Procrustean Syndrome: Why Do We Hate Those Who Stand Out?

Sometimes those who feel inferior try to harm the more skilled by humiliating and harassing them.

We are in a very competitive society in which more and more is demanded of each person. Both in the workplace and in other vital aspects, we are asked for excellence, originality, creativity, efficiency and high proactivity. However, on the other hand, tremendous pressure is exerted towards uniformity, often being despised who excels in some talent or ability.  

This means that sometimes those who have the best abilities are not hired or are ignored, harassed and humiliated. It is about the Procrustean syndrome, which I will explain in more detail below.

What is Procrustean syndrome?

The so-called Procrustean syndrome refers to the tendency that some people, companies or even societies have to reject those with characteristics different from their own for fear of being overcome or questioned by them. There is a tendency to try to maintain a constant uniformity in which divergences are frowned upon and / or punished.

In this way , discriminatory attitudes are established and even a certain level of harassment towards the person who stands out and who is considered can threaten one’s position or esteem. Their ideas are ignored or misrepresented, attempts at proactivity and creativity are criticized. If the relationship with said person cannot be avoided, it is intended that the person maintain limits that do not exceed the possibilities of the person who rejects them, pressing so that a certain homogeneity is obtained in the behaviorally manifested capacities. 

Often the contact between both subjects pretends to be correct and not to manifest any type of conflict in a direct way, although the relations tend to deteriorate over time.

Normally it is given to people who may be above, but sometimes people who are considered to have lower capacities than their own are also rejected (in this case they are intended to modify in order to adapt to the person’s vision of the world with this syndrome).

What kind of people manifest it?

In general, Procrustean syndrome occurs in  people with a high level of frustration and little sense of control, having low or labile self-esteem. Sometimes they have suffered harassment and different stressful and traumatic events that have caused them to doubt their own ability, with which people who perceive themselves as superior or with the potential to be so are aversive. 

The opposite case can also occur, a person with an exaggerated self-esteem to almost narcissistic limits who sees that others stand out and are more taken into account than themselves.

Whoever exercises this attitude can carry it out both consciously and unconsciously. While the former would directly try to harm the outstanding person by being threatened, the latter would tend to think that their point of view is correct and that it is others who must adapt to it.

Origin of the name: the Greek myth of Procrustean

In order to understand this syndrome more easily, it may be useful to know the origin of its name, closely linked to the characteristics of the syndrome in question. This origin is found in the Greek myth of Procrustean.

Procrustean, also known as Damastes, is according to Greek mythology one of the sons of the god Poseidon. This being welcomed travelers into his home and gave them great hospitality, with a friendly and willing treatment, proposing to spend the night in his abode.

However, when the guests fell asleep, Procruste would gag them and check if their size differed from that of the iron bed on which he lay them. In the event that the person in question exceeded the size of the bed, Procrustean would cut the items that protruded from it. If, on the other hand, it was shorter and did not occupy it entirely, she would break its bones with a mallet in order to stretch it. In short, she made her visitors always adjust to the measurements of her bed.

This would come to an end with the arrival of Theseus, who would propose to contemplate whether Procrustean himself complied with the measurements of his bed and, after observing that it was larger, he would proceed to apply the same punishment that Procrustean provided to his guests, cutting off his head and killing him.

This myth reflects the pressure for uniformity that is characteristic of the syndrome with the same name, as well as the initially affectionate and welcoming attitude that many people who manifest this syndrome print to their interaction, without apparently there being any type of discomfort or conflict.

Areas in which it is observed

Procrustean syndrome can be seen in practically any setting, and it can have severe effects on the person so much that they could stand out. Some of the areas in which this syndrome is visible are the following.

Academic scope

In the academic field, those who excel are often badly considered, both by some of their colleagues and sometimes even by the teachers themselves. In fact, even in childhood, many  gifted people strive for average grades (we are talking about cases where this is done consciously for this reason and not because learning is considered unstimulating), especially in the case of girls due to issues of gender stereotypes.

On some occasions the Procrustean syndrome has been seen in cases in which different students and professionals have publicly criticized and humiliated others, because they have been able to feel inferior in capacities or see their prestige jeopardized if the other stands out. This can happen even in the teacher-student relationship when the former has  low self-esteem.

An environment is provoked that can generate harassment and limitation of capacities, the attacked subject being unable to reach its maximum potential and causing damage both to the training being exercised and to the subject attacked by the person who manifests Procrustean syndrome. which can be influenced both in the short and long term.

Labor sphere

This is the sector in which the Procrustean syndrome may be more evident, especially in the business sector, as there is great competitiveness in the market and it is possible that other people more prepared or with better abilities are more suitable for the job itself.

In this area, it is going to try that the person who stands out does not do so, undervaluing their contributions or even appropriating them, establishing an excessive level of control over the subject in question and in some cases rumors are spread regarding their person or their work with in order to discredit her. In some cases in which the person who feels threatened has the power to do so, they may not hire or promote the most efficient people but rather others who are more controllable and who may pose a lesser threat.

For the company in question, the Procrustean syndrome represents an obvious damage, as it does not allow the enhancement of the capacities and resources of the company and represents an added difficulty when it comes to expanding and enjoying success. Teamwork is made difficult and a climate of tension clearly detrimental to the health of both the subjects involved and the institution they represent is created.

Personal scope

Procrustean syndrome is not only confined to the professional or academic, but it can also extend to the personal. In these cases, family, friends or partners will be constantly criticized and the failures or discomfort that the person seen as a threat may feel (in this case towards self-esteem when considering that they can be better than the individual himself) will produce a certain level of joy and satisfaction (although it can sometimes be clouded by guilt when done unconsciously).

There may be a tendency to avoid people who consider themselves superior in some characteristics. For example, people with Procrustean syndrome will avoid potential partners more attractive or intelligent than they are. If it is not a close friend, it will tend to isolate it, abandon it or lower its self-esteem so that its abilities are also reduced.

In this case, both the person with Procrustean syndrome and the victim will be affected, causing a toxic relationship if it occurs and causing suffering to both parties.

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