Growing up, I was told, “Boys make fun of girls they like.”
So, during my dating years, I wasn’t surprised when guys approached me using a backhanded compliment as a chat-up line.
It took me many years to learn that 1. This is not normal behavior, and 2. I don’t have to accept it.
Comments like “You’re so pretty when you wear makeup” or “You eat a lot for someone so skinny” are a form of emotional manipulation known as “negging.”
But I don’t need to explain what negging is because the fact that you’re reading this article shows you know all about it and are sick of it!
So how should we respond to negging?
If you’ve come here looking for a list of witty comebacks to get “one up on them,” I’m sorry to disappoint you.
Insulting them back or arguing just brings you down to the narcissist’s level.
Instead, there are much better tactics for handling negging that will show them you’re not someone to be messed with.
Here are my seven top comebacks for when someone negs you.
1) “Thank you”
Despite what you might think, saying thanks when someone negs you is often one of the best ways to respond.
Because the person negging you is trying to provoke you, they want you to retaliate.
They don’t accept you to thank them, so if you do, you can guarantee they will be super shocked.
Now I know what you’re thinking… Why should you thank them?
Well, most negs are in the form of a backhanded compliment (one that contains both a positive and a negative).
By saying thank you, you choose to rise above the other person’s childish behavior by seeing and accepting only the good in their comment.
Saying thanks is also like ignoring that they said something offensive – which is bound to have them bubbling up with frustration inside.
2) “That’s an interesting perspective. Anyway…”
When someone negs me, I don’t want to continue the conversation with them.
I want to get away from them as soon as possible, delete their number, and never see them again (call me dramatic if you want, but I have no time for narcissists or manipulators in my life).
So if the person who negs me is someone I’ve just met or don’t know well, I will reply with something like “That’s an interesting perspective. Anyway, I’ve got to go. See you later.”
Shutting down the conversation is the best way to protect your energy, and it also sends a message to the other person that you don’t take any sh*t.
Walking away shows they are not worth the energy to retaliate. They may not get it immediately, but if you use this comeback every time they neg you, they will soon realize that this tactic doesn’t work with you.
3) “You know, when you give me backhanded compliments like that, it feels like you’re trying to embarrass me.”
If you want to call the other person out on their behavior without lowering yourself to their level, use a phrase like this.
Address their insult head-on by stating how it makes you feel. Just remember to use “I” statements so the other person doesn’t feel attacked.
According to international life coach Tony Robbins, “you” statements emphasize blame, which is more likely to cause the other person to get defensive. However, focusing on your feelings rather than what they did is less hostile but still assertive.
So instead of saying, “You ALWAYS give backhanded compliments like this. Are you not capable of being sincere?” say, “I feel like you are trying to embarrass me when you give me backhanded compliments.”
This comeback works best if the person negging you is someone you know well, such as a partner or family member.
If they genuinely care about your feelings, they’ll feel bad and will try to do better.
And if they still don’t care, this is a clear sign you need to cut this person out of your life ASAP!
4) “If you don’t stop putting me down, our relationship cannot go any further”
If your partner keeps negging you, you may wonder, “Is it possible to overcome it and still make the relationship work?”
According to dating coach and influencer Sabrina Zohar, it may be possible. She says the best way to handle negging and move past it is by setting a boundary and seeing how they respond.
Many will tell you you’re too sensitive and can’t take a joke. Rather than taking responsibility for their actions, the person will shift the blame onto you and disregard or minimize your feelings.
This is typical gaslighting behavior and is a huge red flag to get out of the relationship.
If they try to gaslight you, you must stand by your boundaries. Let them know that you are serious, and if they do not change how they speak to you, your relationship will go no further.
Then stay true to your word!
5) “Thanks, I’ve been really working on…. lately”
One of my favorite ways to respond to negging is to take their insult and turn it into a compliment to myself.
What does this mean?
Let’s say someone tells you, “Wow, your outfit is so out there. You really don’t care about other people’s opinions, do you?”
To this, the perfect reply would be, “Thanks; I’ve been working on seeking validation only in myself lately, so I’m glad you noticed.”
Or, if a toxic colleague says, “Well done on your presentation, who helped you with it?” reply with…
“Thanks, I’ve been working very hard on my professional growth and improving my skill set lately. I’m glad to see my capabilities have surprised someone”.
This strategy shows the other person that you don’t need any validation, approval, or compliment from them because you are self-assured enough.
By deflecting their insult with a self-compliment and giving a shout-out to yourself, you appear insanely confident, showing the other person that you cannot be emotionally abused.
People who use negging (particularly in relationships) often want to gain power and control.
Clinical Social Worker Jourdan Travers explains that negging is a form of manipulation and emotional abuse. People use negging to wear you down until you have zero self-esteem and are more receptive to their advances.
But if you use a comeback where you highlight your strengths, abilities, and progress, you send a powerful message…
That their games will NOT work on you!
6) “Ha! Good one!”
As mentioned, people who resort to negging expect you to feel hurt by their backhanded compliments. So laughing at their comment often leaves them taken aback, thinking, “Why didn’t that work?”
With this strategy, you can reply with a general comment like, “Ha, you’re funny,” and then change the subject.
This shows that their comment doesn’t affect you; you can just brush it off and move on.
Again, they will see that you are not an easy target for their manipulative tactics, which hopefully will be enough for them to leave you alone.
7) Replying with humor
I generally don’t recommend trying to “outdo” the person negging you as this drags you down to their level.
However, in some situations, you can use humor to defuse the situation while making them realize how silly their behavior is.
For example, let’s say you’re at a work lunch, and someone says, “Oh wow, are you really going to eat ALL that pizza?”
Here, you could use some light-hearted humor, replying, “Yep, does that intimidate you?” or “Wanna bet that I can’t?”
However, be careful with this strategy. Sometimes, it can break the tension and show that the comment does not affect you.
But other times, it may reveal your hidden hurt.
For example, let’s say your partner tells you, “Your sister is so pretty. Why don’t you ask her for beauty tips?”
You might feel tempted to reply with sarcasm, such as, “Oh really, sounds like you’re dating the wrong sister.”
However, this will most likely show your partner that they hit a nerve, and now they know exactly how to do it again next time.
Dealing with negging is not just annoying; it can also highly damage your self-esteem.
However, remember that guys only use this tactic because THEY are insecure. They insult or belittle you in an attempt to feel better about themselves.
Rather than throwing an insult back, the best way to deal with negging is to rise above it with one of these seven strategies. Test these out for yourself next time a date belittles you, or a toxic colleague throws a backhanded compliment your way!