As a former dating app enthusiast, I've been on the receiving end of my fair share of backhanded compliments, like the fan-favorite 'you're way too pretty to be on a dating app!' Uhh, thanks? If you're unfamiliar, this practice is called negging, aka when someone insults you and undermines your confidence as a twisted way to make you more vulnerable to their romantic advances. Needless to say, it's a seriously effed up thing that needs to stop — and if you know how to tell if someone is negging you, then you're one step closer to putting a stop to their BS and finding a healthier partner.
"[Negging] is a harmful way to treat another person because it demonstrates a contempt for the other person and their feelings," Christine Baumgartner, dating/relationship coach at The Perfect Catch, tells Bustle. "It is dismissive and degrading to the other person and can eventually undermine their self-confidence. Usually the person doing the negging is insecure in their ability to attract [someone] without putting them down. They also don’t feel ‘good enough’ on their own: they need to put other people down in order to feel better about themselves."
Though popular accounts like Bye Felipe highlight male examples of negging, it's not a guys-only behavior: plenty of women neg their partners to keep them interested, too. But no matter your gender identity, negging is seriously sh*tty behavior, because no one deserves to have their self-esteem eroded by someone who they should be able to trust wholly. If you're concerned that your partner is guilty of this damaging and controlling behavior, here are seven signs someone is negging you, according to experts.
1Their Compliments Are Always Backhanded
If your partner seems to exclusively give you backhanded compliments that leave you feeling hurt and puzzled instead of bolstered and happy, that could mean they're negging you. "[Negging is] giving someone a compliment or at the very least a neutral statement while delivering an insult," Donna Arp Weitzman, dating and relationship expert, tells Bustle.
Examples? Wow, you're actually pretty smart! or You can be so beautiful when you have makeup on! "By pointing out a negative, the [one being negged] focuses on the flaw and starts trying to fix it and gain [their partner's] approval," Weitzman says.
2They Constantly Criticize You
In a healthy relationship, your partner will be supportive and accepting of you, and want to help you through your problems rather than criticize you for your mistakes — or even for things you can't change, like your appearance.
"When your partner over-criticizes you... it demoralizes you and reduces your self-esteem," Melinda Carver, relationship coach and author, tells Bustle. "You then twist yourself into a pretzel to change [yourself] to please your partner. This pattern of behavior of constant criticism from your partner is a form of control to diminish you and make you dependent on them. It creates a negative pattern in your relationship that will continue to spiral until you leave."
3They're A Narcissist
If someone is a textbook narcissist, they spend all their time putting others down while talking themselves up, and are never in the wrong — all classic negging behaviors. A narcissist might seem "open" with you but in reality, they just love to talk about themselves, and aren't actually interested in what's going on in your life.
"If there is... a lack of vulnerability or sharing of true feelings or interests, not only can this start to paint the picture of what may be a narcissist, but you [might be] being negged," Paul DePompo, clinical psychologist, researcher, and author, tells Bustle. "It is important that you see an interest being taken in you as well as their ability to open up if you want to be investing in the start of a real connection."
4You Crave Their Approval
The main goal of negging is to undermine someone's self-esteem, so that the person being negged will start to subconsciously seek their partner's approval for everything. It's a sneaky way for one partner to gain control of everything in the relationship — which, needless to say, is super unhealthy.
If you find yourself relying on your partner's approval — on everything from what you eat to your haircut — in order to feel secure in the relationship, that's a sign that your S.O. is guilty of negging.
5They Compare You To Exes
Occasionally mentioning an ex when it's relevant is totally normal in a relationship. But if you're being constantly compared to an ex by your partner, it's probably because they're trying to make you feel insecure and second-best as a way to make you want to 'prove yourself' by sticking around.
"Romantic relationships are the most personal interactions you will have with another person," Carver says. "When your partner begins to compare [their] previous lovers' bodies to yours, these comments reduce your pleasure and leads to self-esteem issues. Your partner may also pressure you to perform sex acts that you are not comfortable with by stating their ex-lover was game and willing so something is 'wrong' with you. These comments surround you in negative energy and experiences."
6They're Always "So Busy"
Obviously, sometimes people are just genuinely too busy to hang out. But if you're seeing someone who is always too busy for you and makes no real effort to meet up or plan dates, that's a red flag. By making themselves seem unavailable, it makes you feel unworthy of their time, which is a definite negging move.
"[Claiming to be busy all the time is] a desperate attempt to show their pseudo-importance," DePompo says. "If [you] are so busy, don't date, let alone flirt for that matter. Supply and demand tactics work in the stocks but not in relationship capital."
7You're The Butt Of The Joke
Being able to laugh with your partner is crucial to a healthy relationship, but if only one partner is in on the joke, that's not OK. If your partner often uses you as the butt of the joke, that could be their way of trying to subtly put you down while passing it off as "humor."
"If they are laughing and you are not, there is a lack of attunement," DePompo says. "They are portraying [that] they are on this happy, light, fun level and may even mock your lack of sense of humor if you do not find everything funny. If you are watching some canned laughter, you're being negged."
What To Do If You're Being Negged
If you've noticed that your partner displays signs of negging, the best thing you can do is address the issue head-on by telling them what you've noticed and asking them about it. Your partner's reaction will say it all: if they're shocked, upset, and willing to work on their behavior, then it might be worthwhile to give them a chance. But if your partner dismisses your feelings and refuses to take any blame, that's your cue to GTFO of the relationship before their controlling, manipulative behavior escalates.
"Negging is so very mean and dysfunctional," Weitzman says. "[Everyone] should be highly suspicious if they pick up signs of negging and drop the [partner]. Don't try to 'fix' yourself for [them]; do only what makes you feel good for you."
Breaking up with someone can be scary, but you're better off single than with someone who's trying to ruin your self-esteem and make you dependent on them. Don't tolerate negging in any relationship: if you surround yourself instead with people who genuinely care about you and want you to succeed, you'll be much healthier and happier.