I used to stare at the mirror, tears streaming down my face trying to recognize something, anything about my reflection. I needed to know that I still existed after a decade of losing my identity to covert manipulation, isolation, and shame. I would focus on my eyes and my God, were they full of sorrow and fear. They say the eyes are the windows to our souls and I can see why because mine were so hollow and desolate matching exactly how my soul felt. The spark they once had, the zest for life was replaced by darkness, an echo of who I used to be.
In Greek mythology there's a story told by Roman poet Ovid in Metamorphoses that speaks on the tragedy of love when one is in a relationship with a narcissist. In the story, Narcissus, an attractive hunter who would be the equivalent of your modern day "playboy", breaks the hearts of many women. When Narcissus was only a child a prophecy was made that said if he would never look within himself (know Thyself) he would lead a strong life as one of the beautiful people. The prophecy proved true and Narcissus gained attention from many admirers with his looks but at the expense of becoming a self-absorbed, unkind, and arrogant jerk.
Narcissus became the object of infatuation by an equally alluring nymph named Echo. Echo was the kind of person that had no inhibitions speaking of her thoughts and opinions on things and because of this she was punished by the goddess Juno, who took away Echo's ability to speak freely. The punishment instilled upon her was that she could only repeat the last words of others, unable to have a voice for herself. She was succumbed to a life of echoing what others said and lost all power of her own convictions.
As the story goes, Narcissus was out hunting with others one day and became separated from them. He began calling out "who's there" in hopes of finding them but was instead met with the voice of Echo, who had been hiding out in the forest. Due to her punishment she had no voice of her own and all she could do was repeat Narcissus' words back to him. He called for her to come out of her hiding place and she happily obliged, falling in love with him instantly. She craved his attention but was savagely turned away by him as he said "may I die before you enjoy my body". Echo was humiliated and fled the forest, however, the admiration she had for Narcissus grew stronger every day. Over time as he continued to shun her she spiraled into a vicious cycle of dependency and despair eventually withering away from Narcissus' unrequited love and cruel behavior, leaving behind only the echos of her voice.
I think of this mythological story often because I was the modern day Echo. My own voice was silenced by mind control until I was no longer allowed to have thoughts of my own and my unconditional love, turned away and used against me by the narcissist in my life. All I could do in this toxic relationship was to echo his thoughts and his opinions until I had no voice of my own, losing my soul and sense of self along the way.
I have thought long and hard at how I, a strong individual who prided myself on my intelligence and wit, could have fallen for someone who was such a self-serving individual. It's taken a lot of research and inner work to come to the realization that I was an extreme people pleaser, a compassionate and emotionally intelligent person. I wanted desperately to see that all those around me were happy, often being able to read a persons mood based on their facial expressions and body language. It was an irrational duty I imposed on myself to do and say whatever so that there was no conflict or unhappiness amongst others. Essentially, I was at the opposite end of the narcissistic spectrum by having this fear of appearing too selfish, too dependent, and too good for others. I was a prime target because I wanted to believe in the broken, make them whole again, and was so gullible to believe that I had the ability to do such things. My empathy was sought after by someone who had none and it was exploited through years of psychological manipulations until eventually my soul was murdered and I was left like Echo, withered away and repeating who I was told I was; a worthless human who had no voice of her own.
I looked in that mirror every day for months until the tears became less and less and the once hollow eyes started showing vibrance again. I did and am still doing the vigorous work it takes for one to regain their identity lost to a narcissist- their spirit, their zest for life. Emotional trauma is a silent killer. The affected often buries their emotions, needs, and wants because they have been shut down and isolated too many times to count. The lack of validation and kindness from others when trying to speak of their story furthers this isolation.
If you find yourself or someone you know is or has suffered abuse at the hands of a narcissistic individual it is vital in the healing process to give them safety to be heard, to be believed, to guide them to finding their worth. We as a society often villainize the survivor instead of honoring and respecting them and this can be so re-traumatizing to those that have had to endure the pain. Most of my healing began when others really listened to me and validated my experiences. They treated me as a human being with such grace and kindness. I no longer had to echo because I was allowed to have my own voice again.
Kindness is underrated. Take one look at the vitriol thrown at one another online nowadays and it's no wonder people are scared to speak up out of fear for having their experiences either invalidated or thrown in their face. If Narcissus had only been kind to Echo and if she had been allowed to have a voice of her own, think of the life she could have lived instead of succumbing to sadness. You truly never know another's story and sometimes kindness can be all they need; to be felt as though they are somebody worth being kind to and somebody worth being heard.
Leo remembered what Nemesis had said about Echo and Narcissus: Perhaps they’ll teach you a lesson.
Leo had thought she’d meant Narcissus, but now he wondered if the real lesson for him was Echo—invisible to her brethren, cursed to love someone who didn’t care for her. A seventh wheel. He tried to shake that thought. He clung to the sheet of bronze like a shield.
He was determined never to forget Echo’s face. She deserved at least one person who saw her and knew how good she was.