The Devil – Unhealthy Attachments, Toxic Relationships and Weak Boundaries
This week during a reading, the Devil card appeared in all of its daunting glory. This can be an intimidating card visually, and sometimes its deeper meanings go unexplored. It got me thinking about my own Devil energies and the ways in which the meaning of the Devil card can appear in our lives quite unbeknownst to our conscious attention.
The keywords of the devil are: attachment, addiction, unhealthy habits and vices. The Major Arcana counterpart to the Devil is the Lovers. When read juxtaposed, these cards issue a warning about difficulty in relationships, co-dependency, jealousy and possessiveness.
The Devil brings to light the areas in life and in self that are utilized as distractions from our truth, and that allow us to escape from the difficult emotional realities of our experiences. We allow these vices, distractions and relationships to consume our lives because we lack clear boundaries around the definition of self relative to other.
If you have read anything about co-dependency, attachment injuries or boundary violations, you have certainly come across the idea of taking responsibility for the feelings of someone else. In my experience, this is a tough pill to swallow, and a bit of an illusive concept.
So, how do you take responsibility for someone else’s feelings?
When your boundaries are weak, your feelings tend to conflate with those of others in an effort to keep relationships and environments free of conflict. (“I don’t care where we eat” and “as long as everyone’s happy, I’m happy”)
When two people with weak boundaries get together, there will be passive aggressive communication about feelings. This is because when we are worried about how others feel to the point that it affects how we feel, we aren't comfortable directly communicating our feelings and needs.
When we betray ourselves by keeping quiet about our needs, we build resentment toward those whose feelings we have accommodated while sacrificing ourselves.
We may get into a dynamic with someone else who has weak boundaries wherein one person makes it very clear how they feel without bringing it up in conversation. They may slam doors, sigh loudly, or stomp around in expression of their feelings. When you ask them what is wrong, they may say, “I’m fine.” (but we know they’re not) (This is also known as poor emotional regulation, which is another card for another day!)
They do this because they are fearful of a direct confrontation, they may not be entirely sure how they feel or how to articulate it, and they may feel indignant that their feelings should be known without them having to say anything.
This is a passive aggressive strategy to get needs met. In response to this strategy, a partner who also has weak boundaries will feel guilty and seek to appease the upset person, validating the passive aggressive behaviour in the process. It is this act of validating passive aggressive communication that sends the message you will take responsibility for their feelings. The feeling of guilt arises from this sense of responsibility and compels us to step in, overreach, bend over backwards, appease, stroke egos… you get the idea.
But why do we feel guilty?
We are raised to be passive aggressive in Western culture, especially folks assigned female at birth. We are raised with the knowledge that the epitome of our existence is to embody the trope of the selfless mother figure, who tirelessly cares for all others before herself. We see our grandmothers and mothers aging with more weather than their male counterparts. We see women in our culture aiming to ‘have it all’; a beautiful family and a meaningful, fulfilling, full-time career life.
We are constantly bending over backwards to serve others, to make others comfortable, to do emotional labour for our loved ones. When we do not make ourselves available to do this, we have guilt – it is part of our cultural identity. Passive aggressive behaviour is a response to having adverse feelings (anger, disappointment, jealousy) and also feeling that it may be inappropriate or impolite to express them. We wouldn't want others to feel responsible for our feelings...... or would we?
See what I did there?
We may convince ourselves we are being polite and respectful, keeping it to ourselves. But this lie is only part of a series of actions in service of self-denial. When we don't communicate directly, we betray ourselves, and we grow resentment towards our loved ones.