Do you frequently find yourself feeling unhappy or uncomfortable because people push past your boundaries? For instance, this could look like telling your boss that you can no longer work after 5:00 p.m., yet when he texts you about work at night, you fail to speak up and are therefore left with anxiety and dread every time your phone rings. While being someone who’s agreeable and “goes with the flow” can be a good thing in some situations, it puts you at risk for being taken advantage of, especially by manipulative people. If this all sounds familiar, you might be an “echoist,” or the opposite of a narcissist.
Because echoists struggle to have a voice of their own, they tend to fall into relationships with narcissistic people. If you’ve ever encountered a narcissist, you know they’re difficult to deal with due to being highly self-absorbed, defensive, and arrogant. However, being the opposite of a narcissist, an echoist, also comes with its own challenges like a lack of boundaries and self-esteem.
While we should all strive to be humble and empathetic, being overly sensitive, excessively selfless, and self-sacrificing (all echoist traits) can lead to problems such as getting stuck in toxic relationships and experiencing poor mental health.
In this article, learn how echoists can balance being focused on the needs and feelings of others while simultaneously advocating for and taking care of themselves.
- The concept of an echoist, the direct opposite of a narcissist, originated in Greek Mythology and was then elaborated on by researchers including psychologist Craig Malkin.
- Being an echoist is the opposite of being a narcissist because it’s associated with traits including being selfless, empathetic, caring, and compassionate.
- Dr. Craig Malkin describes this type of person as “someone who is voiceless, and only exists to echo others.”
- Echoists have many admirable qualities, but they can also run into trouble in relationships and at work because they struggle to assert themselves.
- While narcissists have an inflated sense of self-importance, echoists often have low self-esteem and a strong focus on the needs of others, sometimes to their detriment.
What Is Echoism (the Opposite of Narcissism)?
A narcissist is a person who has a strong sense of entitlement, a need for admiration and attention, and a lack of empathy for others. Narcissists are often preoccupied with fantasies of power, success, and attractiveness, and they tend to believe that they are superior to others. Additionally, they manipulate and put down others, are emotionally abusive, and exaggerate their achievements and talents to gain admiration. Due to their selfishness, narcissists often lack the ability to form deep and meaningful relationships.
A relatively new concept that describes the opposite of narcissism is “echoism,” which was coined by clinical psychologist Craig Malkin.
Echoism refers to a personality type that’s characterized by a strong desire to remain invisible, to avoid drawing attention to oneself, and to be self-sacrificing. Dr. Craig Malkin first introduced echoism and explained why it’s the direct opposite of narcissism in his 2016 book Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists. In this video, Malkin explains, “If you think of narcissists as people who are addicted to feeling special, you can think of echoists as people who are afraid of being treated as if they are special.”
According to Donna Savery, author of the book Echoism: The Silenced Response to Narcissism, the term echoism draws upon two Greek mythology characters named Narcissus and Echo. Narcissus was highly self-absorbed and captivated by his own image, while Echo, a nymph, was doomed to love Narcissus. As punishment for errors she had made, Echo has her voice stripped, leaving her incapable of speaking up for herself and standing up to Narcissus. Instead, echo becomes codependent and reliant on Narcissus for her very existence.
The main sign that someone is an echoist is that they put the needs of others before their own and “echo” other people’s opinions without having many unique ones themselves.
Echoists struggle with asserting their own desires and feel uncomfortable receiving compliments or praise. They also have a tendency to become overly enmeshed in the lives and emotions of others (in other words, they’re “codependent”), taking on other people’s problems and neglecting their own needs in the process.
How Echoists Differ From Narcissists
“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.”Craig Malkin, Ph.D.
Unlike narcissism and narcissist personality disorder (NPD), echoism is not an officially recognized psychological disorder (it doesn’t appear in the DSM-5, a psychological manual). Rather, it’s a term used to describe a specific set of personality traits and behaviors.
According to Dr. Malkin, there’s an inverse correlation between narcissism and echoism, meaning when narcissistic traits go up, echoist traits go down, and vice versa. This is why the two are considered to be complete opposites.
