Napoleon Complex

Napoleon Complex – How to deal with it?

What is a Napoleon Complex?  

The Napoleon Complex – also known as short man syndrome is a form of inferiority complex, normally attributed to people of short stature. Individuals with this complex are excessively hostile and have overly aggressive or domineering social behavior as a means to compensate for their short height.

Simply put, men with the Napoleon complex often boast their over-aggressiveness via hostility or violence to prove that they are in no way ‘lesser’ than a taller man.


The Napoleon complex (a.k.a Napoleonic complex) – as stated above is often characterized by aggressive and violent behavior that stems from feelings of inferiority. In addition, such individuals can also exhibit other behavioral patterns apart from violence or aggression.

On taking a deeper look, you can find that men with the Napoleonic complex possess much lower self-esteem when compared to other average men. As a means to combat the lack of self-esteem, such people generally try to pursue highly ambitious goals. While some people may wear shoes with higher heels, others might fix wall hangings in their rooms a little lower than the average size. All of this is a coping mechanism – aimed to give them a sense of being tall enough like an average person.

This psychological complex is often associated with the name of Alfred Adler, a former associate of Sigmund Freud and the key founder of Individual Psychology. It can be viewed as a particular implication of Adlerian Psychology.

Why is it called Napoleon Complex?  

Now that we know what is a Napoleon complex, it is imperative that we know why it is called so in the first place. To begin with, Napoleon Complex was named after the first French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte whose military and amorous conquests have been attributed to the desire to compensate for his small size.

As to the common people, Napoleon compensated for his short height by seeking power, war, and conquest. Although Napoleon’s height was 5 feet 10 inches – a few inches higher than the average adult male’s height of his time, the British fostered this rumor to demean him in newspapers and print. The British newspapers even mocked him by referring to him as a short-tempered small man.

Napoelon Bonaparte
Napoleon Bonaparte

As per other historians, Napoleon Bonaparte was actually 5 feet 7 inches tall since his height was measured by the British on an island, years after the metric system was adopted by the French. Although this was the average height of males, it was not enough for a leader since the French had a certain limit of height to be considered the true height for an emperor or a leader.

Also read: Electra complex

Napoleon syndrome symptoms

Here’s a look at the common symptoms and characteristics exhibited by individuals suffering from the Napoleon complex:

  • Men with the Napoleonic complex may be overly aggressive and exhibit unduly dominating behaviors in social settings. Besides that, such men find it difficult to occasional defeats.
  • Individuals with the syndrome might go beyond any limits to get the things that they want, even if it is morally or ethically wrong. Such people may even commit crimes to win or to possess what they desire.
  • They concentrate more on other people’s work rather than their own. Consequently, such individuals indulge themselves so much in others’ works, that they completely forget or overlook their own.
  • Besides their aggressive nature, such people always keep an eye on their competitors since they do not want to be lower than anyone. They believe that success is defined by the fact that they are better than anyone they know.
  • The Napoleon syndrome is especially harmful since men with this complex feel happy when others fail around them. On the contrary, they become sad when others succeed in achieving something.
  • Many a time, Napoleon’s complex in relationships brings upon a lot of unprecedented harm since men suffering from this complex view the people around them as their opponents – be it their family, friends, or relatives and constantly try to do better than everyone they know.

Effects of this complex

The Napoleonic Complex leads to the prediction that short men will be more likely to respond with aggression when their status is challenged, as compared to tall men. They may boast about things to prove to other people that they are successful enough like the rest of them.

Speaking of the Napoleon complex in relationships, such individuals may even overcompensate for their short stature by being excessively hostile, belligerent, or quarrelsome with the other person, thereby making the relationship dysfunctional.

One of the biggest effects of the Napoleonic complex was the spread of nationalism – one of the reasons for World War I. As Napoleon expanded the French Empire, he took over many countries, leading them to find an overpowering sense of nationalism.

Also read: Don Juanism

What are the emotions related to the Napoleonic syndrome?  

For an individual suffering from the Napoleon complex, it is quite natural to have the below-mentioned emotional feelings:

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Defensiveness
  • Resentment
  • Envy
  • Hopelessness
  • Helplessness

Is the Napoleon Complex Real?  

Several studies show that the Napoleon Complex or the short man syndrome is real and exists in shorter men. To make up for their shorter height and the fear of being perceived as weak by other tall people, shorter people act aggressively in several situations.

Short man syndrome really does exist, Oxford University finds. Feeling smaller makes people feel paranoid, mistrustful, and more likely to think that people are staring or talking about them, a study by Oxford finds.

The Telegraph

How to find out if you have a Napoleon complex?

There is no certain way to find out if a person is suffering from the syndrome without going to therapists or psychiatrists. However, one can look for the symptoms of this syndrome in himself. Still, it is highly recommended that you consult a professional before drawing conclusions since false conclusions can highly affect your mental health.

The most important thing to remember is that this is not a disease but merely a social construct. Height, weight, or other physical aspects of a person are purely genetic and he or she doesn’t have a role in it. Hence, instead of attributing the physical differences to their self-esteem, one should strive towards achieving things that matter to the world and make society a better place.

Napoleon Complex examples  

While in real life it is quite difficult (and highly bigoted) to point out the Napoleon Complex in someone, there are several movies that serve as Napoleon Complex examples. The name of the movie and the character with the short man syndrome is mentioned below:

  • Twins – Vincent Benedict
  • Casino – Nicky Santoro
  • Trainspotting – Begbie
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Dolores Umbridge
  • Night at the Museum – Gus
  • Of Mice and Men – Curley

Frequently asked questions

1) How to deal with someone with a Napoleon Complex?

Here are some simple ways to deal with someone with the Napoleon Complex:

  • Try lifting the self-esteem of the person who is suffering from this syndrome. Working on hurtful memories and dealing with them will certainly help.
  • Replacing unhappy memories with happy ones can help in building the self-esteem of a person.
  • Taking pride in being oneself and loving someone for who they are will eventually help the person grow a stronger self-confidence.
  • It’s highly important to make the person believe that being tall or short does not define one’s personality or strength of character.
  • Social acceptance and moral support is the key to winning all mental battles. This complex is no different.  

2) What is a Napoleon Complex who is an example of this?

The Napoleon Complex is a form of inferiority complex, normally attributed to people of short stature. Individuals with this psychological complex are excessively hostile and have overly aggressive or domineering social behavior as a means to compensate for their short height.

Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix can be taken as an example of the Napoleon complex.

3) What does it mean when someone says you have a Napoleon Complex?

If someone says you have a Napoleon complex, this might mean that they think you exhibit aggression or violent behavior to compensate for your short stature. While Napoleon complex is normally attributed to men with shorter heights, this might often be said to you in a joking way as well.

4) What is the opposite of Napoleon syndrome?

Reverse Napoleon effect – the opposite of Napoleon syndrome states that tall people perceive a brand as more powerful when they look up, instead of looking down.

Anupam Kundu
A professional blogger and an IT freak. The atypical combo of a Civil Service aspirant and a Tech enthusiast.