Short Man Syndrome Explained

‘Short man syndrome’ is a condition in which a person has to deal with a feeling of inadequacy which can come from a lack of height – or a perceived lack of height. This is particularly common in men who gain a lot of confidence and status from physicality and who often gain pleasure from being able to feel physically imposing.

Short man syndrome is an informal term and not a medical or psychological condition and goes by other names such as ‘Napoleon complex’. Technically it is a form of inferiority complex in which the person attempts to overcompensate for their perceived shortcoming. The term is often used as a derogatory term also to describe those who are perceived as acting this way.


Thus the stereotype is that the smaller male with short man syndrome would be aggressive, likely to shout and talk loudly and seek attention and eager to prove themselves. Many people compare the typical short man complex to that of a smaller dog – which many note are often noisier and more aggressive than larger more docile dogs. Other personality traits have also been linked to Napoleon syndrome – for instance risk taking behavior and jealousy.

The term ‘Napoleon complex’ is used in reference to Napoleon Bonaparte who many believed conducted his tyrany and invasions as a form of overcompensation for his short stature.

Note: Interestingly however the term ‘Napoleon complex’ may well be a misnomer. While Napoleon is widely believed to have been very short, in fact historians have calculated his height to be around 5’6′ which was average for the time period. It is believed that the confusion stems from miscalculations caused by the difference in English and French measuring units, and from the fact that Napoleon was often portrayed alongside his guards – who were all taller than average.


Of course the primary cause of short man syndrome is the aforementioned overcompensation. This is one of the ego defense mechanisms as described by Freud, the idea being that the individual could this way protect themselves from the belief that they were smaller in size. At the same time the lack of confidence regarding their height might cause them to try and distract from it by proving themselves able to ‘mix with the big boys’.

Short man complex has also been linked to evolutionary psychology – which looks at our psychology as a race and how it could have developed through evolution due to the survival value of particular behavioral traits. In the case of short man syndrome it may be that in the wild smaller individuals needed to make more noise and act more aggressively in order to compete for food and mates. Indeed studies have demonstrated that in the wild, smaller creatures often do attack first.

Other Explanations

Another interesting theory turns this evolutionary idea on its head however. This is the theory postulated by research from Ohio University in which psychologists suggest that larger combatants delay actual combat as much as possible in the hope that the smaller party will recognize the odds are stacked against them and back down. Meanwhile while the smaller individual might stand to gain from the confrontation, the larger half is likely already in a strong position (the ‘desperado effect’). Smaller individuals also require fewer resources and are less hindered by injury (due to their smaller body weight). Thus it might not be that smaller males are more prone to attack first or act noisily – but rather a case of ‘gentle giant syndrome’ where the larger individuals are more reluctant to engage in confrontation and the smaller individuals look more aggressive as a result.

There are other possible explanations for short man syndrome however. For instance the mere fact that someone who is shorter may have more difficulty getting attention in general. They then may have developed louder behavior as a necessity and as a way to get others to take notice. If this brought positive reward, that would then be a form of positive reinforcement that could condition them to behave this way. The very stereotype of short man syndrome meanwhile might lead their behaviors to be perceived as stemming from their insecurity.


Some studies have failed to prove that shorter individuals are more likely to act aggressively however and more likely to initiate aggression. In one study students were made to fight using wooden sticks. A cohort in the experiment would constantly rap the participants on the knuckles, and the elevation of the participants’ heart rates were then measured. This found that those who were shorter were actually more calm and more likely to maintain a steady heart rate.

However what this study neglects to take into account is that short man syndrome is used to describe a specific and unusual level of overcompensation. In other words there wouldn’t necessary be a correlation between height and aggression in all cases, rather just one or two outliers who have the ‘condition’.

What to Do?

If you or someone you know has short man syndrome then how would you go about addressing this? There are several ways that you can go about dealing with short man syndrome and reduce its effects.

One method would be to simply change the way you think. To recognize that first of all most people aren’t going to view you drastically differently as a result of your stature. Often your perceived shortcomings are just that – perceived – and if you get rid of cognitive biases then you can see that people aren’t actually viewing you any differently. The best way to achieve this is to use something called ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’. This is a form of therapy in which you are taught to better recognize and understand the contents of your own thoughts and from there to then be able to control and change their content. Seeing a cognitive behavioral therapist will teach you to use ‘mindfulness’ in order to reflect on your potentially negative thought processes and positive affirmations etc in order to replace these for more positive ruminations.

