Young Adult Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment Centers

Echoism: 12 Signs You Might Be an Echoist

Reading Time: 8 minutes

While some people draw attention to themselves the moment they enter a room, others shrink from the limelight. Echoists fall into the latter group. They’ll go to the ends of the earth to ensure that all eyes and ears aren’t on them.

If you’re overly modest, agreeable, and suppress your own needs to seek love and approval, you could be an echoist. On the surface, it seems like you’re just being a nice person. But your echoism could be jeopardizing relationships and your overall well-being.

Key Takeaways

  • Echoism is a personality trait characterized by fear of attention and suppressing your own voice (your needs and desires) to obtain love and approval.
  • Most people who exhibit echoism grew up with a narcissistic parent who was incapable of soothing or supporting them.
  • Echoists shun praise and the spotlight, choosing to echo what the narcissists in their lives want to hear.
  • Echoists tend to have poor mental health and unsatisfying relationships because they don’t speak up and consistently give more than they receive.

What Is Echoism?

Echoism is a trait exhibited by people adept at echoing the feelings and needs of others—often at their own expense. Some experts view echoism as the opposite of narcissism, which is more prevalent in younger people. According to psychologist Craig Malkin, author of Rethinking Narcissism, narcissists are addicted to feeling special, whereas echoists fear attention, even if it’s positive.

In the field of psychology, the term “echoism” is relatively new. While it’s not a diagnosable condition like narcissistic personality disorder, it is a measurable trait. Echoists struggle to claim their own voice. They don’t want to appear needy and seem content supporting others. While many people may have characteristics of this personality type, echoists have them in the extreme.

Echoists and narcissists get their names from ancient Greek mythology. Narcissus was the hunter cursed to fall in love with his own image. Echo was the once-talkative nymph condemned to repeat the last words anyone uttered to her. When she fell in love with Narcissus, all she could do was echo the hunter’s declarations of self-love. In losing her own voice, she also lost her sense of self. Narcissus ultimately rejected her, causing her life force to diminish until she passed away.


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Causes of Echoism

Echoism often develops in childhood. It’s most often a survival strategy for children raised by a narcissistic parent who doesn’t attend to their needs. Narcissistic parents are usually self-absorbed. They lack empathy and have an inflated sense of their own importance. Growing up, children of narcissistic parents realize that when they’re frightened, sad, confused, or lonely, their parent can’t soothe or support them. As they grow, they suppress their own needs, hoping they’ll be loved simply because they require so little. 

In this sense, echoism develops out of trauma. The self-effacing traits echoists possess are a reaction to having been rejected in childhood. Because their primary caregivers couldn’t comfort them, they internalized the message that to be needy is to be a burden. 

Some people, however, develop echoistic traits because they have a parent or primary caregiver who models echoism for them. “You’d better not get a big head!” their parent might exclaim. Directly or indirectly, the parent may communicate that pursuing big dreams or wanting any kind of special attention is arrogant and self-centered. By criticizing their children for taking pride in their accomplishments, the parent promotes the development of echoism.

How Can You Tell If You’re an Echoist?

Even though echoism isn’t diagnosable, that doesn’t mean it’s without telltale signs. Some of the most recognizable are:

  1. People-pleasing behavior
  2. Poor boundaries
  3. Low self-esteem
  4. Great listener, but share little about themselves 
  5. Fear of praise or appearing narcissistic to any degree
  6. Highly empathetic and overly sensitive to people’s moods 
  7. Overserving others while underserving themselves
  8. Prone to self-blame and self-criticism
  9. Repeated relationships with narcissists
  10. Echoing what narcissists want to hear (“You’re so talented, intelligent, funny,” etc.)
  11. Never asking for help
  12. Going along to get along

What’s the Difference Between Echoism and … ?

