Acceptable, Cute Aggression

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

We tend to think of aggression as something which is malevolent and violent. Viewed in terms of love and affection, aggression seems counter intuitive. How can you show affection towards someone towards whom you are expressing aggression. For example, we are all familiar with the phrase “I just love him to death.” If that’s not hostile, then, what is? Here’s another phrase, “You are so delicious I could eat you up.” or, “You are my main squeeze.” “OOOH, I could squeeze the life out of you.”

All of us can understand that the intention behind these phrases is to express love. However, there is a dimension that is somewhat more than love. That dimension has to do with a quality we call “cute.” We want to squeeze cute, eat cute, gobble cute, pinch cute and all because the cuteness is unbearable.


When I was a boy, I seemed to be the victim of this cuteness. My maternal grandparents had brothers and sisters, my granduncles and aunts. We would see them once or twice each year. One grandaunt found me particularly cute. I had to grin and bear it when she grabbed me, hugged me in her big arms and strenuosly pinced my cheeks while saying, “what a healthy, handsome boy.” I would feel the sting in my cheeks for several minutes. I often wished she could have found another grandnephew to squeeze, my brother, perhaps?

It’s important to understand that this behavior is the expression of “cute aggression.” In other words, this is aggression and even when expressed in the most benign way possible, it can hurt. The difference between aggression and cute aggression is that cute aggression is not out of control in the way someone might think of when someone loses their temper. 

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Perhaps cute aggression is a way of saying there is something special in the relationship between the two people that includes no one else.

One psychological theory of cuteness is that it’s a way to stimulate the powerful tie that develops between parents and their babies as well as older children. It explains why everyone “oohs and aahs” over babies in the carriage and why all of those cheeks get pinched.

Do you agree? 

What are your experiences with cute aggression? Do you ever find yourself wanting to grab someone or something because it’s so cute you want to squeeze it?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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