What Echo the Empath needs to do for herself

by Warren Heggarty

John_William_Waterhouse_-_Echo_and_Narcissus_-_Google_Art_Project.jpgAbove: “Echo and Narcissus” painting by John William Waterhouse

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” 

—Thomas Merton (Rankin 2017)

Someone hooked into a codependent pattern may feel so unlovable that she literally can’t believe that anyone would love her if she’s not giving too much and neglecting her own needs. (Rankin, 2017) Her archetype in Greek mythology is Echo from the legend of Narcissus.

According to Traci Stein, ‘Tireless Caregivers’ as she calls the empathic Echo personality, are people who are compassionate, good listeners, drawn to caring for others, and who place a high value on relationships. The problem … is not that they are caring, but that they feel compelled to take care of everyone and everything, ultimately to their own detriment. (Stein, 2018)

These empaths place a high value both on relationships and on seeing the good in others. They invest heavily in people, even selfish people who don’t deserve it. Empaths assume that others must share a similar code of conduct to their own. They have trouble even imagining the inner workings of a truly self-absorbed person who is basically exploiting them. 

Empaths fear saying “no” to people. They think that saying ‘no’ makes them selfish or bad. Being nice to people and taking care of them is so central to their identity and self worth that they inadvertently make themselves prey to selfish people. (Stein, 2018)

Very selfish people, narcissists if you like can SENSE when a person is an ‘Echo’ personality and are drawn to them because they can exploit them. Narcissists can feed off caring people’s good nature and use the carer’s sense of guilt to get what they want. 

This is great for the selfish person, who gets a guilt ridden slave, but disastrous for the caregiver who invests their own self esteem in someone who really doesn’t appreciate them for who they are. 

A match between a Narcissus and an Echo is “a match made in hell.” In the beginning of a relationship, the narcissist can “love bomb” the empath to hook them into this pattern. “However, it’s not real love… The love bombing is not real, intimate, meaningful, unconditional love. It’s a form of deception.” (Rankin, 2017)

Lissa Rankin MD says people in the Narcissus role often seem to be sexy, charismatic, talented, attractive, funny, smart, seductive and the life of the party.

The people in the role of Echo. tend to be more empathic, submissive, deferential, sensitive, self-effacing, service-oriented, externally referenced, over giving, and emotionally manipulative. 

Echo ‘boosts Narcissus’s already hearty ego by repeating back what Narcissus wants to hear while compromising her own needs and desires until she becomes resentful and feels victimized. If she stops echoing back what Narcissus wants to hear, she’s likely to get ousted.’

Narcissus and Echo do not have a proper partnership. In a partnership, both partners are in charge of their own lives. But here, the exploiter (Narcissus) is in charge of both. Echo’s life is spent reacting to the egotist. She or he has no power of her own to change things for better or worse. Everything is up to Narcissus. 

The question is, how do you escape the role of Echo whose ‘blind compassion’ is really “conflict avoidance in holy drag” as Robert Augustus Masters calls it. 

Echo needs deal with boundary related issues such as the following (and many more besides which you can find in Rankin’s article):

• Recognising that we ALL need help from others (especially if we are carers!) 

• Setting and enforcing boundaries

• Learning how to relate to people who don’t rely on us for something. 

• Prioritising their own life’s needs

• Expressing what they believe 

• Acknowledging that others can take care of themselves.

• See themselves as ‘good enough’

• Graciously receiving gifts, genuine praise or help

• Stop feeding on feelings of self-righteousness. 

• Work towards achieve their own goals, pursue dreams, and complete projects

• Stop priding themselves on faulty loyalties to abusive people.

• Learning to engage in true intimacy (Rankin, 2017)


Brandt, A. (2018, October 1). How Reactive Behaviour Damages our Relationships . Retrieved from Pscyhology Today : https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindful-anger/201810/how-reactive-behavior-damages-your-relationships

Rankin, L. (2017, October 15). Free yourself from the narcissist/empath pattern . Retrieved from Lissa Rankin MD: http://lissarankin.com/free-yourself-from-the-narcissist-empath-pattern-part-one

Stein, T. (2018, October 26). Why do tireless caregivers attract so many narcissists? Retrieved from Psychology Today : https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-integrationist/201810/why-do-tireless-caregivers-attract-so-many-narcissists

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