Have you heard the Greek myth of Echo and Narcissus? There are many versions of the story, but I’ll share with you mine.
Once upon a time, there was a god named Zeus who was having a fling with one of the nymphs. Echo, a fellow nymph, would cover for him. When his (very angry) wife Juno would come dashing through the forest trying to catch her husband in the act, she’d get dazzled and distracted by Echo, the queen of chitchat. However, when Juno found out she cursed Echo with her favorite thing: having the last word.
One day Echo was walking through the forest when she came across the handsome Narcissus, the most beautiful man in all the land, whom she fell madly in love with. Meanwhile, Narcissus was busy gazing at himself in the pond.
Narcissus felt Echo watching him and called out, “Who’s here?” and she, being an echo, replied, “Here!”
This went on for some time before Narcissus asked, “Who are you? Let us join one another.”
Echo, overjoyed at the return of love, leaped up and ran towards him, wanting to put her arms around his neck.
“Hands off!” he exclaimed. “I would rather die than be with you!”
The gods were angry at Narcissus’ vanity, so they cursed him to a life without human love. They wanted him to know what it felt to love someone and not be loved back. Narcissus starved to death because he could not look away from his own reflection, while heartbroken Echo, overcome by grief, died alone in a mountain cave.
Narcissus is a narcissist and Echo is codependent. Echo is a pleaser and a fixer; Narcissus is a taker and controller.
Echo engages in a pattern of thought, feeling, and behavior that is overly reliant on others.
Narcissus is a narcissist, someone with an excess of self-love, pride, and ego.
Naturally, they are the perfect pairing. Codependents have low self-esteem so they seek the bold and domineering presence of a narcissist. Narcissists take the lead, needing a more passive, submissive partner – actually, more like a follower – to be their mirror. On the outside, they seem different, but deep down they are two sides of the same coin. They both lack a healthy identity.
A codependent is like a diamond with a few scratches, but because she is not perfect, she believes herself to be unlovable. So, she engages in caretaking and people pleasing to control how she is seen (good, kind, loving, caring, giving, selfless) since others define her identity.
If a codependent lets someone down they feel guilty or ashamed because they are not what other people want them to be, i.e. perfect; they’ve confused care and sacrifice for love and loyalty.
A codependent, fearing rejection and abandonment, needs people so they stay with the narcissist – whom they believe is “the best they can do” – while harboring feelings of anger and resentment.
Echoes have a lot of trouble communicating what they need, think, and feel because they are afraid of being truthful – or truthfully themselves – will upset someone. They, like everyone, desire a caring and respectful partner that understands their needs. However, they sabotage their chances by pairing with a narcissist, a man who only loves himself.
Narcissists believe they are diamonds. When in reality, they are made of glass. Narcissists have a captivating beauty with an aura of charm and success, so it is easy to fall under their spell. Once hooked, you are expected to fulfill their bottomless pit of need.
See, narcissists are “perfect”, meaning they believe the world should revolve around them. Codependents are expected to anticipate and cater to their every demand in order to be valued – an impossible request! When someone says “no” to a narcissist it deeply threatens him. Boundaries force them to see themselves, ironically revealing, that a narcissist does not know himself. They avoid criticism (their worst fear) by rejecting Echoes that do not mirror back what they want to see.
So I wonder, what’s gotta give? How do Echo and Narcissus change this dynamic? Can this dynamic change, or is it all or nothing?
*While I refer to codependents as “she” and narcissists as “he” it is not gender-specific – men can be codependent and women can be narcissistic.