Looking at some of the positive benefits of being shorter can help you to overcome your short man complex too. For instance, note that shorter people tend to be able to more easily gain muscle and thus often appear stockier and so more imposing as a result despite what they lack in height. Meanwhile as someone smaller you will have a lower center of gravity and you will be better able to keep under the radar as a dark horse. Shorter individuals are also often more agile and have better reflexes and some women prefer shorter men as they are less intimidating or ‘cuter’.

If you are very unhappy with your height then there are ways to compensate physically that might help you. For instance it is possible to wear ‘height insoles’ that fit into your shoes and then elevate your heel thus making you taller and so more imposing again. No one needs to know you’re wearing them, but they will add a good 2-3 inches to your height taking you from short to average or average to tall and you can this way feel more confident in social situations.

Comments 34
  1. The constant indicators toward the derogatory language used against short people in this article makes me wonder if it was written by someone tall.

  2. Women treat short men as if they had a STD. The saying is "Tall dark and handsome". There is no advantage to being short and being rejected for your lack of height. Check out the height requirements women give in the online dating sites.

  3. "One method would be to simply change the way you think. To recognize that first of all most people aren't going to view you drastically differently as a result of your stature. Often your perceived shortcomings are just that – perceived – and if you get rid of cognitive biases then you can see that people aren't actually viewing you any differently."

    – This is quite flawed – people DO view short men differently just because of their stature – it's well documented that they have less children, earn less money, are more likely to live alone etc etc. I bet you are a tall man with no idea! I have a short man for a husband and I overlooked him (hehe) for years, convinced he was "just a friend". It just took me a few years to realise (despite all my friends telling me) that the man of my dreams was (er) right under my nose.

  4. Some short men definitely have Short Man Syndrome; others do not. I have known many who do; they are combative, aggressive control freaks who cannot ever admit they are wrong. They are also liars and users. There is nothing worse than a man with Short Man Syndrome in a position of authority. As far as women's general treatment of shorter men goes, it isn't any different from men's general treatment of women who aren't skinny and under 25 years old.

  5. I am doing some research on perceived gender in relation to height in males, and I am unable to use this article due to the prevalence of heightism and fallacies that are rampant. For example, when you use the term "'cute'", "under the radar", "lacking", etc., you are still reaffirming that these men need to be taller in order to be whole and not lacking, noticeable in lieu of under the radar, sexy as opposed to cute, etc.. Furthermore, you mention a study, please cite your sources, that disproves the idea of a short man complex, but then you go on to say that this is not valid. The study proves that shorter men are calmer than taller men. Provided that this study is real, extreme aggression is not linked to height. However, you go on to say that it still is, which is improper reasoning. This track of reasoning would say that all things on earth are affected by gravity (a metaphor for short males), except things like birds and airplanes (a metaphor for short males with high aggression), which completely neglects any outside forces.

    Although, I must say that your solution for short men to wear taller shoes is wonderful in terms of a subversive gender performance.

  6. Your article was extremely informative and well written. I feel like my immediate family is suffering from napoleon complex. Being below average height for a man used to bother me because I thought that I wasn't tall enough to go to the NBA or the NFL. That is not true Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb did it and I have seen some short running backs and fullbacks in the NFL also. Emmitt Smith wasn't very tall but he was a hell of a football player. I have one family member who I believe has short man syndrome because he wanted nothing more than to go to the NFL and be a wide receiver for whatever team would have him. He didn't care he would have traveled and left his family and friends behind to perform at the professional level. He has the heart of a lion but unfortunately his body does not match his personality. I think he is a coach now but rather then tell me the truth he hides it by pretending that he is playing a video game on PS3 and acting like he is just trying to pass the time. That last part there about him being a coach may be another one of the delusions that I am having and have been having for quite some time now, at least a few weeks. I am suffering from substance induced mood disorder and I try my best to stay clean and not get arrested but I have been playing with fire lately and that has caused me to have some real out of control delusions. They say that don't use a hundred words when three will do but this really helped me to get some things off on my chest and I don't know who will be reading this but I would hope it is a medical professional. Bottom line, I have a family member who is suffering from "short man syndrome" but I don't have the heart to tell him because his negative reactions scare the living daylights out of me. Sorry if I used up too much of your time as you read this or maybe you read a few lines and decided that this guy writing this is absolutely looney tunes so you may not even get to this part. If you did decide to read till the end, thank you for your time, sincerely, Rick.

  7. Interesting information. I searched the topic after a co-worker mentioned a contractor came in exhibiting "little man syndrome". The co-worker is female and 5'11" so many people fall in the stature category. The article does a good idea driving home that the issue is both a self-image and peer perception combination. Very applicable to all self-image issues.

