The Napoleon Complex Theory: Why Are Short People Annoying?

Updated on July 9, 2018
Anti-Valentine profile image

Anti-Valentine is a writer living in South Africa. He enjoys writing about music, video games and online marketing.

The Napoleon complex is named after Napoleon Bonaparte, who was said to be short.
The Napoleon complex is named after Napoleon Bonaparte, who was said to be short. | Source

What Is the Napoleon Complex Theory?

When I look back at my life and think of all the people who have wronged me in some way, most of them seemed to be small people. . .small as in short.

It’s called the Napoleon complex, and it occurs amongst short people who have a lot to prove because of their stature. This is easy to recognize because of their antagonistic, overly aggressive and bossy attitude, particularly towards people taller than they are. They also tend to be overachievers, having to excel at everything to make up for their size; basically, they have an inferiority complex.

Other names for the Napoleon complex include short man syndrome, small man syndrome, little man syndrome, small person complex or, in Afrikaans, kort gat kompleks (short @rse complex).

The name of this theory stems from Napoleon Bonaparte, who was said to be short. However, it has actually been discovered that, at 5’ 6", he was about average in height at the time—however, this would be considered short by today’s standards. He was simply short compared to his Imperial guards, who were mostly above average height. He also was said to have had trouble sleeping and claimed to only have a few hours of sleep a night. Maybe he was awake all night thinking about his height or plotting how to inflict humiliation on his taller opponents.

Six hours sleep for a man, seven for a woman and eight for a fool.

— Napoleon Bonaparte

However, humans are barely more than animals, and just like the rest of the creatures on earth, it’s survival of the fittest. Certain traits are instinctively more desirable to men and women.

A lot of men like women with nice long legs, a shapely derrière, big breasts and a pretty face. Likewise, a lot of women like tall, dark and handsome guys who are well-built, and don’t want to be with a guy who is shorter than them—especially when they wear high heels, platforms or some other ridiculous man-made contraption that makes it even harder for short guys to keep up.

It sounds clichéd and stereotyped, and it all comes down to personal preference. However, it’s just an instinctive, evolutionary thing that has been passed down through generations over the years, and, like bad habits, it’s hard to unlearn. We want the best partners to breed with—that is our nature.

So what? Should short people be left out in the cold?

It’s for this reason that short people have to develop other means of attracting people and being liked. They become funny comedians, very talkative and often mischievous. Take a look at Richard “Hamster” Hammond from Top Gear. Though he is probably one of the more likable short people out there, he is nonetheless annoying with his Rod Stewart looks and bright, white teeth. The fact that he rushes about in Porsche 911s all the time just makes you want to squish him under your shoe.

(Just playing, Hammond. You’re all right.)

Tom Cruise did pretty well despite his short stature.
Tom Cruise did pretty well despite his short stature. | Source

Short Male Celebrities

Name
Height
Joe Pesci
5'3"
Willem Dafoe
5'7"
Prince
5'2"
Elijah Wood
5'5"
Peter Jackson
5'5"
Al Pacino
5'6"
Kevin Hart
5'2"
Lars Ulrich
5'5.5"
Martin Scorsese
5'3"
Other short celebrities

What to Do When You're Small and Want to Appear Taller

There are solutions for this nowadays. Some of them do actually make you taller, whereas others just make you look taller, like an illusion.

  • The clothes you wear can make a difference. Wearing garments with vertical stripes makes you look taller, while horizontal stripes make you look shorter and fatter.
  • Black is slimming, so dark colours work well when trying to look taller. I often wear black clothes, and people have remarked that I’m very tall (I am in fact 6 feet tall, which is still tall compared to a lot of men around here).
  • Baggy clothes that don’t fit make you look shorter, so clothes that fit and are figure-hugging might be a good idea.
  • Keep your hair short; do not grow it long. With tall people, long hair usually looks fine.
  • Keep slim and exercise regularly. Being fat can make you look shorter.
  • Always walk tall, with your head held up high and your shoulders back and broad. Slouching and bad posture work against you.
  • Your shoes can give you a little bit of extra height, especially boots. There are even inserts that can add on an extra inch or two—the difference between being small and being of average height.
  • If you are very desperate, you can undergo surgery and have bone extensions put in. This can effectively make you as tall as you want, but there will likely be surgical scarring and you'll have to cover up.

