Christian Negging?

A comic from XKCD got me talking about “negging,” the trick of using put-downs to lower a person’s self confidence so they will be more vulnerable and seek your approval. It’s associated with “pick-up artists” attempting to seduce women.

The use of insults, no matter how subtle, in order to attract someone seems counter-intuitive. Nevertheless, I’ve been told it works under certain circumstances. Which makes me think about Christianity in general and Calvinism is specific.

Is this negging?

Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend and plunge into the bottomless gulf, and your healthy constitution, and your own care and prudence, and best contrivance, and all your righteousness, would have no more influence to uphold you and keep you out of hell, than a spider’s web would have to stop a falling rock.

Granted, negging is subtle, and this is anything but subtle. Still, to me the principle seems similar: damage someone’s sense of self worth so that they turn to you for comfort.

One of the basic principles of Reformed Christianity is that all of us are horrible sinners who completely deserve to burn in hell for eternity. But wait, God is merciful! Turn to him, or rather to his representative, and do what we tell you.

Is this the same as negging, or am I off track?

Bob Cargill on the Holy Grail
You Can't Keep a Bad Man Down
Atheists in the Evangelical Mind
Where the Fire Comes From
  • Kodie

    Negging is emotional abuse. Its effectiveness of turning out a particular behavior isn’t only for pick-up artists, but is a popular motivational technique among domestic abusers and parents and educators and bosses and drill sergeants (at least as depicted in movies).

  • Michael Mock

    I don’t know if it’s negging, precisely – as I understand the term, pickup negging is supposed to focus on specific traits or qualities, rather than just a general “you’re completely horrible” message – but there’s definitely a strong similarity in approach.

    • Kodie

      Pickup “negging” may not begin with “completely horrible” types of insults, but it preys on insecurity in the target. If you can erode someone’s confidence in themselves, to any degree, you can motivate them to try to please you, their authority (of appearance and behavior). Once they see how well it works, they can be even meaner. If they cross the line, they may make it up to you in small tokens and empty apologies, and if that works, and you are not turned away, it’s a cycle of abuse.

      Unless they don’t respond to it. I don’t respond well to it, if you think I’m a piece of shit, then I won’t improve myself or break my own balls trying to impress you, but I can be insecure enough that I will become even more a piece of shit. Unless I don’t feel that you have your facts straight, in which case, I will tell you to go fuck yourself. You will never win, and sometimes, neither will I. I will actually spite myself in order that you have no power to manipulate my behavior in this way.

      • Michael Mock

        Yeah, I can definitely see it as part of the same behavior.

        • Kodie

          I’m not sure why “negging” is seen as something new. Perhaps as a method taught in order that shy or nice men who fail at meeting women might find the “right” kind of woman who is insecure, and therefore, easy to control by insulting them immediately, to gain their intrigue, rather than showering them with meet-cute romance and depleting their confidence later, because he is, himself, insecure. I name these woman and man, she and he, because it’s the usual “pickup” way, I presume, but a woman can suss out a man who is the most insecure of his friends and have him devoted to her exactly the same way.

          I am not even including examples of people who are antagonistic towards each other out of some deep passion which eventually consumes them (like on certain tv shows…. Cheers comes to mind), and in particular, how Diane counters Sam’s “PUA” type to create the famous sexual tension by insulting each other for a very long time before getting together.

          The power of the one person preying on the insecurities and weaknesses of the other person can be a game, as picking up, I think, is seen, but it is not new. Marketers often build fears or insecurities in people, and then provide the solution, at a price. Bosses from hell will try to drive his or her employees by fear (like in The Devil Wears Prada or Scrubs rather than praise and morale and decent pay. And people who are afraid to be alone will find each other and become co-dependent – they might take turns threatening to leave, or coercing the other person to stay by “reminding” them that they are unlovable and no one else would even want them, or one may be the subordinate to the other all the time. A lot of these issues probably arise in childhood, I’m not saying always, but we all sort of become who we were taught to be (from home and school, etc.), some may assume the role of bully in their relationships, or one the weak, or just rebel, or learn from it and not be that way. At some point in all our lives, someone assumes they can take away our confidence by nagging it out of us, thereby taking control or feeling like they control us – be a parent, teacher, sibling, neighbor, or coach, etc., or seeing this dynamic played out before them, putting some people in a position of desiring approval so badly. Abusers seek approval in the sense of being obeyed, and the abused seek approval in the sense of not being abused if they can finally get it right.

