Unloved daughters is not a term we talk about every day, but there’s more to it than narcissism. “While the word “narcissism” has certainly gone mainstream—Google it and you’ll be offered up no fewer than 57 million entries—the term “echoism,” coined by my fellow blogger Dr. Craig Malkin in his book Rethinking Narcissism, is now beginning to get the recognition it deserves. Mind you, echoism isn’t a diagnosis but a trait, and knowing about it can be valuable on the journey to reclaiming yourself from the effects of a toxic childhood or one in which your emotional needs weren’t met.
The Narcissist Has A PreyThe term derives from the same Greek myth as narcissism. The story is a morality tale about the gods, overstepping bonds, unrequited love, and the dangers of self-absorption. A wood nymph named Echo is punished by the Goddess Hera for distracting her from spying on one of her husband Zeus’ paramours; Echo is deprived of her voice, only able to repeat the words said by another. The other thread in the myth is the beautiful Narcissus who is granted eternal life as long as he doesn’t catch a glimpse of himself; again, there is a glitch because the gods notice that he’s rather a cad and he leaves a trail of spurned dead lovers in his wake. Mind you, all of this via Ovid and other sources, long before chick flicks and Lifetime movies. Yes, as scripted, destiny is cruel: Echo falls in love with Narcissus who sees his reflection, becomes besotted with his own pretty face, and dies (but he does get to turn into a flower which is more than Echo gets) and the spurned Echo becomes, yes, an echo. In Dr. Malkin’s view, if narcissism is seen as a spectrum—with healthy self-regard in the middle—the grandiose, self-absorbed and empathy-deficient Narcissus is one on end and the disempowered and voiceless Echo is on the other. While none of us needs convincing that it’s bad to be a narcissist and even worse to be involved with one, it’s really no better to be at the self-effacing end where the person is incapable of seeing her own needs, much less addressing them. And, yes, being in a relationship with an echoist has its own set of perils.
How the Unloved Daughter Become An EchoistNot every unloved daughter will become an echoist; her behaviors are developed in response to her mother’s treatment of her and some patterns of maternal behavior are more likely to produce an echoist—someone who doesn’t have enough healthy narcissism or self-regard—than others. Mothers who are high in narcissistic traits who teach their children that their job is to stay in Mom’s orbit, act as she wants you to act or pay the consequences, and that pleasing someone else is more important than voicing your own needs and wants provide the perfect environment for raising an echoist. This daughter has learned that the path to success with her mother is remaining voiceless. Daughters who have mothers who are combative or controlling also learn that to speak out has a high price and some will detach from their own feelings and thoughts to go along to get along; they have absorbed the lesson that staying under the radar is a safe place to be and that unconscious assumption follows them into adult life. Mothers high in control with an authoritarian style of parenting often believe that criticizing a child or undermining her achievement prevents her from “getting a swelled head,” being self-centered, prideful, or thinking “too highly of herself” also produce echoists. Similarly, shaming a child for “being too sensitive” or crying or showing her feelings muzzles the child emotionally and echoism becomes a way of protecting herself. In my book, Daughter Detox, I use the framework of attachment theory to explain the effects of childhood treatment on the unloved daughter.
Not being seen, not having your emotional needs met, and not being loved or supported results in an insecure adult style of attachment.There are three: