Mind & Body

Are You an Echoist? Take This Quiz to Find Out

We're all familiar with the profile of a narcissist: someone with a grandiose sense of their own importance who wants everything to be about them. But what about their polar opposite? Do you know anyone who shuns the spotlight at all costs, detests praise or compliments, and never expresses their own needs? That's what some psychologists call an echoist, and you can take a research-validated quiz to find out where you land on the narcissism-echoism spectrum.

Tragedy Becomes Reality

There's an interesting parallel in how much most people know about the story of Narcissus and Echo and how much most people think about narcissists and echoists. We're willing to bet most readers can recall a few details about the story of Narcissus — a beautiful face, a reflecting pool, a curse — but hardly anything at all about Echo. Likewise, psychology literature is chock-full of studies on narcissism, but hardly anything about its polar counterpart.

The story, which comes from Ovid's "Metamorphoses," goes like this: Echo was a talkative wood nymph who would amuse Zeus's wife Hera with her chatter. One day, with his wife distracted, Zeus snuck down to Earth to carouse with the other nymphs. When Hera found out, she claimed Echo was in on the plan and cursed her; from then on, she could only repeat the words she heard. She'd never speak for herself again.

One day, Echo happened upon the gorgeous face of Narcissus as he was strolling through the woods. She fell in love instantly, and tried to wrap her arms around him — but Narcissus, who had sworn off love, rejected her. The gods cursed Narcissus to fall in love with his own reflection when he gazed into a pool of water, and all he could do was sit there pining for himself, saying "Alas, alas" — with Echo repeating "alas, alas" from the woods nearby. He was in love with himself, and she could only echo his desires, never voice her own.

Like in Ovid's story, narcissists and echoists are counterparts. Echoists often learn their behaviors in interactions with a narcissistic parent, partner, or friend. When a narcissist's self-aggrandizement, emotional outbursts, and lack of empathy lead the people around them to shy away from attention or voicing their needs to avoid negative consequences, those tendencies become automatic and bleed into other areas of their life.

Echoism is a trait, not a diagnosis, and while it's popped up here and there in papers over the last few decades, its big moment in the sun came with Dr. Craig Malkin's 2016 book, "Rethinking Narcissism." "... their defining characteristic is a fear of seeming narcissistic in any way," Malkin wrote in Psychology Today. "Of all the people we measured, echoists were the most 'warm-hearted,' but they were also afraid of becoming a burden, felt unsettled by attention, especially praise, and agreed with statements like, 'When people ask me my preferences, I'm often at a loss.' Where narcissists are addicted to feeling special, echoists are afraid of it."

Sound Familiar?

Statistically, you're unlikely to be either a pure echoist or a pure narcissist — they're just two ends of a spectrum, and as with most spectrums, the majority of people will end up somewhere in the middle. And that's a good thing!

"If you think of narcissism as the drive to feel special, a little bit puts you in the center of the spectrum," Malkin told Tonic. "That's where people who are happy and healthy can maintain big dreams, give and receive in relationships, and be warm and empathetic. They can be very ambitious, but they would never hurt anybody to get there."

Curious where you land? Malkin has a research-backed quiz on his website that can tell you. As with all online tests, take your results with a grain of salt. If your results trouble you, or if you generally feel unable to voice your needs or enjoy praise from others, it may be a good idea to seek the help of a therapist. They can help you adjust your thoughts and behaviors to make everyday life a little happier. Good luck!

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Read more about echoism in Dr. Craig Malkin's book, "Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad — and Surprising Good — About Feeling Special." We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer June 21, 2019

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