What Is the Opposite of Entitlement? What Is Echoism?

a painting of the myth of Narcissus and Echo. Narcissus gazes intently in the water at his own reflection while Echo stands in the background behind him
Image by cea+ / CC BY

“What’s the opposite of entitlement?” I asked my friends several years back. I put it out as an open question.

I wanted a word to explain how I often felt, like I didn’t deserve good things whenever they happened to me, even when I’d worked hard, earned them, sacrificed. I’d later go on to learn about impostor syndrome, a phenomenon that sometimes plagues successful people, whereby they feel like they’re frauds or have fooled everyone and don’t really merit the celebration of their accomplishments.

Maya Angelou has it.

I liked impostor syndrome as a term, but there was only one problem with it: I had felt the way I felt for a long time before I was ever successful. Sure, I had impostor syndrome once I started to achieve some of my professional goals, but it was a distinct feeling.

No, there was something else there that predated the impostor syndrome.

It was why it took me years to call the house I lived in “my” house, even though I was helping my husband pay the mortgage and take care of the place, and as far as the state was concerned, the property was owned jointly after our wedding.

No, I was fixated on the fact that he bought the house six months before we got together, as if that invalidated everything else.

Meanwhile, our housemate who rented a room in the home proudly told so many people it was her house that many in our social circle mistakenly thought her name was the one on the mortgage and my husband was renting from her.

I didn’t have a word for this way that I seemed to be different than other people, let alone a possible cause.

And then I discovered what echoism is.

What Is Echoism?

Echoism is an idea currently gaining some steam in psychological communities. Sometimes also known as “the opposite of narcissism,” echoists are afraid of praise or appearing as too special. They prefer to hide in plain sight, appearing primarily as the ardent supporter of great people rather than as a great person themselves.

Instead of focusing on being the center of positive attention, echoists focus on giving and supporting others.

Often echoists have had at least one narcissistic parent. This is because narcissists will often actively seek other people who will give them positive attention and validation. In order to meet this demand, many children begin to do this. The personality tendencies further cement as they are actively rewarded for selfless behavior and actively punished for self-interested actions.

And forget about the child having needs of their own — particularly ones that inconvenience the parent.

Echosim gets its name from the myth of Echo and Narcissus. In the story, Echo is a wood nymph who falls in love with Narcissus, who is tragically only in love with his own reflection. Echo furthermore, cursed by Hera, was only able to repeat the words of others — or to echo them.

Echoism Is Still an Emerging Idea Without Hard Empirical Basis

As echoism is still an emerging idea, there’s really no hard research to back any of it up (good research takes time), so while it may have intuitive appeal, it’s good to exercise caution. Psychologists also advise that echoism isn’t a diagnosis or a condition but a proposed personality trait.

Still, it fits in a way that few other things have.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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