Why Echoism Can Make Dating Difficult and What to Do About It

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Not expressing your needs causes discomfort when dating as an echoist.

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Dating can be difficult for most people, but for an echoist, it can prove to be even more challenging. On the extreme opposite from narcissists—who seek admiration and special treatment, lack empathy, feel a sense of entitlement, and often react negatively to criticism—are echoists who fear being perceived as having any of those traits. In an effort not to seem narcissistic, echoists tend to overcorrect their thoughts and behaviors leading them to lack “healthy narcissism,” which is necessary for building confidence and confronting challenging or new situations found in dating. To find a quality partner, which we all deserve, there must be some level of self-focus, boundaries, and awareness of what you want and need, which for an echoist can be a struggle. The following traits and behaviors of echoism can directly impact dating:

  • Fear of praise or seeming selfish in any way
  • Excessive focus on others
  • Neglecting one’s own needs
  • Self-sacrificing
  • Suppressing personal beliefs or desires
  • Being overly agreeable with others
  • Avoidance of self-focused attention
  • Difficulty taking compliments
  • Excessive self-blame
  • Being highly self-critical
  • Being highly empathetic

Having Primary Healthy Anger

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Knowing what you want and need is difficult for echoists who chronically focus on others first.

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An echoist who was raised by a narcissist or emotional abuser, or who has found themselves in a relationship with one, will commonly believe their emotions are just “too much.” Because their emotions were likely disregarded and ignored, or even made fun of, they may fear seeming too sensitive. It is also not uncommon for echoists to internalize their anger as opposed to expressing it, leading to potential mental health or substance use issues.

According to Craig Malkin, clinical psychologist, Harvard Medical School lecturer, and author of Rethinking Narcissism, to overcome the negative impact echoism can have on forming healthy relationships, we all must possess some level of primary healthy anger where we are willing to speak up for ourselves and express boundaries when necessary. Many who struggle with echoism report being uncomfortable with their negative emotions toward others in the fear of hurting, upsetting, or angering someone else. It is important to understand that anger is just as valid as any other emotion and the more readily it is expressed the easier it becomes.

If an echoist does not learn how to express their primary healthy anger, they may be more likely to find themselves in mismatched or unhealthy relationships. They may also be more likely to stay in a relationship long past its expiration date in the fear of hurting the other person’s feelings. The longer it takes for an echoist to speak up for themselves, disagree, or express anger, the deeper into potentially unhealthy relationships they become. Practicing the skill of disagreeing, even about positive things, is an effective step toward being able to express primary healthy anger when the situation arises.

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Expressing your opinion in relationships is healthy and you have the right to do it.

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Emotional Individuation in Dating

When dating as an echoist, it is helpful to practice emotional individuation—which means having an independent emotional identity from others. Agreeable people are often warm, friendly, and tactful; however, being too agreeable can be a trauma response called fawning. In his book Complex PSTD: From Surviving to Thriving, author and therapist Pete Walker defines fawning as the act of trying to become more appealing to others by people-pleasing or avoiding conflict to sustain a sense of safety, which can further imbed echoist personality traits.

Gaslighters, narcissists, and other emotional abusers aim to erode the emotional individuation of a prospective partner so they can maintain power within the relationship. This creates a cascade of events when dating. Past exposure to an emotionally abusive person (whether in childhood or in other relationships) can lead to the fawning trauma response, which, over time, can evolve into an echoist personality, making it difficult to effectively find a partner that reflects what you are truly looking for.

The best way to counteract this issue is to practice emotional individuation at the very start of dating. If you are dating online or in apps, practice individuation by being specific about your wants and needs on your dating profile. Creating a “wish list” of your nonnegotiables for a partner is a fun and healthy exercise to discover what these qualities and traits may be. Once you do meet someone (in person or virtually), try to work against any tendencies to appease or please and, rather, express your own individual preferences. If spontaneously identifying your preferences in the moment is a struggle, (especially after a long history of echoism), journaling or playing a 20-questions game with yourself can be helpful. Simple things such as identifying your favorite bands, movies, colors, foods, and so forth are a good place to start. You can also take it a step further by identifying your thoughts on deeper issues that reflect your morals. Sharing these thoughts and preferences on a date (even the first one) is not aggressive or pushy—rather, it is healthy and smart.

A few other ideas to help you continue strengthening your emotional individuation:

  • Take a moment to think of an answer when someone asks your opinion and fight the urge to say “I don’t know” even if you feel ambivalent at the time.
  • Remember, if someone disagrees with your opinion, you did nothing wrong. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that your opinion is valuable, and you have a right to share it.
  • Assess your current relationships for whether you feel safe expressing yourself—if you do not, determine if you want to continue them.
  • Remember that repetition is key as echoism can become habitual and takes practice to overcome.

While the fear of personal attention may lead an echoist toward more extroverted, attention-seeking people while dating, many of these assertive people can make wonderful partners. If this person encourages you to express yourself and asks you what you want and need, it is a good sign they have positive intentions. Finding a relationship where all your emotions, including the difficult ones, can be expressed is deeply healing when overcoming the effects of echoism and should be a primary focus when looking for a future partner.

Parts of this post were adapted from my book Gaslighting Recovery for Women: The Complete Guide to Recognizing Manipulation and Achieving Freedom from Emotional Abuse.

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