… Narcissism

While narcissists crave attention and admiration, echoists go out of their way to avoid it. They struggle to accept compliments, gifts, or help, even when it’s needed. Some experts believe echoism is the opposite of narcissism. Ironically, they suggest, by obsessing over how not to appear narcissistic, the echoist is also self-absorbed. 

Other experts, like psychologist Craig Malkin, believe that echoism exists on a spectrum, with narcissism on one end and echoism on the other. Malkin views echoism as a phenomenon that exists as part of what he calls the “echoistic narcissistic complex” (ENC). Whenever you find echoism, he says, narcissism is in close proximity.

… Empathism 

As the name suggests, people high in empathism are tuned into people’s feelings. Emotionally intelligent and compassionate, they feel others’ feelings as if they’re their own. Like echoists, empaths are emotional sponges and excellent listeners. Both empaths and echoists can lack boundaries and struggle to stand up for themselves. 

Where they differ is that echoists reject attention, fear praise, and lack their own voice. They often possess less self-worth, as well. Because of this, people with echoism likely experience more challenges in relationships and in life in general.

… Introversion

On the surface, introversion and echoism can look similar, because introverts and echoists tend to be quiet and reserved. Neither likes crowded places or large social gatherings. However, they avoid them for different reasons. 

Unlike introverts, echoists don’t get recharged by alone time. On the contrary, echoists spend time alone because they fear reaching out to others, not wanting to appear burdensome. Introverts often have an easier time holding boundaries, expressing opinions, and depending on others. The bottom line is that introversion doesn’t stem from trauma, while echoism does.

… Codependence

Echoism is sometimes confused with codependency disorder because both involve the suppression of one’s own desires and needs. Both codependents and echoists can be hyper-focused on others and enable a partner suffering from substance abuse or a process addiction. But they’re not the same.

Like codependents, echoists can be people-pleasing, but echoists don’t attempt to guide, manipulate, or control another’s actions the way codependents do. As well, codependents reduce stress by people-pleasing, whereas echoists define themselves by people-pleasing. Both echoists and codependents can be self-sacrificing, but codependents want attention for their sacrifices.

How Echoism Impacts Mental Health

Echoistic tendencies like being modest and self-effacing don’t seem like they’d be harmful to your mental health. But classic echoism definitely reduces well-being. Echoists struggle to accept praise or positive attention, which can lead to loneliness and depression.

Additionally, prioritizing other people’s feelings and needs means that echoists consistently overlook their own needs. That can lead to exhaustion and reduced self-worth. And because echoists are prone to relationships with narcissists, they’re often exposed to high levels of stress, which can lead to chronic anxiety.

Echoism and Relationships

It’s not surprising that echoists often have unhealthy relationships. Suppressing your true feelings and focusing all your attention on others leads to imbalanced, dysfunctional, and potentially abusive partnerships. Echoists may feel that by serving others, they enhance their connections with them. Instead, they deny themselves the happiness that well-balanced, healthy relationships can bring.

Echoists have difficulties in friendships and family relationships as well. They can struggle with self-expression and hold in resentment and anger, both of which damage relationships over time. As well, their social anxiety makes it challenging to meet new people, which can lead to isolation and loneliness.

Why Narcissists and Echoists Are Drawn Together

Narcissists and those with pronounced narcissistic traits are attention-seeking by nature. Thus, they often end up in romantic relationships with echoists. And echoists, because they don’t want attention for themselves, often gravitate to someone who relishes taking up all the space in a room. 

By focusing all their attention on their narcissistic partner’s thoughts, desires, and needs, echoists strive to be valued. But, since narcissists only really value themselves, echoists end up not receiving the love they crave. The more they sacrifice themselves for their partner, the more drained, numb, and desperate they feel. They also leave themselves vulnerable to manipulation and abuse.

How to Overcome Echoism

Before echoists can develop self-confidence and assertiveness, they need to be aware of their traits. If you suspect you or someone you know may be an echoist, here are some ways to overcome shrinking, deferring, and compromising to an unhealthy extent.

