We have all heard of the narcissist. In fact, I have written an article recently on how to identify if you are married to one on this blog.
Throughout my years advising clients I have encountered many cases where the narcissist behaviours of one party have dominated the whole relationship leading to an unhappy and unhealthy marriage.
But what of the people married or in a relationship with a narcissist? It’s time to meet the echoist; not an officially recognised condition but a term that was popularised in the 2016 book Rethinking Narcissism by Craig Malkin and is gaining momentum.
Now, I shall start with the caveat that not all echoists are in relationships with narcissists. That would be too simplistic. However, the two personality types are intrinsically linked.
What is an echoist?
In a nutshell, an echoist is the opposite of a narcissist. Consider the following statements:
Narcissist: Look at what you did wrong? The narcissist copes by blaming everyone else.
Echoist: What did I do wrong? The echoist copes by blaming themselves.
An echoist is someone who puts everyone else’s needs and feelings first and at the expense of their own. People pleasers, they cannot bear praise and hate being the centre of attention. They don’t like to talk about themselves but are great listeners. They blame themselves when things go wrong regardless of where the fault lies.
All in all, a perfect mix for a narcissist who will seek out (consciously or subconsciously) people that verify their importance and allow them to dominate with minimal return required. A narcissist may often arrive on the scene as the rescuer, but this never plays out to be the case.
However, an echoist is not a doormat. Smart, intelligent, kind and warm-hearted people, they are often more emotionally sensitive and aware than others. They are the ones that always pick up on a bad atmosphere in the room or an underlying argument.
Many people root the development of echoist behaviours forming in childhood with a dominating narcissist parent or family member creating a learnt behaviour that they must repress their own feelings to be loved; that they must give everything and accept very little back. Imagine a parent that erupts over the smallest of things and it is never their fault. In the end, you would learn to anticipate the situation and change your behaviour to avoid it.
Echoists and relationships
An echoist can easily get stuck in an unhealthy relationship where they feel unworthy, unlovable and everything is their fault. This can quickly cause anxiety, depression and loss of hope as they struggle with connection and expressing their needs.
They can easily lose their voice, their sense of self. I have seen many clients at the start of the divorce process that try to take up as little space in the world as possible, ask for as little as possible and put themselves at a very long line of other people.
But it can change, and I have seen the results myself.
Before I turn to what can be done I would like to express that if you are in an abusive relationship you must seek help immediately. I have detailed some useful links at the end of the article.
Counselling can certainly help here. An echoist needs to start to understand feelings and feel them – not fear them. Emotions such as anger and resentment are all perfectly normal emotions. By accepting them, you learn to voice them and start to develop more equal relationships where you can say you are not happy and ask for things.
An echoist also needs to learn to question situations and break the default that it is all their fault, or they are too sensitive. Ask yourself what am I getting from this relationship? Why is it making me feel sad or lonely? Healthy relationships create a space for vulnerability.
You can unlearn bad habits with professional support, time and the desire to break the old relationship patterns to get your voice back.
If you are affected by anything in this article the following websites are useful resources: