The Myths of Narcissism

There is much to learn from the ancients.  And, the subject of narcissism is no exception.  It has a long history, both for the narcissist and for those in relationship to him.  [I’ll use male pronouns in reference to these myths, as the characters in the stories are male. However, narcissism is not gender specific.] Ovid and Homer both wrote stories on the subject.  It’s likely you are familiar with the Greek myth starring the young man, Narcissus.  His beauty so great, his very presence attracted the attention of maidens and yet he scorned their advances having none of them.  Even Echo, the fairest of the maidens, cursed by Hera, could not gain audience with the handsome Narcissus.

As the story goes, the goddess, Hera, distracted from her investigation into Zeus’ whereabouts by the lively chatter of Echo, condemned the young maid never to use her tongue again except to repeat what was said to her.  “You will always have the last word,” Hera said, “but no power to speak the first.”  This created a great obstacle for Echo to win the attention of Narcissus whom she adored.  One day she took her opportunity as Narcissus called to his companions, “Is anyone here?”  And Echo repeated, “Here, here.”  Hidden by the trees, Narcissus didn’t see her and spoke, “Come.”  To which she joyfully answered, “Come.”  Stepping out from the woods with her arms outstretched, Narcissus refused her with disgust, saying, “Not so, I will die before I give you power over me.”  All she could say, humbly, entreatingly, was, “I give you power over me,” but he was gone.  Echo hid herself, ashamed, in a lonely cave never to be comforted.  It is said that she pined away and all that is left is her voice.


Echo shows us two common responses to the narcissist.  1) Loosing the ability to voice your personal perspective and, 2) shrinking off invisibly into whatever “cave” we design for our own refuge. Because the narcissist is unable to entertain a point of view other than his own, he cannot “hear” another angle.  At the very least, carefully crafting your words to align as closely as possible with his viewpoint and vocabulary is a skill set most receivers develop.  How about you?  Agreement, word-smithing, or conflict seems commonplace in these relationships.

And then there’s the cave.  Narcissists are smart.  We can appreciate that about them.  They are usually wise in their selection of partners.  An ideal partner is one that has learned to hide well, concede, is shy, awkward or retiring.  Having someone who is satisfied with the shadows cast by the narcissist’s brilliance suits him well.  However, I know of few people who would describe themselves in such terms, at least in the beginning.  Discovering how we energetically, if not physically shrink into the smallest possible space, face outward, like a wounded fox in it’s lair, is frequently a result of being in relationship with the narcissistic.  It’s like wearing a pair of shoes that are a bit too tight.  They may look good, and you can get by wearing them for a while, but long term, they wear blisters and are too painful.

While I’d love to prescribe throwing away the shoes, I cannot be so cavalier.  For some, that is the only pair they have and going barefooted has it’s own dangers.  Perhaps it helps to know where the pinch is and a flower in the cave may help.

More on the myths next time….




Posted in Uncategorized on 10/26/2012 08:08 am

Leave a Reply