Some people use negging as a flirting technique, but the intentions behind this approach are far from romantic.
You know how the story always starts out—a woman is sitting alone in a bar when a man approaches her. He buys himself a drink, debates how he should go about talking to her, and realizes he has the perfect strategy.
Hey, there. You look amazing, sweetheart. Have you had work done?
The woman is thrown off, but suddenly feels like she has to prove herself to this stranger. In an odd way, she finds herself needing his approval, which is exactly what the man wants because it means his negging worked.
So, is negging a backhanded compliment?
Not quite, it’s something much worse, in fact—negging, or neg, is an emotional manipulation tactic in which a person deliberately gives someone a backhanded compliment as a means of undermining their confidence. This 'tactic' was created by pickup artists, typically men, with the intention of using on their targets, usually women. It’s often used in romantic or sexual advances because it lowers the target’s self-confidence enough to make them vulnerable to said advances. Negging can happen in isolated incidents or long-term plans, but they both have the same goal of undermining someone’s self-esteem.
To be clear, though, negging can happen to anyone in any type of relationship, whether its a parent-child or boss-employee relationship. The tactic has immediate consequences on the victim, but worsens through long-term desensitization, which can possibly spiral into severe emotional or physical abuse. Negging can come in many forms and often starts out subtle. Some of the most used examples of negging include: backhanded compliments, comparisons to other people, critiques and suggestions, or an insult in the guise of a question. Many of its users argue that it’s all in good fun, but won’t acknowledge the psychological damage it can cause or how purposeless those remarks actually are.
History of negging
The earliest online records of 'negging' come from the late 1990s, when the term was said to be popularized by pickup artist Erik von Markovik. Online communities where men claimed to be experts in the 'art of seduction' helped propel the spread of the term and approach, with variations depending on the individual. Unsurprisingly, the pick-up artist community has a deep history of misogyny and deception, and has incited violence against women, most notably when Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree in 2014. Rodger was an avid member of these community forums, and left behind a deeply misogynistic written manifesto, as well as a video where he expressed his rage at not being desirable to women.
Despite these situations, Markovik says:
A neg is not an insult but a negative social value judgment that is telegraphed...You haven't explicitly rejected her. But at the same time, she will feel that you aren't even trying to impress her. This...makes you a challenge.
In the early 2000s, Markovik moved on to befriend writer Neil Strauss, who was quickly promoted to his personal wingman. Not too soon after, in 2007, Strauss published a book called Rules of the Gamethat served as a 'how-to' guide about dating and seduction. In it, Strauss explains the life of the pick-up artist, the 'research' and 'science' that goes into their work. Many people in the pick-up artist community still view the book as their holy bible, using the techniques Strauss taught them whenever they can.
Where are we now?
Funnily enough, Strauss’s Rules of the Game concludes with Strauss in a healthy relationship, which, he makes very clear, is not thanks to his 'critically acclaimed' negging method. Instead of concluding that his pick-up artist lessons are valuable, Strauss ends the book explaining how the lifestyle is lonely, repetitive, and ultimately meaningless.
Regardless, the techniques are still being used by plenty of people and these communities are alive and well on sites like reddit. While it might seem like an easy thing to spot, it’s a manipulation tactic for a reason, and the psychological effects can really take a toll on the victim, so it’s important to be aware of how people speak to you. Nowadays, for every article exposing negging, there’s another article praising it.
Negging wouldn’t have this solid of a background if it weren’t for Markovik and Strauss, but the pick-up artist community extends way past the two of them—other notable members of the community include Julien Blanc, Ross Jeffries, Roosh V, and Eric Weber. Similar to accusations against the pick-up artist community as a whole, Roosh V has been condemned for his public ties to alt-right organizations, anti-semitism, misogyny, and promotion of rape.
What do I do if I’m being negged?
- Reflect on the conversations. Before getting help, it’s important to acknowledge that you’re being emotionally abused. If this applies to you, these might sound familiar: feelings of humiliation or disrespect, centering the relationship around the other person, the other person showing no remorse, or unexpected emotional blow-ups.
- Proceed carefully. What you do next is contingent on your situation and what’s important to you. If you catch someone negging you, you can choose to ignore them, express your feelings to them, or give them an ultimatum. If things escalate, seek immediate help.
- Feel isolated? Break the cycle. Reach out to one of your loved ones and seek help. Getting guidance from a third-party and support from loved ones is crucial to moving forward.