          People who believe in god as a parent this way are never sure they aren’t going to hell, are they. In a way, they are never going to get it right, since Jesus let them off the hook by both putting them down as sinners, and telling them there’s no way anything you ever do will ever be enough. Some people don’t even try, in that case, and some people try very hard and are completely self-loathing.

          • Elemenope

            I think it’s seen as something new only because it was a phenomenon that only recently gained a label. Identifying and talking about something is so much easier when it has a precise name with which everyone is familiar.

          • FO

            I think that the novelty really lies in that it has been systematically taught and used specifically to get laid.

            It is actually a bit subtler than that, the theory is that you use it only on a very hot woman, who’s used to be praised, to knock her off her pedestal, or at least this is the way it is sold.

            In practice, it’s indeed used by very insecure men and works on insecure women.
            I left the “PUA” world mostly because none of them were people I liked to hang out with or be associated with.

            • The Other Weirdo

              No wonder I don’t get laid. Now I feel better about myself.

            • kholdom0790

              What’s PUA?

            • Custador

              Pick Up Artists. A community of sleazy greaseballs who discuss methods of tricking women into sex, and generally treat women as having no value except their vagina. Having read some of their “techniques” together with accounts of their activities, I suspect the vast majority of them are also pathological liars.

  • NoYourGod

    Ohhhh, this hit home… Fortunately, not due to a direct attack by a thumper, but due to a conversation I had with my next door neighbor. My neighbor is a charismatic evangelical (whatever the hell that means besides being a specific kind of superstitious believer). He is a really good guy who (again) fortunately does not try to convert everybody. Quite frankly, we respect each others’ right to be absolutely wrong on the whole “does a god exist” thing.

    Anyways, one evening we were discussing his conversion to christianity. He grew up catholic, but in his late 30′s or early 40′s jumped the shark to evangelical. Seems he was in a bad way – work was taxing, had a broken shin bone, generally just not happy at the time. His boss was a heavy-handed thumper to the point that his workers knew he would try to push his BS on them at any opportunity. When my neighbor was at his lowest, his boss offered to host him and his family at the boss’ cabin – and that was when he hit him with the full monty conversion.

    Supposedly, my neighbor saw the light after the boss’ pastor healed his leg bone, and he himself became a pushy thumper. After a couple of failed attempts at conversion he spoke with his god (seriously – he said he spoke with god), and god explained to him that he was too aggressive, and needed to tone it down a bit. He (god) had been working on those folks getting them ready to accept his (god’s) word, but my neighbor had pushed too hard and now he (god) needed to work on them some more to prepare them.

    Basically, that god was saying that he had to cause pain and anguish to tear these folks’ lives apart, to whip them into desperate, needy cretins, so that they could be converted. Whataguy….

    FWIW – it wasn’t until later that I realized my neighbor was telling me this after a rather difficult year (losing a 2nd brother, work was a bitch, etc.). Fortunately (yet again) I did not fall for the BS, instead determining for myself that I preferred to live in the real world, not some superstitious realm where a magical space monkey has dominion over everything.

    • vasaroti

      Your neighbor probably had a stress fracture, which will heal in 6-8 weeks with greatly reduced exercise. If he actually had a broken tibia he would have been in a cast.

  • The Other Weirdo

    All I got from that is that, apparently, what I thought Reformed Christianity meant isn’t actually what it is at all. I thought they weren’t quite so hateful of humanity.