Not the most practical of solutions, but a solution nonetheless.
Not the most practical of solutions, but a solution nonetheless. | Source

Some Impractical Solutions for Looking Taller

  • Wear stilts.
  • Wear high heels or platform shoes (seems to work for women well enough!).
  • Hang around with men that are shorter than you are—it'll make you seem taller.
  • Live in a small house with a small garden with short trees. This will make it seem as though you’re towering over everything.
  • Hang on a torture rack for a spell. That should stretch you out a bit. Don’t be surprised if afterward you can’t walk for a bit, seeing as your limbs will be out of their sockets.
  • Lie about having a disease that made you small. People might feel compassion for you.
  • Become rich and famous—that way, people will want to be you regardless.

Like the comedian Chris Rock says, there are rules in this world pertaining to making fun of someone. You may make fun of someone if they’re beautiful, rich, slim or tall. You may not make fun of someone if they are ugly, poor, fat or short. . .or all of the above. That’s just mean.

And let’s face it, short people are often discriminated against and suffer from being the butt of jokes throughout their lives. A lot of the time they’re not taken seriously. They earn less than taller men at work and don’t receive promotions as often. In the past, they’ve even had trouble being accepted when applying for recruitment in the military, though I don’t know if this still applies today.

"It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog."

— Mark Twain

Some dismiss the Napoleon complex theory, saying that tall men can be just as aggressive, but people don’t notice as much as they do when a small guy throws a tantrum. They start to attribute this aggressive attitude to his height, which is the first thing they notice.

Others claim that tall men are less likely to initiate combat with a smaller person, seeing as they assume that the odds are in their favour and the shorter man will back down and retreat. This is called the Gentle Giant Complex or syndrome.

This applies to dogs as well. Have you ever noticed how big breeds of dogs such as Great Danes can be pretty friendly compared to the smaller dogs like Dachshunds or various terrier breeds (terrierists, I call them), that bark and bite all the time? They can’t be big, burly guard dogs—they can only be little lapdogs that fit in someone’s handbag, and this is very embarrassing and humiliating for them. They also often get added to a collection of small dogs, like ornaments that adorn beds like decorative scatter cushions.

Don't you go around starting any trouble, alright?
Don't you go around starting any trouble, alright? | Source

Short people are not all bad, and some can be quite humble. But, just like with any other group, a number of them aren’t so good. They can be nice when they’re your friends, but if they become your enemies, watch out—they can be ruthless little buggers. They’re small, but bloody vicious, with beady eyes, sharp teeth and an even sharper tongue. I once had the misfortune of living next door to such a person. We were friends for nearly a year before we fell out, and he went from being one of my best friends to one of my worst enemies seemingly overnight.

There were some kids in my class who were tiny—some barely over 4 or 5 feet tall, depending on which grade we were in—and they all seemed to stick together to form their own band of miserable men.

The first time I ever encountered one of these people was in preschool. I remember having gotten into a spat with this one kid with glasses, and his friend—a smaller kid—launched into an aggressive, protective mode like a faithful lapdog and started chasing me around the classroom. I remember running around and around the table trying to elude him and tire him out, and all the while he was growling, “Why did you do that?!" Snarl! "Why did you do that to him?!" Snap!. . .even though it was really none of his business.

Height isn't always an advantage.
Height isn't always an advantage. | Source

Tall Doesn't Mean Tough

But by far one of the worst people I ever came across was in my first year at Grade 1 of primary school. This kid was ruthless. He had no morals or scruples. He went out of his way to relentlessly terrorize me.

This boy was literally some sort of vicious animal. He actually did growl sometimes and bare his teeth when he talked. It was kind of funny but disturbing at the same time. He blackmailed me at one point after an embarrassing incident took place. I was told if I didn’t tell him what I had for lunch every day, he would tell on me. For a while, I unwillingly went along with his demands, but sometimes I tried to negotiate and reach a compromise.

