My heartbeat quickens and my palms get sweaty, upon the very mention of the word narcissism. I get ready to fight, flight or freeze. These reactions are reflective of my long- standing, intimate relationship to narcissism. In regards to the Greek myth of Narcissus, I have a sentimental attachment to his number one fan, Echo. For I am a former Echo and this is my survivor’s story.
Echo was a nymph who fell in love with Narcissus
As the Greek myth describes, Echo was a nymph who fell in love with Narcissus and followed him there after, such was her deep longing to be near him. Echo was cursed to only repeat the last phrase of speech she hears. Therefore Echo could speak only when others had spoken first and could voice no words of her own. When for example Narcissus sensing Echo’s presence, asked “is anyone here?’ Echo could only respond with “here”. Echo was doomed to follow Narcissus until his death, when he fell in love with his own reflection.
My personal Echo role began in early childhood. I adapted to a dysfunctional home environment, tagging alongside my dominant mother who required constant attention. I learnt to play Echo to my mother’s Narcissus. I deprived myself of emotional space. I was not seen as the child that I was.
Upon separation and alienation from my mother as a teenager, I quickly gravitated towards similar narcissistic types to fill the void.
Upon separation and alienation from my mother as a teenager, I quickly gravitated towards similar narcissistic types to fill the void. These young women were to be later called my “drama divas” (a term I developed in personal therapy). I unconsciously sought these “divas” out everywhere I went, at school, at university and at work. I became essentially their “girl Friday” (a modern day Echo), running errands for them, handling the fallout of their daily dramas and generally supporting (or adoring) them.
As Echo, I didn’t have to make any serious effort in relationship. My diva pals would always need me (as long as I danced to their beat). I didn’t have to share much about my life (as I was never asked). I lived precariously through my diva friends as a sort of sad groupie or misguided fan. I became hyped up on their dramas but also drained by their emotional rubbish. For me, playing Echo was a lazy and familiar way of being but in the end a very lonely one. In a sense, I didn’t really exist. I existed only in the eyes of my narcissistic partner and that’s a very vulnerable and haphazard place to be.
At the time I had zero awareness of my unhealthy ways of relating to others. I had never even heard of Narcissus’ co-dependent partner Echo. Though looking back I sense my soul was suffering through this lack of real connection and intimacy. As I entered my thirties, I started to struggle with negative thoughts and low moods. I found it harder and harder to put a fake face on things and play along with the rules instigated by my diva pals. I felt unrest and sensed things in my life had to change.
I now had an hour each week to talk about me.
Thankfully it was around this time that I entered therapy, (under the guise of training to become one myself). This was my first step towards relating to someone on an authentic and intimate level. I now had an hour each week to talk about me. At first I struggled to claim my space in session, but through the patient guidance of my therapist I gradually started to open up and let myself be seen. It was now the turn of my therapist to take on an Echo-like role. By mirroring or echoing back my words and ways of being, my true sense of self was being revealed and in turn became stronger and less dependent on others.
I started to slowly break free from my diva pals. As soon as I began to live to my own beat and not theirs, my drama divas soon got bored of me and broke away with very little fuss or protest. That’s the funny thing about narcissists. Once you stop playing Echo, they move on very quickly. I began to feel more confident about bringing my authentic self into relationship. Through this I began to naturally attract healthier friendships where the dynamic was balanced and secure.
The main piece of my personal work was to return to my original relationship with Narcissus. This being with my mother. I held a negative mother archetype based upon my childhood experience. This caused me to become an “anything but mother” kind of daughter (a term used by psychologist Nathan Schwartz-Salant). This in turn greatly affected my personal relationship with the feminine. I worked in therapy, (and still do), creating and holding a positive mother archetype whilst mourning the original maternal loss.
Unlike Echo in mythology, I was able to break free of my co-dependent role to my Narcissus. And so life doesn’t quite have to follow myth. However the work never ends. I often encounter Narcissus in various situations. Only a few weeks ago, someone sat next to me in a workshop and I started to have that familiar feeling of my old Echo role coming to the fore. I felt invaded and dominated by this person. Thankfully my recent awareness and personal work allowed me to step outside of myself (giving my inner child a mental hug in the process) and stand authentic in my way of being. I no longer need to play Echo as I did growing up. I have found my own voice. An Echo no more.