If you’ve had a narcissist in your life, then you’ll know they can be relatively easy to spot. They’re the ones with grandiose beliefs about themselves and their abilities, and lack empathy for others. They’re addicted to feeling special, and it’s everyone else’s job to adore them. They woo you and charm you – and then drop you when you’re not mirroring back their wonderfulness. They can’t bear anyone not to think they’re amazing – and it would be intolerable for them if anyone saw through this false self they’ve constructed.
Yes, being around a narcissist can be hard work. But what about the opposite of a narcissist? Someone who shuns the limelight and far prefers staying in the shadows, serving rather than being served? The opposite polarity to narcissism has been described as echoism. But how easy is it to spot an echoist? Probably not easy, if they’re doing their best to avoid the limelight.
Echoism is not a psychiatrically diagnosable disorder, whereas narcissistic personality disorder is included in the psychiatrists’ manual DSM-5. However, echoism has recently become a popular term through psychologist Craig Malkin, who wrote the 2016 book Rethinking Narcissism. The concept of narcissism comes from the Greek myth, where Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection. In the same myth, Echo was a wood nymph deprived of her voice as a punishment and forced to repeat the words of others (echoing them). Echo fell in love with Narcissus, but this wasn’t reciprocated (as is often the case in relationship with a narcissist). Malkin developed the concept of echoism as someone who is voiceless, and only exists to echo others.
Some qualities, traits and behaviours of an echoist…
- A fear of being special, or of standing out in any way (so, the opposite of narcissism). If the narcissist is in the spotlight, then you’re in the shadow, or holding the spotlight so it shines more brightly on the narcissist.
- Focusing on the needs of others rather than fulfilling your own needs. That may involve giving up your own voice so that the person you love can express their thoughts and opinions – and their words become yours too.
- You prioritise your relationships over yourself and will make self-sacrifices in order to maintain those relationships. In short, you lose yourself for others.
- You’re probably more sensitive and empathic than others – perhaps by having to tune into parents’ needs as a child. But you’ve learned that your gift of empathy has to be used to attune to others, rather than for attending to your own self-care.
- You won’t ask for help, as you expect it not to be given. If narcissists are your prime relationships, then you may have trained yourself not to have needs. It would be too distressing to have a need and not have it met than not to have a need at all.
- You were told as a child not to get too big for your boots, and you still take that literally as an adult.
- Hating compliments. It can be excruciating to receive them as you don’t know what to do with them.
- You don’t have opinions on things, and don’t like being asked your preferences.
- You don’t want to be a burden on people. Your core belief is that if you have needs then you may lose the person you’re in relationship with.
- You don’t feel entitled to pleasure, even sexually, and may have difficulty expressing your needs in the bedroom.
- If something goes wrong in a relationship you immediately blame yourself (whereas a narcissist would probably blame you).
Becoming an echoist may have been a coping strategy during a childhood that required you to lose your own voice to survive. One or both of your parents may have required you to be seen and not heard – and this requirement may have become part of your identity growing up. However, if you’re not happy just echoing the words of others, and endorsing other people’s opinions, then therapy may be a route towards finding your voice. Being in a non-toxic relationship where your opinions and thoughts are heard and received may be unusual and uncomfortable for you. But, over time, you may just start to have opinions, thoughts and behaviours of your very own.
If you’d like professional support in coming out of your shell and experiencing finding your voice, then get in touch with us at The Awareness Centre. We have a team of counsellors, psychotherapists and psychologists offering sessions seven days a week from our centres in Clapham and Tooting. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 8673 4545 for an initial discussion and to book your first appointment.