Small Man Syndrome

by Harley Therapy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

As one of France’s greatest military leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte led many successful campaigns during the French Revolution, building a large empire that dominated continental Europe. But ask anyone about Napolean and they will most likely refer to his height. So much so the term 'Napoleon complex' or ‘Small Man Syndrome’ is commonly used to describe a condition where a man feels inadequate because of his height - overcompensating with overbearing behaviour and aggression.

What is Small Man Syndrome?

Small Man Syndrome refers to a condition where a man feels inadequate because of his short height and may try to overcompensate it with overly aggressive behaviour. The syndrome is often referred to as Napoleon Complex in reference to the famous military leader. It is believed one of the reasons Napoleon was so successful was due to him trying to hide his short height. He was highly motivated to prove he could achieve greatness despite his height limitations.


It is believed shorter men are more prone to loud, ostentatious, even aggressive behaviour. Like Napoleon, they might have grandiose plans and ambitions, notoriously trying to achieve a dominating position. It is almost as if they are in constant competition with other men, to prove their worth. To show that despite their small height they still offer value. This behaviour might become obsessive and prevent people from developing healthy relationships.

There are for example stories of men forbidding their girlfriends to wear high-heels as it would accentuate their comparative stature. These behavioural patterns might result in a vicious circle where someone does not feel accepted so they create those protective mechanisms that eventually push others away, further deepening feelings of inadequacy. This then provokes the overcompensating behaviour to start again.


Evolutionary psychology asserts the syndrome is a result of primary behaviours still embedded in the male psyche. In evolutionary terms males were the protectors, therefore their physical aspect was deemed important. Those with a stronger, bigger build were more likely to protect their family in case of any dangers. Shorter men were disadvantaged as their smaller built would limit their effectiveness. However, this survival skill is not that necessary in today’s times. Furthermore, studies have shown it is those with smaller height that can build muscles better and often show better reflexes.

Social psychology brings the argument of romantic attractiveness as an explanation. Taller height in men has been positively correlated with greater attraction in several studies. It seems women prefer taller men. This relationship has also been noted in non-heterosexual couples.

The only problem is that there is no logical explanation why height would be such a dominating factor. Romantic attraction is not as simple as just finding someone with good characteristics. It is not like buying a car, where we find one with all the right features. It is a much more complex process. Often we are attracted to people despite their flaws. Height is just a fraction of what another person has to offer, yet it can seem like a determining aspect.

What to Do?

You should accept the fact that you are shorter, working through your mind set with a trained professional. Try to focus on the positive aspects of your body. Make a list of all the things that you like about yourself, that make you unique and put you in advantage.

Issues related to Small Man Syndrome is treatable by therapy, and should be dealt with like any other cases where somebody is not completely happy with themselves.

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