  8. There is no date as to when this was first realized posted up online and how others who don't understand or take any of it in can be able to because of that; – no date and time of first post.

    Thanks anyway for outlining basically what 'shot man syndrome or little man syndrome' can relate to.

  9. Based on my life experiences, you are too kind with your assessment of men with little man syndrome. You neglect to mention their often emotional and/or physical abusive behavior in their relationships with women.

  10. I've dealt with three very difficult men in my life, and the thing they all had in common is they were short. This article nails it; short men are boisterous, loud, arrogant and compensating. Everything is a no holds barred, winner takes all competition to them. One is an acquaintance who won't talk to you if he's in a bad mood, gives the finger if he feels like it, and on one road trip with friends kicked me out of the car because I wouldn't observe absolute silence. Two were in the workplace and all day long its turf wars and trying to pick a fight. One knew if he could get me to even raise my voice he could get me fired, the other I just came from an episode where he booted me out of an online work forum–because it was "his" forum (I hadn't even done a single post) and he was master of all he saw. None of these guys would last a minute in a real fight, and they know it, so they goad you always in front of employers and family. Women, don't marry short men. And short men with an attitude, some day you're going to pick a fight and get it.

  11. I have lived 20 years with my husband who has short man complex, always trying to gain power or money, debative about anything and everything, it can be what shade of blue is the sky? That's a power struggle, very opinionated, comments on everything even if he's not in the conversation, just negative about everyone even people on tv while watching tv, judges everyone negatively, and never speaks well or good about anyone.

  12. Tall dark and handsome is overrated to me. Some women should open up their minds and consider the many possibilities. I used to be rigid in my late teens/early 20s of what my so called standards were as some call it. But after traveling to Europe, that changed for me. I do believe as a person becomes more comfortable with their self in their own skin that they are more able to accept others. As a black woman, I see beauty in many shades, shapes, and sizes and I'm so over this light skinned vs dark skinned BS. There are so many other things in the world we could be trying to resolve.

  13. So… I'm a short man, at 5'3". These women tell others not to marry short guys. So do you expect us to just die alone? At least try to view the situation from the side you're condemning.

    PS: of course we're pissed when we're treated so poorly. I'll continue to try and improve my confidence but you all sure make it difficult.

  14. I suffer from small man syndrome and I have a micropenis. Could I have been cursed any more? I always feel the need to control everything and everyone around me. I constantly feel like the underdog and always have to try that much harder because I am a sore loser. Due to my constant need to be in constant control of things; I was married for 22 years, my wife left me because of my control issues; I am now dating a woman almost half my age which allows me to have full reign and absolute control. She's smarter, skinnier and prettier than most woman my age; they don't do well with my domination.

  15. This article is a bit silly, I am a short man of 5'4", I feel comfortable in my skin, I have a variety of lady friends and men friends of various heights, I have never felt that I have to prove anything and indeed I don't mind asking my taller friends to help me carry out DIY projects that require a bit of extra height and muscle, I have met people that are confrontational and aggressive. These people come in various heights and gender.

    My point is that this article is pointless, written with a bias and has no value. I guess I should add that this is just my opinion in case someone wants to come and sort me out! (Gulp!)

  16. As a 5'5", 67 year old male, I've dealt with accusations of the so-called Napoleon Complex all my life and I can tell you, for the most part, it's the perception of other people and not my behavior that earns the label. If I were 6'5" tall I would be considered manly, self-assured and confident, but since I'm only 5'5 I'm called arrogant and cocky. I never viewed myself as short but certainly others think I am, so when I refuse to be intimidated by a larger man, it's not seen as simply standing up for myself. It’s viewed as a form of overcompensation. In my case, an incident that happened when I was about 5 taught me that there are far worse things than physical injury so I have trouble running away from trouble. It has nothing to do with my short stature, but stems from the humiliation I experienced from being bullied by a larger, older boy.

  17. As a 5'5 30 year old male, I can tell you this article is nothing more than to make shorter men feel better about themselves and be "cute". We could have the most charismatic personality and all the money in the world and that still wouldn't change the way people would look at you. They would say things like oh he's doing all that to compensate, if it was somebody of normal size it would be motivation and charming. The fact is if we don't fight for what we want nobody is going to give you a chance, because there's always gonna be somebody taller that looks better doing it than you.

  18. There is also a Tall Person Syndrome exhibited by those tall men and women who consider themselves to be superior because of their tall stature. And in general I don't consider it can be denied that tall people do command more respect.

