NarcissusIn Greek mythology, Echo was a wood nymph who loved a youth by the name of Narcissus. He was a beautiful creature loved by many, but Narcissus loved no one. He enjoyed attention, praise and envy. In Narcissus’ eyes, nobody matched him and as such he considered none were worthy of him.

Echo’s passion for Narcissus was equaled only by her passion for talking as she always had to have the last word. One day she enabled the escape of the goddess Juno’s adulterous husband by engaging Juno in a conversation. On finding out Echo’s treachery, Juno cursed Echo by removing her voice with the exception that she could only speak that which was spoken to her.

Echo often waited in the woods to see Narcissus hoping for a chance to be noticed. One day as she lingered in the bushes he heard her footsteps and called out “Who’s here?” Echo replied “Here!” Narcissus called again “Come”, Echo replied “Come!” Narcissus called once more “Why do you shun me?… Let us join one another.” Echo was overjoyed that Narcissus had asked her to join him. She longed to tell him who she was and of all the love she had for him in her heart but she could not speak. She ran towards him and threw herself upon him.

Narcissus became angry “Hands off! I would rather die than you should have me!” and threw Echo to the ground. Echo left the woods, her heart broken. Ashamed she ran away to live in the mountains yearning for a love that would never be returned. The grief killed her. Her body became one with the mountain stone. All that remained was her voice which replied in kind when others spoke.

Narcissus continued to attract many nymphs all of whom he briefly entertained, before refusing them. The gods grew tired of his behaviour and cursed Narcissus. They wanted him to know what it felt like to love and never be loved. They made it so there was only one whom he would love, someone who was not real and could never love him back.

One day whilst out enjoying the sunshine Narcissus came upon a pool of water. As he gazed into it, he caught a glimpse of what he thought was a beautiful water spirit. He did not recognise his own reflection and was immediately enamoured. Narcissus bent down his head to kiss the vision. As he did so the reflection mimicked his actions. Taking this as a sign of reciprocation Narcissus reached into the pool to draw the water spirit to him. The water displaced and the vision was gone. He panicked, where had his love gone? When the water became calm the water spirit returned. “Why, beautiful being, do you shun me? Surely my face is not one to repel you. The nymphs love me, and you yourself look not indifferent upon me. When I stretch forth my arms you do the same, and you smile upon me and answer my beckoning with the like.” Again he reached out and again his love disappeared. Frightened to touch the water Narcissus lay still by the pool gazing into the eyes of his vision.

He cried in frustration. As he did so Echo also cried. He did not move, he did not eat or drink, he only suffered. He became gaunt, losing his beauty. The nymphs that loved him pleaded with him to come away from the pool. As they did so Echo also pleaded with him. He was transfixed; he wanted to stay there forever. Narcissus, like Echo, died with grief. His body disappeared and where his body once lay a flower grew in its place. The nymphs mourned his death and as they mourned Echo also mourned.

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The story of Echo and Narcissus is used as a warning to those who love someone that can not love them back and is often used as a basis for understanding the implications of a condition known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). It is also used in reference to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Extracts are taken from the “The Age of Fable” written by THOMAS BULFINCH were used in the story above.

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Of significance in this myth is that narcissism is based in a relationship process. Unlike many psychiatric disorders, it does not develop independently of relationships. Because it develops in relationship disorders, it manifests in relationships and can only be changed through a relationship process.

We all have narcissism to one degree or another. The problem evolves when it is the dominant aspect of our relationships.

Narcissists operate from an image they hold of themselves in their mind. They do not operate from the reality of feelings in their body. This does not mean they do not feel. It means their feelings are generated by what they believe about themselves and others in their head. They do not “test” these beliefs through “real” interactions with people.

Because they froze the ability to feel at a young age, they never have the opportunity to correct the picture they hold of themselves in their mind. We all hold pictures of ourselves in our head. We are willing or desire to change these pictures of ourselves on the basis of feedback from others and through an accurate assessment of who we are.

When the narcissist is confronted with a reality of who they are and that differs from their mental picture, they discount the information. If the information persists or gets stronger they will rage at the information or the informer.

Because they are frozen inside, they have to cling to the image they hold. If you try to go in deeper, you will discover that there is no depth to the person. The narcissist knows that and will prevent you from going beneath the surface at all costs. Any penetration of the surface reveals the emptiness they experience from within.