What is Negging and How to Recognize It


Last Updated: November 21, 2023

Relationship Advice

Negging is a behavior that you hope not to have to deal with in your dating life. But the unfortunate reality is it’s quite pervasive! And it can be subtle enough that you don’t immediately recognize it. Instead, you may walk away with a vaguely negative feeling about yourself, wondering if you did something wrong.

In this article, we’ll talk about what negging looks like in sugar relationships and how you can protect yourself.

What is negging?

Negging is a form of communication that disguises negative comments or insults as flirtation or compliments. If that sounds confusing, that’s because it is! The main goal of negging is to confuse the recipient into feeling both flattered and self-conscious. The result is a hunger to receive more positive attention.

Negging as a practice has, of course, been around for a long, long time. But the term first originated in the so-called pick-up artist community. This was a group of men interested in using guile and trickery to seduce women.

Nowadays, negging isn’t a tactic used exclusively by men towards women. Women can neg their male partners, and negging can exist in same-sex relationships as well. Negging can even be pervasive in the workplace, families, marketing, and anywhere where a power imbalance is beneficial for personal gain.

Why do people neg?

Negging as an intentional dating tactic has pretty obvious goals: to manipulate a partner into dating you. But negging isn’t always intentional. Someone may engage in negging without even realizing they’re doing it or why.

Either way, the root of negging in the dating world is almost always insecurity. Someone who negs does so because they don’t think they can attract a mate and keep them interested unless they create insecurity in that person, as well.

What are some examples of negging in sugar relationships?


This behavior can take many different forms, but it will probably sound something like a sugar daddy telling you:

  • You would be pretty if you smiled more
  • I’m surprised you clean up so nice
  • You’re smarter than you look
  • If you work on your social skills, I’ll think about introducing you to my famous friends
  • I’m impressed so far, let’s see if you can keep it up.

· On the flip side, a sugar baby may neg by saying things like:

  • Maybe next time you can take me somewhere nicer
  • When receiving a gift: It’s not exactly what I was hoping for, but I like it
  • You would look good with a different hairstyle
  • “Joking”: My last sugar daddy paid for the deluxe package
  • You would be really sexy with a better car/watch/etc

Who is most susceptible to negging?

Just as it’s more likely for an insecure person to rely on negging, it’s insecure people who are also most likely to fall victim to it. A person without a strong sense of self-worth, for instance, may believe and internalize negative messaging coming from someone else.

That’s not to say that if you’ve been a victim of negging, it’s your fault! This style of manipulation can affect anyone and can become more blatant and targeted over time. This gradual shift from very subtle negging to more obvious verbal abuse can mean that even very confident people don’t notice it happening.

How can you protect yourself from negging?

Luckily, there are a few habits you can start that will make negging less effective on you, including:

  • Learning to spot the red flags. Now that you know what negging is and what it looks like, you’ll be better at spotting it when it happens. You can also look for other red flags, such as whether your partner shows signs of insecurity, jealousy, or competitiveness.
  • Working on having a strong sense of self. The best defense against negging is solid self-confidence. When you know that you’re amazing, a partner’s attempts to tear you down will bounce off you without leaving a scratch. That’s because you’ll be able to say to yourself, “Their opinions about me don’t reflect reality. They must be projecting or trying to gain the upper hand.” Of course, having a strong sense of self isn’t a switch you can flip. It’s a process that requires positive self-talk, patience, and reflection. Having support systems such as close friends, family, or even a therapist can also help you build self-confidence.
  • Playing the comparison game. Okay, we don’t often advocate for playing the comparison game. But in this context, we’re referring to something else. This version of the comparison game in early dating means reflecting on how this person treats you compared to people in your life who love and care for you. Chances are, your most supportive friends offer you genuine compliments, and compared to the lukewarm ones you’re getting from this partner, you can realize that you deserve better!
  • Checking in with yourself after interacting with your sugar partner. Another way to protect yourself against negging is to check in about how you’re feeling after your date or conversation. Do you have a nagging sense of shame, guilt, or just vague negativity? During the interaction, did you find yourself fishing for compliments, feeling like you had to defend yourself, or even feeling elated when they said something nice? These are all indications that you may have been taken on the emotional roller coaster ride of negging.

How should you respond to negging?


Everyone has their own way of dealing with negging, so you’ll want to come up with your own strategies. But, here are a few options that can be helpful when shutting down this kind of behavior:

  • End the relationship. Any sugar relationship that leaves you feeling bad about yourself is simply not worth your time. It is reasonable to end your interactions with someone who negs you in order to spend your time looking for someone who will treat you better. No explanation needed.
  • Point it out. Maybe you want to address the behavior, either because you want to continue a relationship with this person or because you want to let them know specifically why you’re ending things. Either way, you’ll want to do so thoughtfully. Point to specific examples of how their compliments were negative and unnecessary. In a best-case scenario, they’ll admit they were wrong and change the way they talk to you. But if they try to gaslight you, don’t lose your head. You know how they made you feel and that you deserve better.
  • Use your sense of humor. As we mentioned, the goal of negging is to break down your sense of confidence. And, there’s no better way to stand your ground than with a sense of humor. Making a joke of their backhanded compliment can be a way to avoid conflict while also making it clear that you’re not susceptible to this kind of manipulation. Just make sure that your response is more light-hearted than combative!

You don’t have to put up with negging!

Luckily, we’re all much wiser these days to dating manipulation tactics like negging. That means that you can learn to spot this behavior a mile away and put a stop to it! And don’t worry, there are plenty of sugar partners out there who wouldn’t dream of negging!