Are You An Introvert — Or An Echoist? A Psychologist Explains The Difference
Most people have an intuitive sense of whether they're an extrovert or introvert. But sometimes people can confuse healthy introversion for what may actually be echoism.
What is an echoist?
In essence, think of the echoist as the counterpart of the narcissist. Coined by psychologist Craig Malkin, echoists are afraid to take up any space for fear of seeming narcissistic. They tend to be overgiving and do not like to receive, finding it difficult to ask for help. As a result, they can be self-effacing, overly modest, and suffer from a slew of mental health difficulties such as anxiety and depression. Because being an echoist makes them delicious bait for people with narcissistic personality disorder, when subject to abuse, having echoist traits also makes one vulnerable to trauma.
What is an introvert?
An introvert is someone who draws energy from spending time alone, as opposed to extroverts who draw energy from spending time with others (or ambiverts, who draw energy from both).
Introversion has had a bad rep. Those of us who prefer to stay in and recharge, hang out one-on-one, or mull deeply before answering, are often perceived as being inferior to our extroverted or ambivert counterparts. And yet, introversion is simply the way some of us are wired. Respecting our introvert traits means we can master our energy, growth, and relationships.
How to tell the difference.
If both the introvert and the echoist can be quiet and withdrawn, in contrast to louder extroverts and overt narcissists, then how do we distinguish them?
1. Introverts aren't anxious around others. Echoists are.
Introverts are not anxious around other people. They like spending time on their own because they are comfortable with aloneness without feeling lonely. Echoists are anxious around other people; they are eager to please, afraid they might appear narcissistic, and are always checking themselves.
2. Echoists aren't actually recharged by alone time.
Introverts spend time on their own—to tend to their indoor garden or their homes, or simply to do nothing—and it is something that soothes and energizes them. Echoists spend time alone because they are afraid to reach out because that means making demands on others. Or they are judging themselves. Furthermore, when doing those, echoists incinerate their energy reserves.
3. Introverts don't struggle to reach out to others. Echoists do.
Introverts will reach out for company when they desire or need it; in fact, many introverts also recharge from spending time one-on-one. They simply feel overwhelmed in big groups—there are too many simultaneous conversations going on, too little time to reflect, or sensory overload. Otherwise, too many people can take a long time to make decisions.
An echoist finds it difficult to ask people to spend time with them, unless they feel they are useful to the person-in-question, for instance if that person is feeling down. Or they might decline social invitations.
4. Echoism stems from trauma, unlike introversion.
Introversion is a type of brain wiring. In essence, this refers to your personality— enduring traits that make up who you are. When leveraged, it is a healthy way of relating because you play to your strengths.
Echoism stems from trauma. It is a learned response to difficult parenting or other close relationships. In essence, introversion is healthy. Echoism is not.
5. Introverts are great with boundaries. Echoists aren't.
Introverts are aware of their boundaries and can exercise them. They are clear about who they let into their houses, phone books, hearts, and minds; they aren't afraid of saying no, and they learn how to say it gracefully. Because of these, introverts can be great masters of their time and energy.
In contrast, echoists say yes when they mean no. They are afraid of hurting someone else and often play up the worst-case scenarios in their heads. Because of that, they end up feeling over-responsible for others' burdens, and then they play the rescuer. Therefore, they always feel as though they are suffering from a time and energy debt that keeps piling up, making them feel more helpless and hopeless as time passes.
6. Echoists seek to hide themselves, whereas introverts know their strengths.
Introverts are comfortable with revealing their strengths and hobbies, aware that's what helps them connect with people and even inspire others. Echoists hide themselves and their strengths. To them, showing someone their hobby or talent means they are taking up space or appearing narcissistic.
7. Echoists self-silence.
Introverts are quiet because they are reflective. Information gets processed through the long acetylcholine pathway, and they have more gray matter. Put simply, this means they think more and for longer periods of time.
In contrast, echoists stay silenced because they are afraid their opinion is offensive to someone else, they don't trust their gut, or they don't even know what they think or feel, and so it's easy to defer to someone else.
8. Introverts know how to depend on people, whereas echoists don't.
Introverts can depend on people—they know that they can always reach out for help, even if it can feel scary or embarrassing. They know how to receive, and they know that others have their back. Echoists, however, feel they cannot depend on people because they've learned the world is a dangerous place, they'll get punished should they receive, or they only feel useful if they allow someone to depend on them. Otherwise, they've learned that they are not worthy of receiving or depending on others.
9. Echoists experience a lot of burnout from their lifestyle, unlike introverts.
You don't burn out from being a healthy introvert. In fact, you lead a healthy, thriving life alongside your fellow extroverts and ambiverts. If you're an echoist, you'll burnout many times throughout your life.
Could you be both an introvert and an echoist?
We are talking about healthy introversion here. This is not to say you're either an introvert or an echoist; you could be both. There are introverted narcissists too. And then there are introverts who have social anxiety, making it difficult for them to function in social situations. We discuss healthy introversion so you can leverage your strengths as an introvert.
We are also discussing extreme echoism here. For instance, you may reach out at times but you feel held back, which means you have some echoist traits. But no matter how much you resonate with echoism, the point here is that you can set out to heal.
Perpetua Neo, DClinPsy, is a psychologist and executive coach currently living in Singapore. She received her doctorate in clinical psychology from University College London and her master's in philosophy from University of Cambridge. Her first book This Is What Matters was published by Simon & Schuster in May 2022, which guides you to transform crisis to strength, or design an #EverydayAmazing life.
She has been featured in Elle, Forbes, and Business Insider and has previously worked with Olympians, business professionals, and individuals seeking to master their psychological capital. She works globally in English and Mandarin-Chinese via Skype and Facetime, blending cutting-edge neuroscience, psychology, and ancient wisdom.