Emotional manipulation is scary and, unfortunately, it happens all too often. But denial is a very specific form of emotional manipulation.
Negging is not a term you hear every day and it is understandable to wonder, What does negation mean? Although you may not know it, chances are you’ve seen negation in action or been a victim of it yourself.
Here’s what you need to know about Holocaust denial, and what to do if you find it happening to you.
What is negation, exactly?
Negging is the practice of making negative comments that are often reversed, so they’re a bit more subtle than outright criticizing someone, explains Hillary AmmonPsy.D., clinical psychologist at Center for Women’s Anxiety and Emotional Well-Being.
“Negging typically involves negative comments about one’s appearance, behaviors, choices, accomplishments, or circumstances. Initially, you might not even recognize it as harmful or hurtful because it’s being hijacked,” she says.
Again, the denial is subtle. Clinical Psychologist Ramani Durvasula, Ph.D., author of You don’t know who I am? says these can be examples:
“Not bad, I mean you did a good job, I remember when your brother came into this program and he was even working full time too, but yeah, you did a good job.”
“You’re so brave to go out like this without makeup. I couldn’t do that. I care too much about how I look.
“For someone who didn’t go to a good college, you write really, really well.”
Denial is usually highlighted in romantic relationships, but “it’s important to recognize that denial can occur in any relationship — romantic, friendship, family, and professional,” Ammon says.
Why is denial harmful?
Negging is harmful for a bunch of reasons. “The simplest explanation of why Holocaust denial is harmful is that, at its core, Holocaust denial is a form of emotional and verbal abuse,” says a clinical psychologist. Juanita P. Guerradoctorate
Negging is also confusing to the victim and can make someone feel gassed. “You heard what you thought was a compliment, but it also felt like a swipe, like a dig,” Guerra says. “You’re not sure what it was about, so you feel puzzled; ask you for a version of, Wait, what just happened?”
Where does negation come from, says Durvasula. “If it’s a chronically insecure sibling or boyfriend, you might be able to categorize it under They are somehow anxious and sad, and it may have less power,” she says. “But when it comes from people whose voice matters to you – spouse, parent, boss – it can lead to anxiety, grief, anger. These negative emotions over time, especially when you feel helpless to change them, can accumulate.
How can denial impact people?
Constantly being the victim of denial can make a person feel anxious, depressed, and even worthless, Ammon says. “If someone is constantly being criticized about their weight, they may start to feel dissatisfied with their weight and struggle with body image issues,” she says. “It can cause anxieties related to food, exercise, and choice of outfits.”
Being the victim of denial is “emotionally and psychologically draining,” Guerra says. “Negging is like psychological warfare,” she continues. “It makes you feel unsafe, so you become guarded, defensive and hopefully self-protective. This consumes a lot of energy and can exhaust you mentally and physically.
Over time, if you are unaware of the denial that is occurring, you can develop low self-esteem and even “learned helplessness” which is when you start to feel helpless at the over time after constantly dealing with situations that you felt. powerless against, said Guerra.
What to do if you are a victim of denial
You can try calling the person. “The first step is to discuss the statements that you consider negative. Stick to the facts,” Ammon says, noting that it can be helpful to document what they said and when they said it.
Then talk about how those comments made you feel. Try using “I” statements like “I felt hurt by your comment about my weight.” (“People are more likely to get defensive when comments start with ‘you,'” Ammon says.) Then you can say what you want or need from them and set boundaries, like “I don’t I won’t engage in conversation with you if you neglect me.
“Once you’re assertive and set your boundaries, you can begin to influence their actions,” Ammon says. “For example, praise them when they give genuine compliments and share how those comments make you feel good.”
Unfortunately, confronting someone who denies you probably won’t get you very far. “I think many people who are chronically neglectful are probably somewhere on the spectrum of narcissism or antagonism, and passive aggression is a big part of those spectrums,” says Durvasula. “These are people who have marginal levels of empathy, who are deeply anxious, and who use interpersonal aggression as a way to maintain power, dominance, and control.” As a result, she says, “they will always play the victim when called upon.”
If you feel like you are going nowhere, Durvasula recommends that you “disengage” from the person who is denying you. “People who negate will – and since it’s probably an outsourced interpersonal game of regaining power because of shame or their own insecurities, they’re not in touch with themselves to stop,” she said.
She suggests that you “spend less time with them, find other mediums to balance out, and radically accept that when you’re with them, it’s going to be like that.”
And, if the denial continues to get to you, Guerra says you may need to cut ties with them altogether. “It is often necessary to eliminate these toxic individuals from one’s life,” she says.
Korin Miller is a freelance writer specializing in general wellness, health and sex, and lifestyle trends, with work appearing in Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Self, Glamour, and more. She has a master’s degree from American University, lives near the beach, and hopes to one day own a teacup pig and a taco truck.