He never actually took the food or the lunch money for himself and to this day I don’t know why. Most bullies would. It might have actually helped him grow if he had a bit of nutrition. Looking back, he wasn't the sharpest crayon in the box.

One day when he came along with his usual rubbish, I called his bluff and I replied, “Go ahead. I don’t care.” He did nothing, thankfully, until one day when he stabbed me with a pencil. Whether the two incidents were related or not I can’t remember.

But through the years, I had run-ins with him from time to time. Despite my efforts to try and befriend him, he took every opportunity he had to make things hard for me. I once had an item that wasn’t of much monetary value but of great sentimental value, which I’m sure he stole right out of my bag. He then tormented me for the next few months, telling me that he knew where the thing was, how I could get it and where I should look. As a kid, I was naïve and and allowed myself to be fooled. I ended up crawling in the dirt under a building looking for this thing. He probably had a lot less trouble fitting in tight spaces than I did.

As I got older and progressed through the grades, it seemed as though there were all these smaller kids around me. The sheer number of them—these angry, ankle-biting creatures—grew and grew in number. . .but not in height.

It could very well have been that I was experiencing more growth at that age than they were. Maybe they caught up years later. But then again, I’ve seen some of them on Facebook and the like; not only do they look the same, but they’re still short, and a lot of them overcompensate for it by going to the gym excessively so that they end up looking very comical—like Mark Wahlberg in Pain and Gain. So I don’t know. I guess I can take comfort in knowing that.

Which are you?

See results

Questions & Answers

    © 2010 Anti-Valentine

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      • profile image

        Richard 

        3 months ago

        Great post! Having been both tall AND short I can say that being tall is definitely easier. Anyone looking to grow taller should definitely check out heightify. I grew 3 inches in 9 months with their program. You can check them out at heightify.com I'm 33 by the way so it should work with anyone.

        Keep up the great content!

      • profile image

        yg3gh 

        3 months ago

        Amelia Dimoldenberg

      • profile image

        Bob 

        14 months ago

        I walked into a coffee shop at a marina to grab the keys for the outside bathrooms walked in in a suit after a job interview as I was waiting in the que patiently. Three men around 6ft 2 or more stood huddled together talking. I didn't take any notice but I began to sense one of them chatting and clearly signalling to look at me the other guy wearing glasses and in a suit swung his neck round and just began aggressively staring at me I knew straight away this pricks trying to intimidate me. So I stared right back to prove my point he wouldnt look away and wouldnt didn't blink so clearly a bit if posturing going on pathetic eventually he stopped staring because I continued to stare back. Just thought whar a wasre of time that was came in for a quick 3minutes and ya get thusnshit .I'm 5 ft 8 and would have no issue offering the lanky cunt a scrap outside but I am a normal person and have to continually bite my tongue because its small man syndrome or inhabe a problem .quite frankly am fed up with you insecure lanky pricks having a contest of dominance I am more than happy to fight but you must stand in your groups and chatter like knitting groups. Get over yourself I get this alot everyone knows short people are treated badly by tall people. You are the ones with a Napoleon complex you are not a Viking warrior you just posture and huff and puff There's always knives and guns . Quit the shit u make people miserable and the same sort of guy usually is a narcissist and can't keep a women project your shit at someone else it's pathetic. I am angry and rightfully so. I am Secure with my height I am fed up with attacks and no one ever actually delivering anything other than I big u small I win it doesn't work that way I have seen plenty of short guys knocking out tall guys. I will never understand this societal construct. Good thing I reject it and am quite happy

      • profile image

        FoCoBiking 

        20 months ago

        This is a pretty easy question to answer. Short people are often discounted and treated as irrelevant when it comes to opinions and ideas.

        Taller people are automatically considered the authority regardless of merit or lack thereof. This sort of social construct starts early and foments a lot of anger. There a lot of weak taller people with low self-esteem, but they're height gets them unearned respect and appreciation.

        Short men can take 1 of 2 paths in life. Get angry about their situation and demand respect by getting in people's faces or into positions of authority where they can further demand compliance through power.