  • Jess

    I think it is true. When I was evangelical we called it God “softening” a person’s heart. Which is basically breaking them down to show them their need for god. Sometimes we had to abandon someone to their sin so that god could do his work. And then be available when they came for help. I know my family thinks that any bad thing that happens to me is a result of my sin and that if I get really desperate…if I am allowed to reap the consequences, like the pain of them ignoring me, I will eventually turn back to god for help. Central to the conversion experience is a conviction of sinfulness, because without that, grace is unnecessary. So you start there…and people who hate themselves, have no self-esteem, or no confidence in their own worth are the easiest to convince that they are sinful and can achieve value only by grace, which is free. People who are happy are harder to catch, because they don’t see themselves as needful of salvation. Those people have their hearts hardened by enjoying their sin.

  • Noelle

    Ah, the you need to be broken so God can put you together again argument. That does sound like some ultimate cosmic negging. It’s a good thing God’s not real. It’d be hard to get away from an all-knowing, all-powerful, abusive asshole.

  • Ken

    Not picking sides here, but isn’t this the current GOP tactic in attacking Obama? It doesn’t matter what the Bush-wars-screwed-economy-trickle-down-failure facts are, he’s just wrong and we need a Republican to fix it? How? We’ll work that out after the elections, but it involves less taxes for those who already have 90% of the wealth, and cutbacks on “Government” (which means layoffs, which means higher unemployment) and rollbacks on minimum wage and employer-provided health insurance. All the current suffering will be resolved if you just trust richer-than-God Romney to do what Jesus told him is good for you, and incidentally makes the wealthy a whole lot wealthier and ignores that whole “camel through the eye of a needle” bullshit. And no matter what you say about cooperation and compromise, we’re not listening to your heathen blather (fingers in ears, LALALALALA).

    I’m not politicking for Obama either, just observing a tactic being used that fits the profile of “negging.” I mean, even bringing down bin Laden has been criticized because Obama didn’t flog his bloody corpse on nationwide TV, and he’s catching flak for not starting a third unwinnable war in Syria in the name of God, mom and American-grown apple pie. It’s really kinda scary being an American right now, and that, too, is part of God’s “softening” process, I’m sure.

    • Ruthie

      I would definitely not characterize that as “negging.” Negging is intended to undermine the confidence of the subject so that the subject willingly submits to more abuse. What the GOP is doing isn’t intended to undermine Obama, it’s intended to undermine his perception in the minds of independents/undecideds. That’s just politics.

      Also, generally “negging” is not flat-out mean, it’s passive aggressive, an insult wrapped in a compliment. Check out the xckd comic — the “insult” is, “Oh you must be on a diet, that’s an awesome looking fruit plate.” There’s nothing wrong with diets or eating fruit, but the implication is YOU ARE FAT. If the perpetrator is just flat out mean, they won’t be seen as a source of comfort by the victim when that victim seeks validation and approval. I’ve seen proposed negs include stuff like, “Wow, you’re nose is so INTERESTING! I’ve never seen one such an unusual shape!”, or “Didn’t I see you wear that exact same dress recently?” Etc.

  • EldoonFeeb

    We are all sinners, right? If religion can’t convince us there’s something horribly wrong with us, then they have no customers. So job one is to break people down — and never let them feel like they’re 100% fixed, because then they’d stop coming.

    • Stony

      I can’t sell you the cure if I can’t convince you you’re sick.

      And the new, relevant, modern churches do this much more subtly, as they realize people have caught on to the old shpiel. God wants you to be prosperous, healthy, and happy, if you’ll just admit that you have a god-shaped hole in your life. There are still plenty of hellfire and brimstone churches, but the more prevalent churches have started soft-pedaling the whole idea of hell. Maybe because more and more people realize it makes no kind of sense.

      But as a veteran of “for all have sinned and fallen short”, yes, it’s negging.

  • Schaden Freud

    It’s negging. Just because the term is relatively recent doesn’t mean the behaviour is. Every cult leader worth their Kool Aid knows the value of negging.

  • messiestobjects

    Holy Godman, this just blew my mind. Christians are no better than skeezy guys!

  • exfundy

    Evangelical Christianity has the oldest sales gimmick in the world, “you’re sick, you’re going to die, you’re miserable, but, we just happen to have the remedy for your problems here in our pocket”. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a liberal christian theologian who spoke against that kind of marketing tactic.