My husband and I welcomed our little girl, Neda, into the world in September, and it was truly the best day of our lives. In the thick of the newborn haze, we were emotional and overwhelmed in many ways, but there’s a particular scene from the hospital I’ll never forget.
Neda came into the world at 2am after a long labor, but despite that and the sleepless few days that followed, we couldn’t keep our eyes off her. We were broken records: “She’s so cute!” “She’s perfect!” “Just look at her!” But somewhere in between our stereotypical adoration, I heard my husband whispering to her that he just wanted to bite her — “cover you in maple syrup and just eat you up” were the exact words. And, to be honest, I understood. We were tired, sure, but also overwhelmed by a desire to squeeze, pinch and even bite this perfect little human. We didn’t want to hurt her; we just wanted to smush her.
What we were experiencing — on top of exhaustion — was a phenomenon called “cute aggression.” And, thankfully, it’s totally normal.
Your Brain on Cuteness
It’s slightly hard to wrap our heads around the fact we could experience aggression toward someone we loved so much. To better understand our brains’ reaction, Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings explained, “This negative response comes from greater activity in the brain’s emotional system as well as in the reward system, since the last one regulates wanting feelings, motivation, and pleasure.”
According to Catchings, cute aggression is our brain’s way of coping with the response that happens when these two powerful systems are triggered. In other words, our brain mixes in a bit of aggression after experiencing the positive feelings, so both emotions can regulate each other and we can keep our ability to care for or provide to those whom we care about.
“If we succumbed to the feeling of cuteness of a baby, a puppy, or a kitten, we would be incapacitated by it…and that feeling would be so strong, that the object of our affection might die due to us not being able to take care of it,” she said.
Nuances of Cute Aggression
Cute aggression was first described in this 2015 study, and since then psychologists have been curious about the sentiment’s behavioral underpinnings. According to Catchings, this kind of aggression comes out more for certain things. For example, it is proven that it is felt more often when dealing with kittens than with senior cats, with puppies more than with older dogs, and with babies more than with older children.
“As a therapist, I have heard clients expressing these feelings and they wonder why that happens,” she said. “As a mother, I experienced myself when my baby was three months old and I found myself wanting to adoringly bite his hands and his cheeks.” Catchings said our brain is so perfect, that it compensates for what we produce in excess or for what we lack — this is a good example to help us understand that a balance is required for harmony to exist.
So, there is such a thing as adorable overload and apparently our baby Neda fits the bill. While we won’t be covering her in maple syrup anytime soon, it’s nice to know our feelings aren’t as uncommon as we thought. Next time you’re experiencing cute aggression, remember it’s a perfectly normal function of the brain.