What Is Echoism & How Can It Affect Your Relationships?

Once upon a time, as any great story should start, there was a mountain nymph named Echo. According to Greek mythology, Echo angered Hera, Zeus's wife, by obeying his orders to keep his dalliances with fellow nymphs a secret. When Hera found out, she was less than thrilled, so she condemned Echo to only being able to speak the last words spoken to her. Echo made the horrific mistake of falling in love with Narcissus, but because she could only speak the last words she heard, he fell in love with his reflection instead of her. Narcissus, of course, died from loving himself, and Echo, too, eventually died — or rather was killed by Pan because Greek mythology tends to be pretty dark. However, Echo's echo remained forever, via Theoi.

Echo's cursed life to be agreeable against her will, unlike her beloved Narcissus, is the psychology behind echoism and being an echoist. An echoist is that person who, when you ask what they want to do, is going to respond with, "Whatever you want to do." While it might seem that always going with the flow, so to speak, might be a good thing, it can actually be quite problematic.

"Echoism is characterized by a pattern of passivity in relationships," licensed psychologist Dr. Nathan Brandon told PsychCentral. "People who exhibit echoism have difficulty asserting themselves and are prone to people-pleasing." In other words, echoism can be aptly described as the opposite of narcissism, but its impact on relationships can be equally detrimental in its own way.

How echoism affects relationships

At first, an echoist can look like they're easygoing. Whatever someone suggests, they're into (even if they're really not) and they never complain or make it about them. Echoism is, at its core, about diverting the attention away from oneself and onto someone else, whether that means letting another person decide what movie to watch, what to eat, where to go, or even what to think. It takes selflessness to a whole other level.

"An echoist is a person who struggles to express themselves, receive praise or attention, struggles with emotional individuation, where they can decipher their likes and dislikes, and struggles to feel they are worthy of setting boundaries or having an opinion at the risk of offending others," therapist Amelia Kelley, Ph.D., LCMHC told Well + Good.

When no risk is taken, especially in a relationship, it opens the door to being taken advantage of, codependency, conflict avoidance, and loneliness. All of which stem from a fear of rocking the boat or, in some cases, being seen as a narcissist. It's the perfect recipe for a toxic relationship where one partner has the upper hand and the other, the echoist, becomes more and more invisible until they're ripped apart like Echo. However, in this case, the ripping apart is emotionally speaking.

What you can do about it

While we've all heard that people can't change, that's not completely true. People who want to change and put in the effort to do so can make strides in recognizing their self-worth. After all, narcissism in small doses can be a good thing for everyone.

"At the heart of healthy narcissism is the capacity to love and be loved on a grand scale," clinical psychologist and expert on narcissism Craig Malkin, Ph.D. told MindBodyGreen. "People who live in the center of the spectrum don't always take to the stage, but when they do, they often lift others up with them. People who live in the center know when their grandiosity is getting the better of them. They know when they're getting too caught up in themselves." Because echoists are aware of this, as Malkin points out, they can monitor their behavior so as to avoid acting in their most feared way: narcissistically.

Asserting your needs, voicing your opinions, asking for help when needed, and setting boundaries are important. These things aren't just essential in relationships, but paramount to life. If you're suffering from echoism, the first thing to do is ask yourself what you need — and don't turn to others for the answers. Then ask yourself what makes you awesome and unique, what things you bring to the table as a whole human being with personality and thoughts. It won't be easy to realize all you are and all you're capable of, but if you practice acknowledging your self-worth, you'll eventually start to shed your echoist ways — and your relationships will be better for it.