    However, it is a contention of mine that people exhibiting Tall Person Syndrome do so as a compensating mechanism for their personal inadequacies.

    Statistically speaking, there is a direct correlation between height and pay grade and it makes one wonder if those tall people in positions of power and who exhibit Tall Person Syndrome are, through their personal inadequacies and superiority complexes, largely responsible for the demise of the West…

  19. The bottom line about short men and dating is that women between the ages of 18-38 are overly concerned with what psychologists call “social safety.” They are actually more concerned about what their girlfriends and family think about the man they are dating than what they think. Former Men’s Health relationship advisor Nicole Beland talked about how her best partner before her current husband was a 5-5 man. But she had to dump him because no matter how many times she told her friends and parents to stop hassling her about his height, they kept on hassling. It got to be so bad that she had to dump him. Women between 18-38 are overly concerned about social safety. They are very concerned about what others and general society thinks of their relationships, and whether it lives up to society standards. Does it match to what they are seeing in Hollywood movies or Sex In The City?? Whereas most men could care less about what others think. They are almost born rebels – sometimes to their own detriment. In my view, unless a man is beating you or emotionally abusing you, your friends and family have zero right to gripe about the man you are dating. It isn’t until women hit around 38 when they have been thru a divorce or two and have been thru enough counseling that they realize that what their friends and family think about their partner doesn’t mean anything. What they think is what matters. They develop a much greater independence of thought. Maybe because when couples hit their older years, they are much more concerned about the friendship parts of a relationship than the sexual/romantic parts. Who cares whether your relationship fits what Cosmo Magazine says it should when you have breast cancer and you need a loving man to support you. Or if you need support because your dad is dying from cancer? Moreover, many people in their 40’s have decided to not have kids. Women don’t have to worry if their offspring might include a boy who grows up to be 5-4.

  20. My boss is a short wider female and she is like a bully who yells, slams things down. It’s really annoying and nobody wants to work for her. I think the women are worse than the men.

  21. Short man syndrome is alive and well. Am unfortunately living with one now and it is pure hell. Exactly what everyone else describes – control freak, loud, boisterous, throws tantrums as a child would, never apologizes – did I mention he’s in his 50s? Never again. He doesn’t realize how much smaller it makes him look when he acts like this. Confidence is quiet. Insecurity is loud, like a little manlet.

  22. I’m 5’6 and my boyfriend is 5’2 and he does have short man syndrome. He doesn’t say it but he is very insecure about his height. He’s always telling me he was gonna beat up 3 guys at some point or another. If we argue he says I’m only saying things because he’s little or people stare at him when he’s out and about!! Blah blah. When he’s in a better mood I slip into conversation that society has made rules that tell us how to be or what is normal!! I also tell him if he was taller I probably wouldn’t be into him. (To make him feel good about himself of course) but every now and then he gets yapping like a chiwawa. He’s so lovely though and I want to marry him. I’ll just have to take a lot of me sitting down photos on the day. Lol I’m totally in love with him he’s so sweet and loving and wears his heart on his sleeve. What more could a girl ask for?

  23. In nature females always choose the best looking bigger, more powerful male, so their offspring will do better. Short men are not for me. Everything has to be their way. Speak from experience.

  24. I like this article. Also good to see many different perspectives from these comments. I stumbled on this page as I am trying to find more information on the short man as I have recently started dating one… I think he is gorgeous, also because he is incredibly confident, however he seems to have many issues that I think are related to his stature and I am starting to realize he would probably be happier, living angry at the world and alone [if that makes sense…]. Is that even possible, happier angry and alone?? Rather insightful!! Thanks!

  25. I, buddies, completely agree with the above article. I am a very short man and I am a boss. I have the tenancy to bully, belittle, patronise and generally be a vile little individual. However, I have found wearing 10″ Cuban heeled shoes to be helpful.

  26. First of all… I hate the term short man syndrome. It is very derogatory not to mention stereotypical. A person can’t change their height any more than someone can change their skin colour. It would be racist to say Asian man syndrome or gay man syndrome, etc. Height seems to be the one area people still think it is okay to speak about negatively especially with males. Many of the characteristics described could be applied to many people regardless of height. People also can feel inferior for a slew of reasons I bet almost everyone has physical attributes that make them insecure… yes, even tall, attractive ones. As the article points out, some characteristics such as being louder may indeed be to simply be seen or heard.

    Stop judging people’s behaviour as some ridiculous syndrome. Some people are asses, some are not. But to call height a syndrome in my opinion gives you an unflattering moniker – judgemental fool.

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