They echo. The words I wish I hadn’t said. Images of the things I wish I had never done. The things people said to me that stung. It happens to everyone.
Recently, my echoing thoughts got me thinking about the myth of Echo and Narcissus.
In ancient Greek mythology, Echo fell in love with the beautiful Narcissus. Echo followed him wherever he went. She was too intimidated by his beauty to show herself to him and declare her love. When Narcissus thought he heard someone in the area, he’d ask, “who’s there?” and Echo would repeat his words rather than acknowledge her presence.
One day Narcissus saw himself reflected in a lake. His beauty transfixed him. He fell in love with himself. Unable to part with his reflection even for a moment, Narcissus died of starvation.
After Narcissus drew his last breath, Echo’s body soon withered away too. She died longing for the beautiful young man who never knew she existed. That is how Echo became an incorporeal voice. She wanders the world, still looking for her beautiful Narcissus. Sometimes, when we’re beautiful, or in the right place, she follows us and repeats our words. Her voice is soft; that’s how longing sounds. It’s too deep to be loud.
The inner voice that echos with negativity, from where does that come?
What’s it for?
Is there an evolutionary basis for it?
A mythological one?
Does it keep us from loving ourselves so much that we fall too deeply in love with ourselves?
If our inner voice’s goal is to save us from the fate that befell Narcissus, perhaps it’s a good thing.
Self-love taken to the extreme is deadly. If not for ourselves, then perhaps for others, the ones who adore us like Echo.
We do need to be able to keep a check on our self-adoring egos, but our inner negative voice goes too far.
Where does the negative voice come from?
Tara Brach, a Buddhist teacher, and psychologist describes in her book Radical Acceptance the “trance of unworthiness.” In this trance state, we know we judge ourselves harshly, but we are unaware of how pervasive it is or how it seeps into our lives. It becomes our normal state.
So what do we do with our negative voices?
Plenty of people have written about the human propensity for negative self-talk and how to stop it. The answer I usually see is to focus on positivity. But doesn’t that just lead us to see-saw back and forth? One day we love ourselves. The next day we despise us.
I believe the answer, if there is one, is to listen to the talk, acknowledge it, recognize it without identifying with it. It’s simply a part of being human.
We don’t need to drown it out to not to drown in it.
We need not put our names on our critical voice. We can keep it separate and distinct from our identity.
But perhaps we should have some compassion for our negative voice, our Echo. It fears our strength and our beauty even more than we do.
© 2020, A. Breslin. All Rights Reserved
Image Credit: Echo and Narcissus, John William Waterhouse