What you need to know:
The whole idea with negging is to disarm a woman, knocking down her confidence, thus making her more susceptible to men's romantic advances
At the beginning of the week, Solomon Buchi, a Nigerian journalist decided to post a tribute to his new fiancée on Facebook. He thought it was a good idea to begin the post by telling the world that this woman isn’t the most beautiful nor the most intelligent woman he has come across. In the now-viral post, he went on to explain that he was not looking for the best woman when he met her but that she’s perfect because he chose her.
Kenyan women and women the world over were immediately up in arms because most felt that this man had gotten up early in the morning and decided to embarrass his woman. How could he say something like that? How would he have felt if she’d gone and made a public post beginning with details about how he is not the most handsome man or the best lover? How would he feel then? Both men and women asked over and over. They flocked this woman’s page to see if his claims were really true.
Now the question begs, was Buchi just being realistic, or was he wrong to give this kind of compliment? Experts think that he was trying to be manipulative.
“There’s a word for it. It’s called negging. It’s when a person gives another, usually someone they are romantically interested in, a backhanded compliment,” explains Nicholas Nasombi, a Nairobi-based counselling psychologist.
According to Mr. Nasombi, negging is deliberate and is aimed at undermining a person’s confidence so that they can give in to a manipulator’s advances. When someone who is interested in you expresses this interest by making fun of you or pointing out your flaws, it can be confusing.
“It’s a form of emotional abuse and should not be tolerated,” he says.
The term negging first appeared in the world of pick-up artists— men whose only goal is to pick up women but first try to break them down to make it easy for them to do so. More recently, negging has made its way into romantic relationships.
What negging looks like
Nimo, a 28-year-old Nairobi-based fashion model reckons that her dark skin in a world where colourism is rife has made her the perfect candidate for negging over the years.
“It usually happens in instances where flirting would be appropriate. I’ve heard the common ‘You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl’ a million times. Then I’ve had one or two men tell me that I am beautiful but I would be perfect if I was lighter skinned. The nerve!” she says.
Instead of feeling good about herself, what these backhanded compliments have done is make her overly conscious about her skin tone.
“If you are trying to compliment me, I would rather just you leave the colour of my skin out of it,” she says.
While negging is often disguised as flirting and intended to make a love interest more beholden to the manipulator, it can happen in unromantic situations.
“I had a friend like that. She just would never acknowledge my wins. If I lost weight, she would say something to make me see that she’s noticed but then she would compare my body with someone else’s or say something demeaning,” recalls Mercy Kang’ara, a small business owner in Kiambu County.
At first, when she noticed it happening, she would point it out, gently.
“She was my friend, I had known her for many years so when she started giving these half-assed acclaims, I would tell her she could have just complimented me without saying the rest of the stuff. Her reaction would be either getting angry and defensive or saying that it was a joke and that I was being sensitive,” she says.
The last nail in the coffin was when Mercy’s friend tried to upstage her by announcing her own engagement during Mercy’s engagement party/ traditional wedding.
“She wanted everyone to know that her proposal had been elaborate and that her ring was more expensive than mine. Ordinarily these things wouldn’t matter to me but I hated that it was my friend trying to put me down,” she says.
After that party, Mercy cut her friend off and she swears she’s happier for it.
From her experience, Sylvia Njara, 32-year-old medical doctor in Nairobi believes that negging comes from a place of insecurity.
“I once dated a man who was very insecure about my profession. He worked in IT and the very first time I mentioned that I was a doctor his reaction was, ‘Oh, that’s so cute, someone would never know you’re smart by just looking at you’,” she recalls.
Throughout their short-lived relationship, whenever her achievements came up, he would redirect to her physical appearance pointing out her unflattering bits.
“If it happens to you, just know it’s not about you but them,” she says.
How to react to it
Traditionally, when you are romantically interested in someone, you go out of your way to build them up. Negging is the opposite. According to author Neil Strauss in his book, The Game: Penetrating the secret society of pick-up artists, negging when it comes from a romantic interest is aimed at doing two things. One is to set a man apart from the other men that a woman has interacted with and two, is to lower her esteem to the point that she is vulnerable.
This means that negging is not always obvious. The other way of identifying this kind of behaviour is when you are constantly feeling upset or looking down on yourself after a date or interaction with this person.
The best way to react to this form of manipulation according to Nasombi, is to stick up for yourself.
“Make your feelings clear and the fact that their back handed compliments are unacceptable. Stand up for yourself,” he advises.
The usual reaction when you raise your concerns is that they will dismiss it or try to undermine the effects of their behaviour saying you are too sensitive or that you can’t take a joke.
Depending on how willing they are to work on their behaviour and the kind of relationship the two of you share, you might have to reconsider this person’s role in your life.
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