This month, I received my Psychology Today magazine in my mailbox. In this issue, there was an article called "Listening to Echoism". I knew I wanted to write a blog on it as soon as I read it. The term was developed by a psychologist named Craig Malkin and he's been researching this idea for over 5 years now. While I don't want to re-hash what he's already written and said on the subject (click here to read a great article on it), I do want to go over the basic idea of what it is and how it can affect your romantic relationship.
Echoism is essentially the opposite of narcissism. While narcissists crave attention, echoists hate it. While narcissists find it difficult to empathize with others, echoists are good at it to a fault. Before you immediately think that you're an echoist just because you feel uncomfortable with compliments and you're empathic, let's look at a couple other traits here. There is a difference between life circumstances that make it hard for you to focus on your own self-care (such as being a parent or caring for aging parents) and not knowing who you are if you aren't taking care of another person or attending to their needs first. There's a difference between someone who is co-dependent (someone who is overly focused on their partner's needs and behavior, typically due to an addiction or illness) and someone who is overly focused on taking care of their partner when their partner is perfectly capable of taking care of themselves without their help. Echoists rarely, if ever, say what they would like, preferring to have others make decisions instead. Echoists are deeply afraid of being a burden on others and its this fear that leads them to reject others' efforts to take care of them in any way. Echoists struggle to think about their positive qualities, firmly believing that they are not special or different in any unique way. Echoists get their name for a specific reason - they "echo" the behavior of those around them, lest they rock the boat or draw attention to themselves.
Echoism has been talked about in conjunction with narcissism because they are opposites. We know what's said about relationships (whether it's true or not): "opposites attract." This leads to the argument that echoists and narcissists may often find themselves in relationship with one another; it makes perfect sense. But whether you're in a relationship with a narcissist (hopefully not) or someone with a healthy sense of identity and self-esteem, echoism can impact your relationship in a number of ways. I'm going to talk about a couple of them here and what you can try to change the pattern.
1. Your partner feels like they don't know you anymore.
One of the common traits of echoists is that they do not like to talk about themselves - that feels like having a spotlight on them. It's not that they're shy; they just don't want to come across as selfish or rude if they talk about themselves. This can lead to frustration with a non-narcissistic partner who is genuinely invested in wanting to know how the echoist's day was or where they want to go for their date night tomorrow. Over time if they are consistently given short answers ("My day was fine") or ambivalent responses about preferences ("Whatever you want to do is fine with me"), the echoist's partner may actually wind up feeling more burdened by being the primary decision-maker or the one who shares more to keep conversations going. Their partner may also feel at a loss for who the echoist is over time. If the echoist isn't speaking up about what they would like, their partner won't be able to read their mind.
Try this: This may be hard at first. Ask your partner to give you "this or that" choices when it comes to making decisions with the agreement with them that you will make a choice between the two options. Saying "either one is fine" is not allowed (even if you are okay with both!). For example, ask your partner to phrase questions differently to make it easier for you to answer. Instead of saying, "Where do you want to go to dinner?", ask them to say, "Would you like to go to Red Robin or Olive Garden?" This narrows down your options and will help you get practice on stating your preferences.
2. Your partner struggles to help you feel better.
An echoist blames themselves constantly, thinking that they're too needy or a burden. When you have a healthy partner, they likely give you compliments sometimes and want you to take care of yourself. An echoist finds this extremely challenging to do because when they hear a compliment or take time for themselves, they feel shame and guilt about it. In most relationships, where each partner can help the other feel better, an echoist may actually become upset at their partner's efforts to alleviate their stress, thinking that they don't deserve it. This can lead to the partner giving up on trying to help the echoist and withdrawing instead.
Try this: This must be done in baby steps and involves more internal work for you, echoist. Start to really closely monitor what you tell yourself when your partner says or does something nice for you. When you come home and they've bought you flowers, what do you think? When they say "you look nice today", what goes through your head? Write these thoughts down, unfiltered, so you can start seeing what that "shaming" voice inside your head is saying. After you've written down your thoughts on what your partner said or did, ask your partner what their reason was (with an open mind) for doing or saying what they did. They may say things like, "I know you've worked over-time this week so I thought buying you flowers would be a nice thing to come home to" or "That dress is really flattering on you, it shows off your legs." Your job, echoist, is to not argue back. Take in the information that they're telling you and write it down in another column next to what you were telling yourself. After doing this for 1-2 weeks, notice if your thinking is starting to budge. The reality is that we all have room to grow AND we're also doing the best we can. We all have flaws AND we all have strengths. You may have moments of thinking you don't deserve something AND other people in your life may think you do. Work on changing your thinking so that you're able to hold space for both the things that you say about yourself AND the things others say about you as well.