Echo gazing at Narcissus Source: ECHO AND NARCISSUS, J.W. WATERHOUSE
Here are nine fast facts about the new term that’s helping survivors everywhere.
Recently, I’ve been inundated with requests from journalists to discuss echoism, a term I introduced the public to in my book, Rethinking Narcissism. Articles on the subject are trending and a new book, Echoism, even devotes itself to understanding the topic in depth. Echoism support groups, therapists, and workshops are springing up and demand for information appears to be growing. But what does the word mean?
I’ve compiled my answers to nine of the most frequently asked questions about echoism.
- What is echoism? Echoism is a trait that my colleagues and I havebegun measuring, and like all traits, it exists to a greater or lesser degree in everyone. People who score well above average in echoism qualify as echoists, and their defining characteristic is a fear of seeming narcissistic in any way. Of all the people we measured, echoists were the most “warm-hearted,” but they were also afraid of becoming a burden, felt unsettled by attention, especially praise, and agreed with statements like, “When people ask me my preferences I’m often at a loss.” Where narcissists are addicted to feeling special, echoists are afraid of it. In the myth of Narcissus, Echo, the nymph who eventually falls madly in love with Narcissus, has been cursed to repeat back the last few words she hears. Like their namesake, echoists definitely struggle to have a voice of their own.
- Can echoism exist without narcissism? Regardless of how it begins—and there are many childhood causes—echoism, like any trait, persists regardless of whom people spend their time with. Still, echoists are often drawn to narcissists precisely because they’re so afraid of burdening others or seeming “needy” that to have someone who relishes taking up all the room, as narcissists often do, comes as something of a relief; but it’s a high price to pay for a respite from their anxieties. When narcissists become abusive, echoists sometimes blame themselves for their mistreatment (“I expect too much; I’m being overly sensitive; I shouldn’t have gone back”). No one deserves to be abused, whether they stay in a relationship or not—abuse is 100% the responsibility of the abuser—but echoists can mire themselves in abusive relationships because they feel responsible for their mistreatment.
- Are some people more apt to become extreme echoists? Echoists appear to be born with more emotional sensitivity than most of us—they feel deeply—and when that temperament is exposed to a parent who shames or punishes them for having any needs at all, they’re apt to grow up high in echoism. A client of mine had a narcissistic father who grew enraged whenever people didn’t do exactly what he wanted—a misplaced dish was enough to set him off—and as a result of his lessons (my way or the highway), she wasn’t just afraid to say what she needed or wanted. She didn’t even know what that was. This is typical with extreme echoists—they’re so afraid that expressing their needs will cost them love that they lose touch with their own desires.
- Are echoists just passive people? Echoists aren’t defined by passivity. In the milder range, they can be quite active in ferreting out and pursuing what others need. Think of the friend who loves to be there for you, paying rapt attention to your struggles, but you inevitably leave conversations with little knowledge of their inner life. That’s not a coincidence. Echoists can be terrific listeners, but they’re less comfortable opening up to others (their fear of becoming a burden often blocks their ability to share). We anticipated that more women than men would score high in echoism, if only because women are often socialized to be more attuned to needs and feelings than men are. But that didn’t turn out to be the case; the numbers were about equal for each gender. This data is preliminary though. It may turn out that female echoists outnumber male ones in the end.
- What are the typical problems of extreme echoism? Echoists never or rarely feel special—and they suffer for it. To many people, this might seem surprising. After all, we rail against the idea of a blowhard who sucks all the air out of the room and chases applause—they’re easy to condemn—but it’s as if we just accept it as modesty or independence when people shrink from praise or care-taking. It’s clear from the research that feeling a little special helps people persist in the face of failure, dream big, and maybe even live longer. And the absence of that capacity appears to be just as big of a problem…