The main ways in which echoists and narcissists differ are as follows:
- Self-esteem: Echoists often have low self-esteem and struggle with feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness, while narcissists think very highly of themselves. Because echoists have a hard time standing up for themselves and setting boundaries, they usually feel more comfortable in relationships where they are able to take on a more submissive or supportive role.
- Empathy: Highly empathic, echoist people are considered to be the opposite of narcissists because they have a strong ability to feel and understand the emotions of others, while narcissists lack empathy and are self-centered. Echoists have a higher degree of emotional intelligence which allows them to be better in tune with the feelings of those around them, fostering greater kindness. In contrast, narcissists tend to be more focused on their own needs at the expense of others.
- Praise from others: Echoists shy away from recognition, while narcissists expect everyone to bow down to them. Narcissists will often manipulate and exploit those around them to serve their own purposes and boost their image.
- Confrontation: Echoists avoid conflict and speaking up, while narcists are defensive, talk down to others, and can easily become enraged when people disagree with them.
Narcissists in the workplace can take a toll on a team’s collaboration and a company’s culture by doing things like taking credit for other people’s work, talking down to people, and gossiping to gain power. On the other hand, echoists might fail to advocate for themselves, not be proactive enough about seeking feedback, or struggle to offer constructive criticism when necessary. Although opposites, both of these personalities can detail a team’s efforts and interfere with communication and building trust.
Top 5 Signs Someone Is an Echoist
“While the narcissist craves the limelight and attention, the echoist finds praise extremely painful and fears being seen as special because they worry about being a burden to others.”Kerry Mcavoy, Ph.D.
According to psychologist Craig Malkin, the main signs of being an “echoist” include:
1. Lack of Self-Confidence
Echoists often lack self-confidence and may struggle with feelings of low self-worth. This increases the likelihood of them perceiving rejection or disapproval from others, which can create a cycle of continuously seeking out validation and approval to compensate for low self-worth.
2. Avoiding Attention but Needing Approval
Echoists tend to avoid being the center of attention and may feel uncomfortable when they receive praise or recognition. However, they also lack self-esteem so they need validation from others, as they can’t give it to themselves.
3. Difficulty Asserting Oneself
Considered to be “voiceless,” echoists take on the ideas of others. Malkin says, “They live their lives by the motto, ‘the less room I take up the better.’” Echoists struggle with standing up for themselves and expressing their opinions and needs. When they do state their opinions, especially if it leads to conflict or disagreements, they usually feel guilty or selfish. They may apologize when they don’t need to or haven’t done anything wrong to avoid being criticized and win the approval of others.
4. Overly Focused on Others
When an echoist prioritizes other people’s needs and feelings above their own, they can fall into the habit of being codependent, meaning they lack healthy boundaries. People who are codependent are overly dependent on others for validation and purpose, setting the stage for them being taken advantage of or feeling used and let down.
5. Feeling Drained or Overwhelmed
Because echoists struggle to take care of their own needs and well-being, they’re commonly left feeling drained or overwhelmed by the demands of others. They can also have difficulty receiving support and may feel uncomfortable when others try to support them, further leading to a cycle of self-neglect.
Echoists in the Workplace
How might echoists act in the workplace? Due to echoists having deep-seated fears of being seen as selfish, overly ambitious, or attention-seeking, they tend to avoid the spotlight and may struggle to assert themselves in competitive environments.
In the workplace, an echoist may have difficulty:
- Advocating for themselves
- Stating their opinions and needs
- Going against the crowd
- Speaking up in meetings
- Asking for help when they need it
- Accepting feedback effectively without being overly sensitive
- Setting boundaries with colleagues or supervisors
- Offering feedback or constructive criticism
- Dealing with conflict, including when they are being unfairly treated or disrespected
Overall, an echoist may struggle to succeed in assertive and social work environments but may excel in settings where collaboration and cooperation are valued over individual achievement.
