The moving myth of Narcissus and Echo crystallizes the tragic problem of relationships with narcissists. They were Greek tragic characters in a story told by the Roman poet Ovid in Metamorphoses. Sadly, both partners are locked in a painful drama, where neither feels fulfilled or loved enough. Although it is distressing for both, the narcissist blames his partner for his cause and sees himself as above reproach, and all too often his partner agrees.
The myth of Narcissus and Echo
Narcissus was a handsome hunter who broke the hearts of many women. Despite her love for him, he remained aloof and arrogant. Proudly, he held them disdainfully.
Meanwhile, the beautiful forest nymph Echo had incurred the wrath of the goddess Juno, who punished Echo for talking too much by depriving her of freedom of speech. From then on, she could only repeat the last words of the others. Eco saw Narciso and fell in love with her. She craved his attention, but he was focused on himself. He tried to call him, but couldn’t.
One day, Narcissus became separated from his fellow hunters and shouted, “Is anyone there?” Echo could only repeat his words. Surprised, he said, “Come here,” which Echo echoed. Echo ran gleefully towards Narcissus, but he pushed her away, saying, “Hands off! Let him die before you enjoy my body.” Humiliated and rejected, Echo fled in shame. However, her love for Narciso grew.
To punish Narcissus for his arrogance, Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, cast a spell on him. When Narcissus saw her reflection in a puddle of water again, love washed over him. He believed that he had finally found someone worthy of his love and became completely absorbed with his own beautiful image of him, not realizing that it was actually himself.
Unable to get Narciso’s attention, Eco’s obsession and depression grew. Over the years, he lost his youth and his beauty, swooning for the unattainable Narcissus until he wasted away, leaving only his resounding voice. He eventually killed himself, consumed by his impossible love, leaving a flower in his place.
Despite their seemingly strong personalities, narcissists are actually quite vulnerable beneath their protective armor. Mastering their feelings and those of others is very important, because without control they feel weak and humiliated. They are attracted to someone who is emotionally expressive and caring, qualities they lack. Vulnerable feelings, especially shame, sadness, and fear, are relegated to your unconscious. They have disdain for them or some sign of weakness, which raises fears of being controlled or humiliated. Thus, feeling sad or alone evokes their need for someone, which would expose them to pain, rejection and a feeling of inferiority. They try to remove these uncomfortable feelings by demonstrating courage and independence from the ideals of strength with which they identify.
Just like the myth, narcissists feel superior to others but rely on them to reflect a positive image of themselves. Surprisingly, most narcissists are also codependent. They are hypersensitive to any perceived challenge to their illusion of being the best, and often perceive slights where none exist. They fear being considered a fraud, having their flaws revealed, having their opinions or authority questioned, or having their self-esteem or pride tarnished. They will do whatever it takes to reinforce their image and block negative comments. In their arrogance, they can be dismissive and rude, even projecting their flaws onto others, criticizing and putting them down, or unleashing their narcissistic rage. Trying to please them feels ungrateful, like trying to fill a bottomless pit—their inner emptiness—that they expect others to fill, but of course it’s impossible.
They can embarrass family and friends with their boastful or obnoxious sense of entitlement, such as monopolizing the conversation and interrupting. To get what they want, they may exploit others, regardless of the consequences. Their attitude compensates for unconscious feelings of deprivation and inferiority, which become intolerable when their special needs or privileges are not met.
Understanding the echo
Not everyone who falls in love with a narcissist is like Echo, but those who stay are like her: a stereotypical codependent who sacrifices her own needs to accommodate others. While Narcissus is too self-absorbed, Eco is too self-absorbed. Like Echo, narcissists’ partners idealize them. They like and admire his bold attitude and taking charge. They, unlike narcissists, are not self-advocates and feel unnecessary or guilty in asserting their needs and wants.
Caring and pleasing gives them a sense of purpose and worth. Because they feel unworthy of receiving love, they do not expect to be loved for who they are, only for what they give or do. Without an independent voice, they are generally passive, obedient, and modest, believing that what they are told is true. They long to be wanted, accepted, supported, approved, needed, and loved. They may not believe they have any rights and naturally go with the flow or put the needs and feelings of others first, sometimes sacrificing themselves to please. Like, Echo, this makes them dependent on the narcissist, even when their needs are not being met. It also allows them to be easily manipulated, abused and exploited by a narcissist. Narcissists need partners they can control, who won’t challenge them and make them feel weak. Their partners usually accept the blame and try to be more understanding. They stay to avoid their greatest fear—abandonment and rejection and loss of hope of finding lasting love—and because the allure, excitement, and loving gestures that first enchanted them return periodically, especially if a breakup is imminent. .
In vain attempts to gain approval and stay connected, they entangle themselves in eggshells, fearful of displeasing their partner. They care about what he or she will think or do, and they care about the relationship. They have to fit into the cold world of narcissists and get used to living in an emotional desert.
the narcissistic relationship
It is easy to fall in love with narcissists. Don’t judge yourself for succumbing, because research showed that strangers’ initial impressions of narcissists during the first seven meetings are positive. They are seen as charming, pleasant, confident, open, balanced, and entertaining. Her seductive performance is designed to win trust and love, implicitly promising that her attention will continue. Only later did the research subjects see through the narcissists’ pleasant façade.
At home, narcissists may privately denigrate the person they were publicly entertaining, and after a romantic foreplay, act entirely differently. Once you’re hooked, they lack the motivation to maintain a charismatic facade. As the excitement of romance wears off, narcissists become disappointed in their partner. Their criticism increases and they may act distant and dismissive. The relationship revolves around the narcissist, while others are seen simply as objects to be used to manage the narcissist’s needs and fragile self-esteem. Embarrassed partners see their partner flirt with a cashier, go to the front of the line, or punish a clerk or waitress. They must deal with lawsuits, lawsuits, and self-centeredness. They are expected to appreciate the narcissist’s special character, to meet their needs for admiration, service, love, or shopping when necessary, and to be fired when they don’t.
Narcissists put themselves first, and their codependent partners put them first as well. They both agree that the narcissist is cool and his partner is not and should be sacrificed! This makes their relationship work… at first. Eventually, the partner feels drained, hurt, resentful, disrespected, and alone.
Children and partners of narcissists share Echo’s experience of feeling rejected, invisible, and unheard. They long to be seen, to have their needs met, and to have their love returned. Many partners of narcissists sadly languish for years to feel respected, important, appreciated, and cared for. Your self-esteem suffers over time. They run the risk of becoming empty shells of what they were. Narcissists also suffer because they are never satisfied. Although Narcissus and Echo long for love, Narcissus cannot give love or receive the love Echo offers.
You have more power than you think. Find out how to raise your self-esteem, find your voice, and determine if your relationship can improve. There are many things you can do to significantly improve your relationship with anyone who is defensive or abusive. You can take the narcissism quiz and it also lays out criteria that can help you decide if you are considering ending a relationship with a narcissist.
© Darlene Lancer 2017