I’m willing to bet that every single person on earth has experienced the Baby Bully Syndrome. It has probably frustrated you a few times. For many of us in the middle of it, we can tell our relationship is being pushed apart, but we didn’t quite understand what was happening.

There is a phrase, used most recently by Brené Brown, that says, “Name it to tame it.” By understanding difficult experiences we have, such as the Baby Bully Syndrome, we are able to take control. Instead of feeling like the conflict is controlling us, now we have some control over the conflict. If you are experiencing the Baby Bully Syndrome, once you have identified it, you can make some decisions about what to do next.

There are many conversations where one person cannot accommodate someone’s request. Perhaps some are asking them for help, attention, sympathy, clarity, support, or something concrete—such as a schedule change or a raise. And the person with more power says no. When the person with lower power says no, it can be hurtful for a variety of reasons. It could be that the person with higher power didn’t take the time to understand the importance of the request or the impact of saying no. Perhaps saying no went against social norms. Perhaps saying no represented something bigger, such as friendship or respect.

When the high-power-person says no, the low-power-person often interprets this response as unfair. In other words, a power-monger, difficult, self-absorbed, selfish, bully. And anything they say to us, even if it’strue, feels overly harsh and aggressive. And as soon as we label someone a bully, we have defined our role in response to them—the low-power baby. Our tactic then is to appeal to them by being weak, needy, non-threatening. This means that we have probably slipped into the victim role, and we are using guilt.

And the more we act like a baby, the more they act like a bully. And the more they act like a bully, the more it makes me feel like a baby. And as soon as the high-power-person writes off the other as a dramatic, weak, over-reacting, sensitive, baby, then the high-power-person doesn’t see any need to pay attention to their interests. It is just the whining of an annoying mosquito.

And that is the Baby Bully Syndrome.

How do we get it? The same way we get out of every conflict: by standing up for our interests. The “baby” has to be willing to firmly explain their interests in the conflict, but also consider the “bully’s.” The “bully” has to be willing to do the same thing: fight for the “baby’s” interests as well as their own. At this point the conversation shifts. It is not just the “baby whining to get attention,” or the “bully being mean again.” Once we have all of the interests out on the table, now we have a problem that we both have to solve.

And solving a problem together is the best way to break the Baby Bully cycle. Added bonus? It rebuilds trust and respect in a relationship.

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