How To Identify And Push Back Against Negging

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Many moons ago, back in 2005, author Neil Strauss published his book "The Game," in which he detailed his journey in the Pickup artist (PUA) community. What he uncovered was a world of straight men who gather together to learn how to seduce women as a means to achieve sexual success. The PUAs take workshops to work on what they called their "game," so they master the art, if you want to call it that, of picking up any woman they wanted through some extremely misogynistic tactics.

This subculture of men, who aren't much different from incels, came up with their own terminology for their evil ways. For example, "sarging" means going out to pick up women and not going home empty-handed. There's also "pawning" and "going caveman," which are all about ditching a woman they no longer want, and in doing so, it solidifies their social value — or at least this is what PUAs think. Everything about these people is the very definition of toxic masculinity and while the PUA community doesn't get the media coverage that they did almost two decades ago, they still exist. Which means, if you're a woman who's into straight men, there's a chance you could possibly find yourself on a date with one and, to use one of their oh-so-clever (sarcasm!) techniques, be negged.

What's negging?

According to a piece that Neil Strauss wrote for The New York Times in 2004, "neg" was invented by Erik von Markovik, who also goes by the name Mystery and is, evidently, the leader of this whole gang of PUAs. In its simplest terms, to neg a woman is to pretty much give her a backhanded compliment so as to take her confidence down, so she'll be interested in the person who's negging her. Seems absurd, right? 

The philosophy stems from a 1965 study in which women who had their self-esteem lowered during a flirting session were found to be extra attracted to the men who had basically kicked their confidence into the gutter. With their self-esteem put on edge and self-doubt pumping through their veins, a dependency is created. In the study, it was believed these women thought they needed the verbally abusive men once they were feeling low, and, in turn, this made them easier for the men to attain, or more specifically, prey upon. Negging isn't just emotional manipulation, but straight-up emotional abuse.

How to identify negging

At first, negging might not be easy to identify, and depending on the PUAs "skills," it might take a few rounds of negging before you realize that something isn't right. But here's what it could look like: you may be out to dinner and your date might say, "You look great tonight! I wouldn't think you could pull that look off, but you manage to do it," or they could take what they call the "constructive criticism" route by saying something like, "I'm glad you like what you wrote, but I'm not sure others will like it as much." Both of these are definitive examples of negging and shouldn't be stood for. 

"The widespread cultural belief that someone is treating you poorly is a sign of liking them normalizes negatives and makes it seem like that's an acceptable way to treat someone in your life," certified clinical trauma professional and licensed social worker Silvi Saxena tells Women's Health. "It's a toxic [type] of behaviors that should *not* be normalized, because it's demoralizing and dehumanizing."

As the negging continues, you'll be able to identify it by realizing that everything that's being said is forcing you to doubt yourself and feel insecure about things that you wouldn't usually feel insecure about in any other situation. You, as Saxena points out, ultimately feel dehumanized and no one, ever, should feel dehumanized — especially by someone who's not more than one step away from being an incel. 

What to do if it happens to you

Because PUAs are a subculture, meaning there are fewer of them than there are decent people out there, the likelihood of running into one is low, yet it still exists. If you realize you're being negged, you can choose to push back by calling them out on it. Even if your date is unaware of the term "negging" or the fact that it's used regularly by PUAs to pick up women, that's no excuse. An insult is an insult and if someone is blatantly hurting you, you should tell them. You could also, if you're not a fan of confrontation, immediately remove yourself from the situation. It doesn't matter if you're in the middle of a dinner date; you have every right to stand up and just leave. This is probably the best option if you're picking up aggressive vibes from the person negging you. Whichever way you decide to handle it, you should consider yourself lucky that you identified the negging.

"Negging is a great way to signal to people that you're insecure and a terrible person to be in a relationship with," licensed therapist Nick Bognar, LMFT, tells Mind Body Green. "So, on some level, it's a great thing when someone negs you because it would often take a lot longer to figure out that they're awful to be with."

If you're an active dater, you're bound to come across a lot of people and, unfortunately, some of those people might be dirtbags. But as long as you know your worth, you can save yourself from getting involved with someone whose main purpose in life is to, well, be a dirtbag.