        OR

        Be comfortable in their own skin. Learn to command respect by remaining calm, confident and deliberate. Learn to speak deliberately and pause for emphasis. People can't help but listen and show respect regardless of where you are vertically.

        Make eye contact without a smile, but show respect. If dealing with a men, wait for them one-upmanship to quiet down, then speak up deliberately. Do not interrupt. If a woman speaks over you, only speak over her to establish dominance as needed, otherwise let her speak.

        Shorter men can be alpha, respected and dominant. Not having height privilege means they just need to work on themselves a bit more, but they can still get results. Trust me on this.

      • profile image

        21 months ago

        Author is a tall male with short attitude - are you always trying to bring other persons down? Your writing style reveals your nature a lot.

      • profile image

        Johnb 

        2 years ago

        I am not tall, nor short - before getting into my 70s, I was 5'11", but have been measured a good 1=1/2 inch less at my physical. My partner is roughly the same size. I never felt like a tall person, so I don't feel any different now. We have a neighbor who is abvout 5'5" or 5'6", VERY bulked on gym (and we suspect some medicinal "goodies"). He dresses rather flamboyantly, considering he actually wears as little as possible in most cases. He is an architect, which he never lets anyone forget - whether it's his first meeting with them or, like in our case, as his neighbors. He has a tendency to look down on most people and exhibits a dismissive nature when in a conversation - mostly toward taller people. He's also incredibly impressed with himself. When he engages in conversation with others, he has a tendency to listen for a few minutes, then deliver a pronouncement and walk away - "I HAVE SPOKEN, END OF DISCUSSION". We've given up on trying to be friends - much less neighborly. It's too much trouble and not fun dealing with someone who's always making sure he's the only one with an opinion worth expressing. Too bad. What's interesting is that we have never said or done anything that would upset him, but his "small person attitude" is always on display. We've actually discussed selling our home because of some of the things he's said.

      • profile image

        the goat 

        2 years ago

        I'm agressive, tall strong male, but in Context. It's not used a social display or action to make me appear larger like a puff adder. The short man is something I do not enjoy. The short male has the tendency to also think they posess some superior sense of humour, but all they are doing is making fun of peoples flaws to overcompensate. They tend to be sheltered by their mid-height groupies who enjoy the caffeine like rush of the short dude hyper spaz modo energy shifts so if you do choose to crush the shorty, he's backed up and you'll be scorned. But you will not be defeated by any means, as like mentioned the bark has no bite and when you do decide to take action you will be ultimately safe. The funniest is watching a Short man raise his carbon copy Short boy. I'm witnessing that with a neighbour right now, and it's entertaining .

      • profile image

        Desdemona 

        2 years ago

        That's sooo true! Short people are mostly assholes! Both men and women. You were so spot on! I had a short friend who was also extremely passive-aggressive, she spent the whole time putting others down with veiled comments and when comfronted, used to blame shift, saying "How could you ever think I would do this to a friend?" Long story short: she falsely accused me of being a racist to a mixed race friend in common. The person stopped speaking to me. I found out why, eventually.

        When this venemous troll got the job of her dreams, I used my influence... And a few days before her probation time was finished, she was dismissed. Ha. She didn't know I'm a vengeous person (not proud of it), I cannot stand injustice, so she paid the price for her assholeness! Short people are just venemous! At least most of them. Passive-aggressive, insecure people!

      • profile image

        William 

        4 years ago

        There are alot of tall people 6 foot plus who were much skinnier than me and I'm at 5 ft 8 inches. There are big taller people, little tall people, skinny shorter people, and big size shorter people. We all come in different size but we are all of the same in God's eyes

      • profile image

        Jin 

        4 years ago

        Thing is, if you're a small guy you just can't win. I'm 5'8 and most of the time I am laid back but when I do get angry (in the same situation a tall man would get angry) I suddenly have 'small man syndrome'. When a tall man is assertive he's seen as confident and strong, when a small man is assertive, he's seen as insecure and over compensating.

