Procrustes Syndrome: Do Well But Don't Do Better Than Me

Procrustes Syndrome: Do Well But Don't Do Better Than Me
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

They’re people who never move forward or let anyone else move forward. Frustrated, with a big head, they’re all over the place.

Maybe a name comes to mind. We should also add that this caricature — all-too-real, unfortunately –has unsurprisingly inspired several book and movie plots.

They are, to say it another way, the classic antagonist in our workplaces, classrooms, and families. And we’re talking about more than just being a “climber.”

Although Procrustes syndrome isn’t in any diagnostic manual and has no medical basis, it does perfectly encapsulate what psychologists know as “elbowing out behavior.” That is, getting rid of the most brilliant people in a hostile way, and cutting out the smartest person out of pure intolerance and ego. Because, for them, there’s nothing worse than to be outdone in any way, no matter how small.

The Myth of Procrustes

Although the myth of Procrustes isn’t very well known, it’s undoubtedly one of the bleakest and most horrible. According to Greek mythology, the character was an innkeeper who ran a tavern in Attica’s highest hills. 

There, he also offered travelers lodging. But, underneath those rafters and friendly roof that brought rest and comfort, hid a grisly secret.

Procustes had a bed where he invited travelers to take a load off. At night, when they were asleep, he would gag and tie them.

If the victim was taller and his feet, hands, or head went over the bed, Procustes proceeded to cut them off. If the person was smaller, he broke their bones in order to make them the right size.

This dark character carried out his grisly actions for years until a very special man came to his inn: Theseus. 

As we already know, this hero gained fame by confronting the Minotaur of the island of Crete, and later on for becoming king of Athens.

They say that when Theseus discovered what this sadist was doing at night, he decided to give Procrustes a taste of his own medicine.

That’s why there’s now a proverb that goes: be careful, when some people find your opinions don’t line up with theirs or they see you’re smarter than them, they’ll put you in Procrustes’s bed.

The Greek myth of Procrustes

How Do People With Procrustes Syndrome Act?

There’s no doubt that no one acts with the same violence as Procustes in our daily lives. But what we do see is the same hidden aggressiveness — in sports, politics, business, etc.

In fact, we all know that people who hold the highest positions in an organization aren’t always the most capable or qualified. 

So when a brilliant, proactive, creative person capable of beating them in more than one way makes an appearance, they use their terrible tricks to defeat them, humiliate them, and put them in the corner where they’re no longer “a threat.”

Characteristics of People With Procrustes Syndrome

  • They’re people who live with constant frustration and a feeling of not having control.
  • Extremely low, or excessively high, self-esteem.
  • They’re very emotionally sensitive. If they see someone doing something well, they’ll take it as a serious offense.
  • Also, they like to “sell us” the idea that they’re very empathetic, a team player. But it’s really just a big ego and rigid, extremely hostile thought. 
  • They’ll monopolize everything. Their competitiveness has one goal: to stand out from everyone else.
  • Fear of change. This is common in traditional business models.
  • They also make irrational judgments. For example, if we do something at work that could benefit the company, they’ll see it as a mistake, a completely useless idea.

A person with Procrustes syndrome uses all their energy to limit other people’s abilities. They’re dream-chokers, hope-killers, psychological manipulators, and masters of hidden aggression.

Last but not least, we should also add that they manipulate people or abuse trust to “p ut an end” to successful people.


giant rabbits holding human puppets

Don’t Let People With Procrustes Syndrome Cage You In

When we’re around difficult people around us, the best thing is almost always to “first learn to understand them and later to manage them.”

When it comes to the worst cases of Procrustes syndrome, the best thing to do is to distance yourself. Remember that talent doesn’t get along well with threats or rigid and damaging power.

“Elbowing out behavior” goes far beyond simple competition. When it turns into an attack, when your boss or brother does everything to humiliate and beat you, close that door.

Then we recommend taking a step to look for spaces and people who let you spread your wings.

Despite the Procrustes in your life, don’t ever let them break your spirit. We were all born to stand out in some way. Let’s embrace it and find a place where it can bloom.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.