Most of us are familiar with narcissism. In fact, most of us probably know a narcissist or two. Those people who have enormous, self-serving egos and an inflated sense of importance. These people can often seem charming, but have a difficult time sustaining relationships and friendships because ultimately they use people around them to fuel their sense of self-worth. Often times the person drawn to the narcissist is an echoist, or someone who feels like their only purpose is to serve someone else. In other words, they are the precise opposite.

Echoism is a fairly new term for a personality type that many of us might be familiar with — the people pleaser. In the recent years Harvard psychologist Dr. Craig Malkin has done work defining echoism and the traits associated with it. And, although very different than narcissists, echoists are considered to fall on the spectrum of narcissistic personality disorders. It should be noted, however, that echoism isn’t yet listed in the DSM as a formal classification of personality disorder, but it is gaining recognition as a problem.

What Is Echoism?

Again, echoism is the opposite of narcissism. Echoists are often people who feel the need to take care of others at their own expense. They shy away from any form of praise or recognition, instead wishing to remain anonymous and in the shadows. So, where a narcissist is selfish and self-centered, an echoist is generally someone who feels uncomfortable in the spotlight or receiving praise or recognition of any kind. They have an almost phobic like fear of seeming narcissistic in any way.

Most echoists have been made to feel inferior for a large portion of their lives. Nothing was ever good enough regardless of how impressive their achievements may have been. As a result they have lived their lives believing that others were better or more worthy of love and praise. And because of this belief strive to serve, impress, and fill the needs of other people. Very often these people are narcissists.

Narcissists require others to feed their ego and make them feel as though they are superior to people around them. Because of this echoists are often drawn to them. A narcissist wants and needs to have their ego fed, and an echoist feels that serving others is their purpose in life. Unfortunately, this is an unhealthy interchange and often leads to abuse such as the narcissist blaming any shortcoming on the echoist and driving their self-esteem lower.

Echoism tends to be associated more with women than men. Circumstances and social pressures can push a female who is already battling issues with self-confidence and self-esteem into more subservient roles. Because there is historical precedence for women such roles, the problem can often go unnoticed on an individual basis. Too often this leads to abusive relationships that go on for years.

An Echoist Isn’t the Same as an Introvert

Because they are often quiet and reserved, many people mistakenly confuse introverts and echoists. It’s an easy mistake to make. Echoists and introverts share many similar traits. The problem with confusing these things is that being introverted doesn’t mean you are unhealthy. Echoism, however, is distinctly unhealthy and leaves a person open to being taken advantage of and abused.

Some of the common traits that lead to confusion are as follows:

  • Quiet and unassuming.
  • Steering clear of the spotlight.
  • Disinterest in large social gatherings.
  • Discomfort with compliments or praise.

But echoists and introverts are quite different. In fact, many echoists are quite successful in their chosen fields, they just don’t want the credit and never enjoy a sense of accomplishment. They may instead feel more comfortable allowing others to claim the results of their hard work.

Echoism, like narcissism, is unhealthy. It leads to relationships that are dysfunctional, one-sided, and potentially abusive. Although an echoist may think they are doing what they need to by taking care of, or serving others, they are really denying themselves the happiness that a healthy, well-balanced individual should enjoy.

So what should you do if you believe you or someone you love suffers from echoism? In all likelihood counseling or therapy will be needed. The origin that help create the personality associated with echoism are typically too deeply ingrained to deal with alone.