforce boundaries.

Signs Of Negging And A Few Illustrations

Humor is meant to have a collective laugh, while negging is meant to cause offense. If you’re looking for signs of negging, here are a few ways it can be used:

Signs Of Negging And A Few Illustrations
  • As a backhanded compliment: “This dress is lovely, it makes you look ten pounds lighter instantly!”
  • In comparison to another (seemingly more able and attractive) person: “God, you look just as dashing as my ex today- blue is really your color”
  • Disguised insults as questions: “Are you really going to wear that to the party?”
  • Hidden behind constructive criticism: Maybe you should smile more; it would make you look more approachable.”

Is Negging A Form Of Gaslighting?

One of the most controversial questions of all time is whether or not negging can be labeled as a type of gaslighting. While it may seem like harmless behavior, when repeated over time, negging can ear away at your happiness and inner light. It also makes you doubt yourself when you feel like the person is not being kind even though the words seem to be good-natured. 

The classic definition of gaslighting leads the victim to question their own sanity and capability of reasoning. Negging has the same effect on the person at the receiving end and hence can be considered a form of covert gaslighting(2).

How To Respond To Negging?

This would be the million-dollar question, because the realization of negging may either make you livid or uncomfortable.

We’ll address how to deal with people who neg in a hot minute. But let’s take a look at the two scenarios that may occur when you experience negging:

Situation A:

You realize you’re being subjected to negging on a date and become defensive. A confrontation takes place where the accused laughs it off, denies it, and instead tells you the following:

  1. “It was just a joke! You need to lighten up.”
  2. “You’re overthinking, it must be the stress getting to you.”
  3. “Maybe you’re too sensitive and over-emotional!”
  4. “I never said that, you’re clearly misunderstood.”

Situation B:

You’re out on an errand and an influential or elder acquaintance slips in a backhanded compliment. While you’re feeling uncomfortable due to the public setting and their hierarchy, you may not bring it up at all. In the end, you just smile and let it go because you hate confrontations.

The common theme in both situations is the illusion of power imbalance and a gap between your worth due to external factors. However, both situations will leave you feeling salty and with a bruised self-image. 

To counter a person who negs, you need to break the following assumptions:

  1. Anger and indignation will not get acceptance from such a person.
  2. Asserting your boundaries is not equal to getting into a confrontation.
  3. The initial discomfort of negging is your instinct pointing towards injustice and not a call to let it slide.
  4. You can, in fact, handle a negging personality with dignity and humorous grace.

The best response is tact and class. Let us show you how!

What To Do If Someone Is Negging You?

Who said that you need to get into an altercation to draw healthy boundaries? The best way to deal with a person who tries negging is to ignore them initially. Do not let them get an emotional response out of you and brush them off like they can’t touch you. What frustrates them the most is your lack of acknowledgment and not reacting as expected. 

What To Do If Someone Is Negging You?

You may think you’ll have to fake it till you make it, but knowing you’re worth being treated with respect is often enough to not waste your time or breath on a response that would be lost to deaf ears.

Usually, sensible manipulators get the hint when ignored a few times and will steer the conversation to a better tone. However, if they refuse to  course correct, here are a few alternative responses:

  1. Disengage in conversation and lessen interactions.
  2. Tell them about their unacceptable behavior and your non-negotiables.
  3. If they start to deflect and gaslight, trust your instinct and do not go into people-pleaser mode. Honoring your authenticity and boundaries will aggravate the ones who can’t take advantage of you anymore. Hold your ground and remain dignified.
  4. Make them uncomfortable with harmless but sarcastic quips of your own. Intelligent humor is a quick way to disarm a toxic person and will often give you a sneak-peak into their true personality. Watch closely how they react when you take this route.

Confrontations may either lead to them playing the victim, gaslighting you, or leaving you confused. Instead, take your energy and attention away from a person who cannot communicate in a mature and healthy manner.

Alternatives To Negging

Here’s the section that addresses self-reflection. If you’ve suddenly discovered that you’re the problem like in Taylor Swift’s rendition of Anti-hero, it’s never too late to change paths.

It may become an involuntary habit to neg due to your insecurities, but when met with the impulse, change the game. You can learn from your mistakes and adopt positive communication strategies, for which several free resources are available online.

The next step would be to address your self-esteem issues and the way you perceive yourself. There are many counselors and therapists who can help you break the negative loop of toxic traits and instead build healthy coping mechanisms that don’t stem from defensiveness, denial, and malice.

Last but not least, empower yourself by refining your talents and personality and passing kindness on. You’ll notice that a solid circle of supportive friends, family, and peers will help you develop emotional security and maturity, leaving behind your negging days.


What is negging in dating examples?

“You look much better than your texting personality.” 
“You’re a breath of fresh air; the previous date was too ambitious for me.”

What does negging a girl mean?

Negging a girl refers to a manipulation tactic that involves back-handed compliments and flirtation that touch sensitive topics, insecurities, or hurt their self-esteem under the guise of humor.

How do you identify negging?

Negging can be easily told apart from jokes based on how it makes you feel. Instances are if you feel like your self-esteem is being poked at nicely, or if you begin to feel a flirty line is uncomfortable when it sounds like a compliment.

What is the biggest red flag in a guy?

One of the biggest red flags in a guy is unreliability. This may come in the form of unpunctuality, negging, emotionally unpredictable traits, toxicity, manipulation, or playing the field without an express agreement. Steer clear of people who put others down to feel good about themselves (excused as humor).

How do you tell if a guy is negging you?

If a guy tends to engage in the following traits, he’s most probably negging you.:
Compares you with others in a joke meant to harm your self-respect, 
One-ups your talents and abilities with their own constantly,
Takes away the credit of your success and makes fun of your merit 
(Example: “Perhaps it was your looks that got you that bonus…I’m just joking; you surely worked your way up!”)
Leaves you feeling humiliated instead of uplifted by their humor.


Now that we’ve told you all that you need to know about negging and how it works, we hope that you can dissuade yourself from bearing with such misbehavior. By learning to understand your personal boundaries around insecurities and interactions, you can become bully-proof too! It may take some practice, but with repetition, you’ll stop feeling guilty about calling such people out and dealing with their blatant denial. What do they say about our generation these days? We’re the ones who will cut cords with generational trauma and heal from toxicity- by saying no. 

If you’re looking for a healthy relationship, make sure that the people you interact with display secure personality behaviors and treat you well.

  1. Elsevier. (n.d). Pounded in the Butt by My Self-Plagiarized Tingler Negging Legal Scholarship. (Online) Available at:
  2. Semantic Scholar. (n.d). Public perceptions of “negging”: lowering women’s self-esteem to increase the male’s attractiveness and achieve sexual conquest. (Online) Available at:

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Samantha Gregory

Samantha is a versatile and sought-after beauty guru. Her mastery extends to hair care, skin care and women’s lifestyle, while staying ahead of the ever-evolving trends.

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