6 Subtle Signs Someone Is Negging You, and How to Respond

These signs may seem innocent, but the harm they inflict is real.

Ashley Broadwater
Mar 3 · 5 min read
A man and woman stand in a park and seem to be upset with each other. #fight #argument #park #relationships #conflict
A man and woman stand in a park and seem to be upset with each other. #fight #argument #park #relationships #conflict
Photo by Vera Arsic on Pexels

few weeks ago, I explained a situation that still bothers me to my therapist. I told her about a professional I worked with years ago, and how I always wanted his approval, and how I hate that. While I was too young to understand it then, I do now: I was under his spell, under his control. He talked to me and others in an intentional, manipulative way that made us constantly seek his affirmations.

This experience was more intense than similar relationships and conversations I’ve experienced. Yes, I’m a people-pleaser and one of my primary love languages is words of affirmation, but this was deeper. I was always fighting for his attention back then, and he knew how to manipulate me in a way where I always wanted more, and therefore upped his ego.

And in response to me sharing this, the term my therapist brought up was one I hadn’t heard before: negging.

Negging is giving someone a backhanded, undermining compliment that shakes their confidence and makes them vulnerable to you, in which they crave your approval.

And it’s not okay. Exploiting people’s emotions and insecurities to feed self-esteem is abusive and harmful. If you think someone is negging you, I’ve shared six signs and what you can do in response below.

1. They compare you to others, in which you’re never good enough

What That Looks Like

When we’re compared to other people, it’s easy to feel a sense of competition. It’s normal and common to want people to think well of us and treat us as though we’re good enough.

When people engage in negging, they know this — and they use it against you. They may say your sister is talented and going places, then say you never do anything right. Or, they may say you should be more like them.

What they’re looking for here is you A) caring about their opinion, and B) potentially changing yourself anxiously, in hopes they’ll approve of you — when truly, their approval isn’t the be-all-end-all.

How to Respond

You can respond by sticking up for yourself in a variety of ways. For example, you can say “I love who I am” and walk away. You can also use an “I statement,” telling them how you feel and how you want them to talk to you instead.

2. They pay you a creepy amount of attention

What That Looks Like

Sure, getting attention is great, especially when it’s positive. But when people neg you, their attention feels creepy. Maybe they stare at you too often or are always waiting for you to mess up. Maybe they give you intermittent compliments, but in a way that makes you want that from them more.

How to Respond

In response, you can be upfront about your discomfort. You can try to distance yourself from them. Additionally, you can try to hang out in groups more often if that makes you more comfortable.

3. They give you constructive criticism that feels more critical than constructive

What That Looks Like

Constructive criticism can be helpful when it’s expressed respectfully — but when it’s a part of negging, it’s not. Instead of making you better, it only makes you feel worse.

The person negging you may straight up say you’re bad at something or insult your intelligence. They may pretend like they’re being respectful when they’re really just making you or your work seem unworthy and poorly done. Through this, they’re hoping to see your concern in their disapproval.

How to Respond

Try to avoid arguing or insulting them back, because their behavior won’t change. Instead, you can remind yourself that they’re only trying to hurt you, and what they’re saying probably isn’t true or important. If you want to, break the relationship off. Or, consider standing up for yourself in a way that feels empowering, then leave the conversation.

4. They make you feel undesirable, talking themselves up in the process

What That Looks Like

They may try to act like you’re lucky they like you because “no one else will.” Additionally, they may try to make you feel bad about yourself, and all the while, they’re building themselves up. Through these behaviors, they want you to see them as special and better than you; they want to make you feel like they’re your only option for a relationship, but also a good one.

Through these actions, you may feel you have to gain and keep their approval or you’ll be lonely. You may unintentionally put them on a pedestal and feel worse about yourself than you should (which isn’t your fault).

How to Respond

Try to not engage with them, especially in a way that adds to what they’re saying. Remember, you’re much better and more loved than they’re making you out to be. You can laugh, walk away, or express what needs to change firmly.

5. They unfairly blame you for their poor behavior

What That Looks Like

When you call them out on the hurtful ways they’re treating you, they may turn the tables and say you’re at fault. They may say, “I only did X because you did Y,” or call you unappreciative.

These (false) claims may make you feel guilty for standing up for yourself, but remember this: You’re not wrong to stand up for yourself, and it’s not healthy for them to always take zero blame. They may try to make you submissive to them again through guilt trips, but you don’t deserve that.

How to Respond

Instead of believing them, try to remember their intentions and your great characteristics. Then, instead of trying to explain yourself (which is tempting, but also what they want), respond in an unpredictable way, such as through humor or boundary-setting. Show you don’t care about what they say and that you demand better.

6. They don’t respond to your concerns in a healthy, caring way

What That Looks Like

This sign happens when you respond in one of the above ways — expressing your concerns, asking them to treat you better, et cetera — and they continue their behavior and don’t apologize. They may tell you to lighten up and take a joke, with no concern for your feelings or needs. As a result, you may feel uncomfortable or unsafe.

How to Respond

It is certainly okay to let go of these unhealthy relationships and lean on your other relationships, but I realize this isn’t always easy. I encourage you to find a therapist if you don’t already have one or to check out another mental health resource.

Takeaways

I don’t mean to label anyone’s experience, and unfortunately, I can’t provide professional help as a writer. However, I encourage you to look at the signs of negging that may seem innocent at first but are actually harmful. You deserve someone who makes you feel good about yourself and puts in just as much effort and love as you do. If someone in your life doesn’t treat you this way, I encourage you to stand up for yourself or even let the relationship go, with the support of loved ones and professionals if possible.

Hello, Love

Love changes us. Love makes us human.

Ashley Broadwater

Written by

Top Writer + Featured Story. Relationships + writing tips. Contributor @POPSUGAR. UNC Journalism + Media. Newsletter + more: https://linktr.ee/ashleybroadwater

Hello, Love

Love changes us. Love makes us human.

Ashley Broadwater

Written by

Top Writer + Featured Story. Relationships + writing tips. Contributor @POPSUGAR. UNC Journalism + Media. Newsletter + more: https://linktr.ee/ashleybroadwater

Hello, Love

Love changes us. Love makes us human.

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