Cancelling out the echo | Pushing the Wave

Cancelling out the echo

Writing, 17 June 2024
by L.A. Davenport
Sometimes When I look At You You Make Me Want To Cry
Sometimes When I look At You You Make Me Want To Cry, by L.A. Davenport. Made in a moment of great frustration with a former partner.
Recently, I was rather surprised, maybe even shocked, to see myself in print (or at least in pixels).

I don’t mean my writing, as that is hardly anything new, and comes with the territory of being a journalist. Rather I mean seeing myself, as a person, laid bare online.

And no, I don’t mean a nude selfie, if that’s where your mind instantly leapt, but something nevertheless with a similar sense of exposure and vulnerability.

Say what?

Specifically, I read an article in Stylist magazine that opened a window onto my personality and experiences that made me feel so entirely ‘seen,’ in the modern usage of the word, that it pulled me up short.

Ellen Scott was discussing a concept that apparently has been around for a while but had entirely passed me by: Echoism, which could be described as the opposite of narcissism.

The term was coined in 2005 by Craig Malkin PhD, a Lecturer in Psychology at Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, in his book Rethinking Narcissism, and it was inspired by the myth of Narcissus.

He explains that echo is the nymph who falls madly in love with Narcissus, but is cursed to repeat back the last few words she hears.

Malkin chose the story because, “like their namesake, echoists definitely struggle to have a voice of their own.”

What this means in reality is that they are typically “warm-hearted,” but are “afraid of becoming a burden,” are unsettled by attention, especially praise,” and agree with statements like: “When people ask me my preferences, I’m often at a loss.”

“Where narcissists are addicted to feeling special,” Malkin explains, “echoists are afraid of it.”

As Scott says: “In short, if you’re an echoist, you’ll put other people’s needs and wants high above your own. Think of it as an extreme version of people-pleasing, where your entire self gets lost in favour of someone else.”

Putting yourself second

Some of signs of echoism include excessively focusing on other people to the detriment of yourself; neglecting your own needs; struggling to create and maintain personal boundaries; surpassing your own desires; always agreeing with others….

The list goes on.

Two that particularly stood out for me were:
  • Avoiding or rejecting attention from others
  • Being extremely self-critical

These two, along with the other signs, were utterly chilling for me to read, partly because they threw open a window into my past.

It is now clear that, for most of my young and adult life, I had an intense desire to make everyone happy and to ensure that all situations ran smoothly.

As soon as I detected conflict I closed my mouth firmly shut and my brain scrambled to find some solution to whatever impasse was before us. I was famous for it in our little circle, and people would jokingly suggest I would either make an excellent diplomat.

Some parts of Scott’s article I found hard to read, as they brought to life memories from both my childhood and early relationships that still shine bright with a searing flame.

More than that, however, it was a horrible reminder of all I had allowed myself to endure with a succession of partners who I had always suspected, but now could see with the clear light of day, were narcissists, and in some cases in the extreme.

With some sadness, I realised I must have been some sort of beacon for them, drawing them towards me like a moth to a flame, except that the person getting burned was me.

An intense explosion

Having benefitted from several years of therapy, I am aware of and able to acknowledge from where all of that came, and whom I was trying so desperately to please when I was an extremely vulnerable child.

I see now that I was so far down the pecking order in their life, despite their pivotal role in my upbringing, that my feelings, wants and needs did not exist at all. Consequently, they, and I, never counted.

The worst of it is that, as an adult, I would enter into a relationship with a narcissist, but soon resentment at my treatment would build up.

My latent desire, indeed need, to assert myself and be seen at least as an equal partner in the relationship would eventually burst out of me like an explosion when I could take it no more.

I would then try to establish parity with my now-shocked partner, when up until that point, I had been entirely devoted to their welfare.

It is very hard to renegotiate the terms of a relationship, especially when to do so is to the benefit of only one party, and the narcissist who has been taking all the light, energy and focus will have to relinquish some of their privilege.

A better writer

So what now? I am very lucky that, thanks to all that therapy, I was able finally to meet someone who did not want to control and dominate our relationship.

So, slowly, with baby steps and then greater strides, I learned how to express myself and be ‘me’ without fear, or feeling like a fraud.

It has taken time, but I am much better at not worrying about identifying, and then transmitting, my needs. And there has been an unexpected, but very welcome, consequence to all this.

I find that I am now much better at asserting myself on the page as a writer, and better able to critically analyse my work and appraise it with a cool eye.

The perfect example is the second edition of my debut slow-burn thriller, Escape, called The Hunter Cut. When I went back through the first version a few years after its publication, I could read my reticence in practically every line.

It was a surprisingly enjoyable process to slice away at that hesitation and lack of commitment in a scene or section of dialogue, and sharpen and intensify the prose.

I had thought that it would be difficult emotionally for me to see how far I had fallen short of my aims, but having a chance to ‘correct’ the book and re-present it for a new set of readers felt more like an opportunity.

One thing I did realise is that the protagonist, John Hunter, is certainly not a narcissist, and now is much less of an echoist in the second edition, despite his flaws.

Learn more about Escape, The Hunter Cut.

A family affair

This may be a slightly odd, and even dangerous, thing to admit during a major international event devoted to the sport, but what the hell: I don’t like football.

That’s not to say that I hate it, but it doesn’t appeal to me, not really. (I am an F1 devotee through and through. McLaren and then Williams, if you’re asking.)

By rights, I should take more of an interest. After all, my grandfather was a coach at Leicester City Football Club in the 1950s (I have his cups to prove it, which unfortunately show that they were relegated during his tenure), and I am told my uncle played for Coventry City.

My mother is also somewhat of an armchair football fan, and I must have watched more episodes of Match of the Day than almost another programme during my youth.

As a consequence, I am conversant with football as a topic, and, being an avid newspaper reader, I vaguely keep up with the goings on of the Premier League, although I would never actually watch a match (or even Match of the Day nowadays).

I am therefore able to chat with an actual fan without sounding too much like Alan Partridge. This has served me well over the years, as I know several people who are lost for conversation after about 30 seconds if we don’t immediately switch to a deep analysis of the current fortunes of their team.

Not just national pride

But all of that goes out of the window when it comes to something like the Euros and we see the home nations and Ireland take to the field.

While national pride certainly plays a part, that isn’t the whole story. Like many, I suspect, I am genuinely interested in the results, and enjoy watching the matches.

Where I would find the moments of calm in a standard league match tedious in the extreme, I can see the drama and subtexts when it comes to international football, and a moment of fluid brilliance is exhilarating.

It might be that I simply enjoy the pinnacle of any sport, as I get a great deal out of Wimbledon and Roland Garros, for example, but would never watch a standard ATP event.

Or it could be that I am susceptible to a spot of mass hysteria and get easily swept up with the national fervour.

Whatever the reason, as an Irish-born, dual nationality individual with a mother born in Scotland and a resolutely English father, and who is married to a French woman, my only problem is: Which team to support.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Cancelling out the echo | Pushing the Wave