      • profile image

        chialing 

        4 years ago

        short guys are scary and bark like dogs

        if you don't do what they say

        they will keep barking and harbor a grudge

        i met several of them

        i don't know about America

        but if they are 150 cm

        they are terribly scary

        no matter what you do for them

        they just bark at what you don't give

        and they do not love you back

      • profile image

        Cleboone 

        4 years ago

        This article is truth personified. Short people are extremely aggressive, defensive and more likely to pick an altercation than someone of a taller stature. As mentioned, not every short person is Bipolar or have inferior issues but MANY screw up for the few who don't behave barbaric.

        If this article were not truth so many wouldn't have ended up here. Obviously people have experienced these mentally unstable personalities in order to get curious enough and research about it.

        Well written passage, Author. Enough said.

      • profile image

        Markos66 

        5 years ago

        This article is a bit simplistic, cliched and seems to justify looking down on someone because of the cards they've been dealt. One of the other commenters is right to say (paraphrasing) "if you mistreat a group of people, don't be surprised if they eventually lash out in anger". I'm 5'10 myself, which seems to be in the middle of American males. When I encounter taller males picking on short ones, or simply deriding them for their height behind their, I'm really taken aback at how pathetic they are. You have larger men, who already enjoys a size advantage, feeling it necessary to poke fun at another man's genetics he didn't choose. These short men suffer these insults for much of their lives. Many, like most shorter men I know, let it just role of their backs--but can you really be surprised if some of them are a little testy? To be honest, most of the hotheads I know are men taller than average while the majority of relaxed, kinder male friends I've had have been shorter than me. Perhaps they've had to reflect on their situation more than a man who has always been one of the biggest. It's the reverse of what I've been told my whole life about the "napoleon complex". To be sure, there are short men out there who are assholes, but I've found there are more taller men who would fall in this category. The author was nasty in this article and "running" with an assumption just because you think it will make a solid article, even if its morbidly simplistic isn't really the best way to go in discovering truth on this earth. peace

      • profile image

        Johnny 

        5 years ago

        I read some of your article (it was a bit of a TL;DR situation unfortunately :P).

        Anyway, I'm a short (5'6), but laid back guy. I do agree that most short guys are very upset about it and try very hard to over-compensate. I think it's a little ridiculous and unnecessary. But I also may be the exception to the rule of short guys: I've never been directly rejected for being short (no girl ever cited that as a reason not to date me to my face, despite asking out at least hundred of girls, which is an experience that most short guys seems to have had multiple times).

        I also have a 6 figure job in a high ranking position at a young age (26).

        I also hang out with many guys that are 6 feet plus and haven't noticed a major difference in the quantity and quality of girls that we get.

        So I'm not particularly insecure about my height, but I understand why many short guys do.

      • profile image

        Aiyana 

        5 years ago

        Omg this just proves that there are people shallow enough to treat others differently because of height. I am 5ft but i never ever seen it as a problem i just value my life and live to the fullest it's a shame that people still discriminate on height.

        This has been a wake up call for me as i have realised that people just don't the confidence that short people have because i have been short all my life and it hasn't stopped me achieving my goals in life.

        If people think we have a short complex they really don't have any confidence and are not assertive in themselves why do they feel the need to discriminate on height.

      • profile image

        tommy 

        5 years ago

        we have a girl at work who is a terror and suffers with this i just cant absolutely stand her as well as the rest of us at our workplace and im a guy who is an mma practitioner i always try to keep my composure around her but she is always cutting me and everyone down by use of intimidation we really hate this girl she seems to love the hate and attention it just makes me sick to my stomach and really eats at me

      • profile image

        ollyshuteye 

        6 years ago

        The Napoleon Complex is quite interesting due the perceptions that have been created around short people considering Napoleon himself was actually above average in height for his time. People are a product of their surroundings and dogs are pretty much the same. So if you treat a small dog like an alpha male ie you carry it everywhere, you let it sleep in your bed, you let it jump on you...it's going to think you're its bitch and it will continue to act like an aggressive alpha male until you train it properly. You wouldn't do any of that stuff with a big dog so why would you do so with a small dog? If you treat the dog like shit, it's going to get angry at you...one of the differences between people and dogs though is that we can make a conscious decision to change. Although if you're in an unfriendly environment, chances are you're not going to turn out friendly.

