What is negging?

Kathryn Wheeler
By Kathryn Wheeler,
updated on Sep 16, 2021

What is negging?

Learn to spot the signs of this manipulative form of emotional abuse

By nature, emotional abuse is malicious and detrimental – but, in some cases, it can also be subtle and sneaky, running under the radar while still knocking an individual’s sense of freedom, and even their sense of self. ‘Negging’ is one such example, and the sly tactics employed by the abuser can have a lasting impact on the victim, undercutting their confidence and increasing their reliance on the individual.

“Negging refers to an emotionally manipulative tactic whereby an individual delivers subtle comments designed to undermine another person’s self-esteem,” explains Rebecca Vivash, a psychotherapeutic counsellor. “It is an insidious form of abuse, and can go almost undetected for a long time due to the subtlety of the behaviour.”

The word negging derives from the verb ‘neg’, which means ‘negative feedback’. It can often be delivered in a ‘flirtatious’ or even ‘caring’ way, disguised as a joke or an innocent remark, which is one of the reasons why, at first, it can be hard to spot.

As an example of this, Rebecca points to backhanded compliments, and comments such as: “You’d be quite attractive if you lost some weight,” “I hadn’t expected you to have a degree,” “You’d be just right if your hair was longer/blonder/straighter.”


“Other negging tactics might include comparisons to other attractive or successful people, or even their exes – comments like: ‘One thing I did love about X was their tiny waist,’ while knowing that you feel insecure about your own, or ‘I really loved their drive and ambition,’ again, being fully aware that you are currently struggling with what direction your career is going,” Rebecca explains. “Insults disguised as jokes are another ploy to undermine your self-worth. Often said affectionately but with a more sinister undertone, such ‘jokes’ that highlight your flaws and weaknesses are not funny.”

Because the abuse is delivered in this form, the victim may just notice that they feel worse following a conversation with the abuser, long before they are able to put their finger on exactly why that may be. But this is all part of the ploy. As with the majority of emotional abuse tactics, negging helps to elevate the abuser’s status, power, and control in the relationship, while simultaneously diminishing the victim’s self-esteem.

“The aim of this type of emotional abuse is to push the victim down to a place where they need, rather than enjoy, their partner’s approval,” adds Rebecca.

And the result of this? The victim may become reliant on the abuser to feel of value, and they may begin to look to them to verify their actions, feelings, and even beliefs.

“The abuser’s actions may leave them doubting their perspective of reality, if they do question whether they are the subject of abuse,” Rebecca says. “The manipulation is often so subtle that it is explained away by the perpetrator as being ‘Just a joke,’ or ‘You’re just being oversensitive.’”

Of course, escaping any form of abuse can be incredibly challenging, regardless of the situation, but when it comes to negging, the added impact of the undermining of an individual’s confidence can certainly come into play.

“It can be really tough to see clearly with this type of abuse, so I would definitely recommend talking to a trusted friend or a therapist, to explore your thoughts and feelings,” says Rebecca. “If you are the victim of emotional abuse, you may well have experienced complex trauma, and would benefit from professional and personal support to help you to feel strong enough to leave the relationship, and rebuild your self-worth.”

Identifying that something isn’t right is the first step to addressing it. If the concept of negging sounds familiar to you, Rebecca leaves you with a guiding principle to keep in mind: “Do remember that you don’t need to fix anything about yourself in order to deserve real love and connection.”

To connect with a therapist like Rebecca to discuss emotional abuse in a safe space, visit counselling-directory.org.uk

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