Echoism Is The Opposite Of Narcissism, But It Can Be Just As Toxic

Of all the people you encounter, those who tend to give you the most headache are narcissists who tend to lack empathy. They make themselves the priority and the rest options. They spoil your moods just to get all the attention to themselves. They enjoy manipulating and abusing people, often shifting the blame in an argument without having a regard for consequences. Obviously, narcissists are a handful to deal with, but are they the most toxic personalities?

Before answering that question, let's take a look at the narcissism spectrum. On the other extreme end of narcissism lies echoism, a cluster of traits that pose the stark opposite of what narcissism embodies. Unlike narcissists, echoists always put other people first — even to the detriment of their own well-being. On the surface, echoism might appear more beneficial for humankind than narcissism just because it favors giving rather than taking. However, echoism can be just as toxic as pathological narcissism. Like narcissists, people suffering from echoism also miss out a lot on life and struggle to unlearn their unwholesome behaviors. Here's what you should know about the causes and signs of echoism and how to cope with it.

What is an echoist?

"An echoist is a person who does not appear to have much desire of their own — only mirroring and reflecting back what the other person, usually a more dominant person, says," as psychologist and "The Leader's Guide to Resilience" author Audrey Tang shared with HuffPost. Echoists are soft-hearted and generous, but they suffer a severe lack of confidence and self-esteem.

Echoism often shows up in people who grew up with narcissistic parents, as they had to learn to suppress their emotions and cater to their parents' whims growing up, Tang points out. For this reason, echoists are often drawn to narcissists, as they have traits that compensate for each other perfectly. Narcissists want the spotlight on themselves, while echoists prefer staying in the shadow. If narcissists only care about themselves, echoists struggle to say no when others come to them for help. Emma Allan (played by Anne Hathaway) in the movie "Bride Wars" is the perfect example of an echoist, while her bestie Olivia "Liv" Lerner (played by Kate Hudson) can totally pass for a narcissist. 

The dread of coming across as narcissistic in any way lies at the core of echoism, according to Craig Malkin, a lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of "Rethinking Narcissism: The Secret to Recognizing and Coping with Narcissists." Their own needs and wants make them feel uncomfortable. Instead of tending to themselves, they want to invest their energy into catering to other people's needs and solving other people's problems.

How can you tell someone is an echoist?

Echoists are inherently more sensitive than the average person, as psychologist and author Craig Malkin explains in an article for Psychology Today. They have strong feelings and worry that expressing their demands may make them come across as burdensome and cause the people they love to leave them. As a result, they frequently put other people's needs ahead of their own to make others feel more at ease.

Albeit self-effacing, echoists are not necessarily passive people by nature. They can be quite proactive in satisfying the needs of others. You can think of an echoist as the type of friend who would always carve out time to be there for you, lending you a shoulder to cry on, and pulling out all the stops to give you what you want. However, they are unwilling to open up about themselves or their own struggles. Over time, their fear of becoming an inconvenience hampers their ability to talk about their personal life. They might even feel upset when people try to do something nice for them.

Echoism is not so much a psychiatric disorder as narcissism can be — it's more of a survival strategy developed from the fear of losing what they love. Echoism equally occurs in both women and men, despite the fact that women, more so than men, are often perceived to be more attuned to the needs and feelings of others.    

Why echoism is toxic

Of narcissism and echoism, which is more toxic? Actually, some experts argue that a minor level of narcissism can be good for you, especially when it helps you draw a healthy boundary in relationships and foster positive feelings about yourself. However, an echoist has the tendency to inflict suffering on themselves

Like narcissists, they also have double standards. They expect themselves to be extra kind to people but feel uneasy when people return the favor. They tend to say yes even when they think no, making themselves look like a pushover.

Echoists also struggle to ask for help when they need it. Because they are self-loathing, they find themselves unworthy of other people's attention and care. This tendency is not only harmful to themselves but also problematic for those who truly care about them. It's not easy to see someone you care about going through a hard time and rejecting your help time and again.

Echoists tend to attract narcissists, as the rule of "opposites attract" dictates. Narcissists love to have their egos stroked, while echoists make it their life purpose to fulfill other people's needs. When a narcissist and an echoist come together, the fate of their relationship is predictable. A narcissist finds the perfect doormat to walk all over, while the echoist resigns to the thought that they do not deserve any better. The echoist's self-esteem eventually plummets from suppressed emotions, making them perpetually stressed and aggressive.

How to stop being an echoist

To unlearn from echoism, work on developing your sense of self and forgiving yourself for past transgressions. In other words, find what is loveable about yourself, meditate on it, and believe in it. If it's too hard for you to find what you value in yourself top-of-mind, write what you can think of on a piece of paper. You can ask friends or family members the top five things they love about you and ask them to be as specific as possible. Maybe they admire your always being early for every appointment, your compassion for the underprivileged, or your ability to put yourself in other people's shoes. If you ask, you'll be surprised to learn how valuable and important you are to those who know you. When you know you have value to others, you'll start valuing yourself. 

At the same time, invest more time on yourself. "Set time aside for yourself and try one or two new things to discover your preferences and interests," says Kerry McAvoy, a psychologist and host of the podcast "Breaking Free from Narcissistic Abuse," in an article for HuffPost. "At first, do this for only small blocks of time, and take it slow. Initially, this will feel scary and very strange." Having hobbies or cultivating specialized knowledge regarding your interests which you can pass on to other people helps you build confidence in addition to relieving stress.

How to survive in a relationship as an echoist

If you are an echoist, learning to share your everyday frustrations is another method to break the echoic cycle, no matter whom you're dating. For instance, you can tell your partner that you are lonely or that you're not happy about something in the relationship. Communication is the backbone of any relationship, and it works two ways. If you don't communicate how you feel, the other person will feel you don't trust them enough. A narcissist will find your lack of resistance as an excuse to continue bullying you. 

On top of that, start setting boundaries, specifying what is acceptable and what is not. It will feel extremely uncomfortable, but you have to do it if you want a lasting relationship. A mature significant other will agree with the established boundaries and keep well within it. If they don't, they're not a keeper.

It's not easy unlearning echoism. It's a fact worth stressing that everyone deserves to feel good about themselves, with or without other people's approval. If someone wants to leave you, tell yourself it's their loss, not yours. There are over 8 billion people in the world, so don't waste your time and energy on the one person who doesn't treasure you. There's nothing wrong with being single as long as you know your value. If you want to find true love, you have to love your true self first.