Identify How Echoism Appears in Your Life

Write down or create an audio recording of all the ways you exhibit echoistic tendencies. Maybe you avoid the spotlight to the point that you don’t share opinions at work or school, even when you have worthwhile ideas. You might tally how many times in the last six months you’ve rejected offers of help (even when you could have used it) because you didn’t want to appear needy. As you get clearer about the ways you choose invisibility and shortchange yourself, you’ll be more able to make conscious choices about how to act differently in the future. 

Take Inventory of Your Strengths and Accomplishments 

In the same recording or on the same piece of paper, take inventory of what you’re great at. Note all the things you’re proud of. If you struggle to identify what your strengths and accomplishments are, ask supportive people close to you. “What do you think I’m especially good at?” you might ask. “How would you introduce me to a stranger if you wanted to impress them?” Asking a friend to answer these questions might be challenging, but that’s why this is a good exercise. List every amazing thing you’ve done and every positive quality you have that deserves mention. Then listen to or read your list aloud on a regular basis.

Practice Putting Yourself First

You’re not nourishing your relationships if you’re always there for others at your own expense. When you’re depleted from giving too much, your relationships suffer. It may be hard to prioritize yourself, because you’ll have to set boundaries and say “no” sometimes. But make a commitment to do one thing each day that involves self-care or pleasure. Even if you feel guilty at first, do it anyway. Take a long walk in your favorite place, soak in a hot bath, or say “No thank you” rather than go along with something you don’t want to do. The more you prioritize you, the more you build your self-worth muscles.

Express Yourself

After years of squashing your feelings, it’s probably going to feel strange to express them. That makes sense, but giving voice to normal feelings of sadness, disappointment, and anger is one of the keys to overcoming echoism. At first you might want to express yourself more privately. 

For some, journaling or creative writing can be an excellent way to connect with and release emotions. One study found that expressive writing is correlated with a significant reduction in anxiety in people who are expressive by nature. For others, outlets like dance, painting, singing, or playing an instrument can also help release complex and long-buried emotions.

Build and Strengthen Healthy Relationships

If you’re an echoist, you’re likely experienced at suppressing your own needs. You’re also accustomed to agreeing with people’s opinions (even when you don’t) so as not to rock the boat. It’s a good bet you’ve had relationships with narcissistic types or full-blooded narcissists precisely because it feels natural. 

To express your true feelings and develop your own identity, put your energy instead into relationships with people who encourage you to be yourself. The more you spend time with emotionally healthy people who don’t need you to play small so they can feel big, the easier it will be to overcome echoism.

Talk to a Mental Health Professional

Enlisting professional support can be extremely helpful for echoists, as their patterns of behavior are ingrained. Look for well-trained therapists who understand narcissistic personality disorder and have experience helping people heal from narcissistic abuse. These professionals can help you combat your self-sacrificing tendencies. They can also help you set boundaries, ditch self-blame, and practice assertive communication.

More than that, a mental health counselor or therapist can assist you in understanding the gaslighting and brainwashing you’ve endured. They can help you get in touch with buried anger and release it. As you heal from your trauma, you can reconnect with yourself and your true needs and desires.

How Newport Institute’s Treatment Addresses Narcissism and Echoism

At Newport Institute, we understand the myriad ways narcissism damages a young person’s sense of self. Living in the shadow of narcissism can lead to the development of echoism and other compensatory personality traits and disorders. 

Our overall approach helps young people identify the root cause of their echoistic traits. As they heal from attachment wounds and develop greater appreciation for themselves, they begin to build self-esteem and forge authentic connections with others.

Contact us today to find out more about our therapeutic programs and schedule a free assessment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is an echoist?
  • How can you tell if you’re an echoist?
  • What is echoism in narcissistic abuse?
  • What’s the difference between an echoist and an introvert?
  • How do you overcome echoism?

Anxiety Stress Coping. 2014 Jan; 27(1): 1–17.

Mental Health / October 12, 2023