How many times has a friend or another given you a backhanded compliment? They’d say, “Well, don’t you look fabulous? I would never have the courage to wear my hair like that”? Or “I’m so proud of you for quitting smoking! Too bad you already have all those little lines on your face.”
Those are just some examples of negging, short for negative feedback.
While such backhanded compliments have been around a long while, even weaving themselves into Bollywood scripts for years either for ‘fun’ Yeh Jawaani Hai Diwani, Hum Tum, Salaam Namaste, etc.) or to prove a point (e.g., Queen), it’s crawled into mainstream dating and relationships after an episode of Love Island, a reality game show that exposes the most toxic individuals on Tinder every year.
In the said episode, islander Danny Bibby tells Lucinda Strafford why their relationship isn’t working out: “You’re like a matte black Lamborghini that I want to drive, but I put the key in, and it just doesn’t work. I’ve changed a couple of parts, and it still doesn’t work. It’s still in the garage.”
Negging — a form of emotionally manipulative technique — is the latest toxic trend in the dating scene, like ‘ghosting’, ‘love bombing’ and ‘bread crumbing’, which has taken the social media by storm.
An expert speaks
The term negging was coined by author Neil Strauss in 2005 in his book The Game, in which he introduced ideas such as negging. The book sold over 2.5 million copies. According to Strauss, however, the strategy isn’t supposed to hurt someone; instead, it’s to ‘disqualify’ by making the person you want to pick up think you aren’t interested in them.
Experts, however, don’t think this flirting method is as harmless as it seems. In fact, negging could be downright manipulative, leaving its “victims” emotionally drained. While for many, it might sound like a cheeky banter, in reality, it’s just another toxic-dating trend.
Negging also comes in several forms, and doctors warn that in the long run, it could potentially mess up one’s confidence and overall mental health.
Pointing out films in which the guy tries tactics to break down the girl’s spirit by offering back-handed compliments bordering on insults, Dr Era Dutta (MD Psychiatry, MBBS), a consultant psychiatrist, reiterates that negging has been around for a while.
“It’s been used by pickup artists to seduce potential mates for years now,” she elaborates. “It’s now in mainstream dating and relationships because of social media, which makes the world a global village.”
The negging propaganda
Traditionally, if a person finds the other interesting, they try to impress them by offering compliments and building them up; however, negging is the exact opposite. “The intention is not to tear them down or to insult them but to stir up some insecurity in them. The tendency of the person negging is to play the ‘upper hand’. The person at the receiving end then begins to wonder why there was no positive validation offered. Hence, begins the cycle,” explains Dr Era.
Negging works with the intention of affecting those who’re more vulnerable, constantly seeking validation and support, have dependency needs and a void to be filled up.
However, even those with a strong personality can fall prey to negging. In essence, negging is meant to break one’s confidence and lower their self-esteem, sometimes damaging one’s mental health. Sadly, not only by partners but also family, friends and work colleagues can get into negging.
Here’s what negging looks like
Comparison: The negger compares you to others, but you’re never good enough. Your partner may be constantly talking up other’s achievements and downplaying yours.
Luck by chance: Thwarting your achievement by calling it fluke, privilege or due to fate, your nagger would happily praise other people and appreciate their hard work.
Feedback: Neggers would call their comments “constructive criticism” but in reality it’s far more damaging to your sense of personal worth.
Hiding insults as questions: Here’s an example: “Wait, did you really paint that? But it’s so good.” Or “How did you manage to get such good marks?”
They one-up you: If you have something good to share, they may try to downplay your news by sharing some of theirs at the same time.
However, there are things you can do:
l Identify and accept
l Stop defending them in your mind
l Don’t resort to insulting them back
l Don’t engage in arguments
l Do express how you FEEL. Your feelings and emotions are all valid
l Allow them to share their explanation
l Don’t let them off the hook by saying “It’s okay. I am not angry.” Rather, let them know you’re waiting for their actions and words to coincide
l Make your expectations clear
l Decide if the relationship is worth continuing in
Check if the negging affecting you
Not everyone gets affected in the same way. If negging is bordering on abuse for you or affecting your mental health, then you may experience the following:
l You feel humiliated and disrespected by this person
l You try harder to seek the person’s validation and bend over backwards for their approval
l Your relationship starts to get defined by the other person
l It begins to affect your confidence, work, health, etc.
l Others around you cite concerns for the way you are being treated
l This person refuses to back off or show remorse for their behaviour even when you explain it to them
l No quick-fix to stop negging