Unique Challenges That Echoists Face
As a result of having poor boundaries and low self-esteem, echoists are particularly vulnerable to being abused by narcissists, as well as others with selfish traits. For example, echoists can be taken advantage of by dark empaths (those who exploit others using empathy) and Machiavellians (those who are cunning, manipulative, and willing to use any means necessary to achieve their goals).
Here are some challenges that echoists may face according to experts:
- Self-neglect: Prioritizing other people’s needs and feelings above their own can make echoists overlook their own needs, resulting in feelings of resentment, exhaustion, and burnout. According to Dr. Beth Dunlap, medical director at Northern Illinois Recovery Center, being in relationships with narcissistic or toxic people makes echoists prone to dealing with high levels of stress, which can cause various ailments, such as digestive and cardiovascular issues. In the workplace, echoists are prone to burnout and anxiety and may become workaholics if they have demanding bosses or clients because they fail to advocate for themselves.
- Resentment and anger: Feeling invisible or unheard makes some echoists become angry, although they usually hold their feelings inside. Unspoken resentment can worsen stress and ultimately damage relationships.
- Poor relationships: Communication and self-expression are important components of successful relationships. However, echoists struggle with both, leading to misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
- Social anxiety: Because echoists feel uncomfortable with attention and sharing their opinions authentically, they tend to shy away from social situations. They can have a hard time meeting new people and getting outside of their comfort zone, sometimes leading to social anxiety and feelings of isolation.
How to Thrive as an Echoist
It’s important for an echoist to recognize their tendencies and work to develop assertiveness and self-advocacy skills to develop healthy relationships and succeed in their careers. If you think that you yourself may be an echoist, or you know someone who has echoist traits and as a result is struggling with their mental health, here are some tips that can help:
- Meet with a therapist/mental health professional: Therapists can help people understand their own personalities to better cope with life. While some highly-sensitive people may exhibit echoistic tendencies, it’s possible that these traits are actually due to related issues including low self-esteem, fear of rejection, and anxiety. A mental health professional can support any underlying issues contributing to dysfunctional echoist traits.
- Practice self-care: Echoists often neglect their own needs, so it’s essential to prioritize self-care. This can include things like taking breaks when feeling stressed, engaging in activities you enjoy that build confidence, and being willing to try new things that play into your strengths.
- Learn to say “no” and set boundaries: Saying “no” to others is hard for echoists, even when it’s not in their best interest. Learning to set boundaries, respectfully disagree, and protect your time and energy is essential if you’re highly sensitive and empathic because it helps prevent burnout.
- Practice assertiveness: Whether at work or in personal relationships, practicing assertiveness techniques can help you communicate your needs effectively while still being considerate of others. Learning about communication skills and conflict resolution are both beneficial in these instances.
- Build a support network: Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family members can help you feel validated and encouraged to prioritize your own needs. Keep in mind that changing any engrained personality traits and finding balance as an echoist is a process that takes time and effort. However, it’s worth it for your well-being and overall quality of life.
Want to learn about asserting yourself in the workplace and elsewhere? Check out this article: When Is Assertive Communication Effective?
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- The Independent. (2018). Empaths and narcissists are attracted to each other, says science. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/love-sex/empath-narcissist-attracted-like-each-other-opposites-attract-love-sex-relationships-a8176551.html
- TEDx Talks. (2017, May 18). The Power of Vulnerability | Brené Brown [Video file]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHFqthA7EUA
- Echoism: Silenced Response to Narcissism. https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/36875923
- The Awareness Centre. Echoist. https://theawarenesscentre.com/echoist/
- The Recovery Village. What Is the Opposite of Narcissistic Personality Disorder? https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/mental-health/narcissistic-personality-disorder/what-is-the-opposite-of-npd/
- Northern Illinois Recovery Center. Echoism Explained: The Opposite of a Narcissist. https://www.northernillinoisrecovery.com/echoism-explained-the-opposite-of-a-narcissist/
- Laguna Shores Recovery. Dangers of Toxic Relationships and Mental Health. https://lagunashoresrecovery.com/dangers-of-toxic-relationships-and-mental-health/