      • profile image

        Hubert 

        6 years ago

        I am a short male and laughed at this article it was funny and i totally understand what u mean but sometimes if you keep your eyes pealed you can find some really nice short people. Being short i have learned to be patient and know people aren't used to seeing short statured people therefore don't know how to react. But i always get along with everyone because i can take a joke and don't mind explaining my short stature i actually prefer when people put it out in the open that way its never awkward :) why cry over something that's not your fault for being born with. I learn to live with it and be happy with the life i was giving.

      • Anti-Valentine profile imageAUTHOR

        Anti-Valentine 

        6 years ago from My lair

        Well exactly. That was one of the points I was trying to make. There's more than likely a reason for their behaviour.

      • profile image

        Kevin 

        6 years ago

        Honestly if a short person is angry, most likely they've been bullied by someone in the past. People always call the short person angry and label them with a Napoleon Compex. Never do they think "what made them that way?"

        If someone is bullied because of their height, naturally they're going to get angry over time.

      • profile image

        Shawn 

        6 years ago

        If this article was written but instead of writing short you input a race well it would be a huge reaction. I am small in stature, around 5 feet tall. I have been bullied as a youth, but developed myself as a person to never be an easy target. I am harsh on my enemies, but I don't look for battles. I'm not easily offended, and I certainly can't say this article offends me...it's just an ignorant view of a few isolated incidents... The world can be a tough place for shorter people, only the strong survive.

      • profile image

        Celto 

        6 years ago

        Lol I can't really say I've ever seen this but I'm pretty short as well and I've never been bullied before. That could be because I'm the star athlete in the school and I'm much stronger than most people around me but even then I don't see anyone being bullied over it. I'm almost positive as well that I've never heard someone said oh he's mad because he's short...that's just plain rediculous. It was interesting reading this article but I can't say I agree.

      • Anti-Valentine profile imageAUTHOR

        Anti-Valentine 

        8 years ago from My lair

        Well, these things tend to happen. They get lost in translation - particularly over the WWW!

        But seriously, I was just reassuring you and making it known that my intentions were good - but with a bit of venom that was intended for those in my past, perhaps. Sometimes bias makes an article interesting to read, wouldn't you say?

        I agree with what you say, though: that when small people get aggressive, they really go for it. Look at Joe "Pesky" Pesci in practically any movie he's ever been in, to see what I mean! That's the sort of image I get when I think about it. I've met some people like that too.

      • equealla profile image

        equealla 

        8 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

        I was not at the least offended, and really enjoyed your article a lot. I know exactly what you were trying to relay, because short people that are nasty, are being nasty in high frequency, ultra mode supreme. I have encountered them myself. Then we all, me included, "skinder" about them, to our utmost pleasure!

        I was trying to bring across the fact that you are not offending me in my first remark, but I guess I did not do a good job with it. Perhaps I was too tired then to think properly.

        Still a good article, enjoyable to read from beginning to the end!

      • Anti-Valentine profile imageAUTHOR

        Anti-Valentine 

        8 years ago from My lair

        Of course I didn't mean to offend anyone, especially not you!

        It's just a generalization or a stereotype.

        Not all short people are bad - I'll admit that. Some are okay. I think there are just good and bad people at the end of the day, and it probably doesn't rely a lot on how tall you are. I've likely met some people who were my size or taller than I, who were just as nasty if not more so.

        But you know how it is: it made for an interesting article and I just ran with it.

      • equealla profile image

        equealla 

        8 years ago from Pretoria, South Africa

        I have a lot more patience than length, so I will tolerate this article. lol

        I know what you mean and have encountered some real plain nasty people that is short with kortgat sindroon or klein mannetjie sindroom.

        At the other side of the coin, I am small, and on the schoolbus and in the school, at times, I had been the target for many bullies. Guess I had been nasty, too, when need be to defend myself.

        Fortunately I have learned how to dodge the bullies with grace, and appreciate the others. Some short people cannot do that, and they are even "nasties" towards the rest of us short people as well! I agree they can be very unpleasant people.

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