Addicted to Anguish—
©2009 by Donna Cunningham, MSW
Every planet in the birth chart and every trait associated with that planet exists along a scale of one to ten, with one being miniscule to ten being way over the top. People with Neptune, Pisces, or the 12th house strong in their charts are often compassionate, with great empathy and a willingness to help those who are suffering. When you shoot past seven on the scale for compassion, it begins to morph into something else—occasionally sainthood, but more often into being a sucker or rescuer.
If you’re familiar with addiction/codependency literature, rescuers (a.k.a. enablers) get enmeshed with people they’re trying to save in ways that are toxic for both. Over time, codependency becomes a full-blown addiction of its own. It eats up more and more of the rescuer’s life force and attention, leaving no room for growth or fulfillment. Worse, the addicted or otherwise dysfunctional person doesn’t get any better, because the rescuer protects them from consequences of the addiction. Enough—read the literature or go to the groups if you think this might apply to you.
What I want to talk about here are the high sixes and sevens on the compassion scale. It’s a sliding scale with adjustable costs depending on your available resources. It’s a case of pay as you go, and then keep on paying, because enough is never enough, not for the rescuer and not for the rescued.
I have a friend who’s at least a seven on the compassion scale, though she can slide to an eight at a moment’s notice. She’s got a great heart and is forever befriending those who are ill or down and out. The scruffiest, most bedraggled animals and humans we encounter on the street engage her sympathy immediately. Though a city-dweller in her mid-60s, she remains naïve, seldom recognizing signals that the individual is playing her.
She’s a loving person, and I admire her for her great empathy with the suffering souls of the world. A recovering New Yorker, I feel hard-hearted next to her. I recognize that she’s a far, far better person than I am. But, really, it’s sometimes a bit much. We went out for breakfast this weekend, and I caught a glimpse of a nine on the scale. I grasped for the first time the not so saintly underpinnings of her need to be needed. I saw why certain Neptunians live to suffer, to be martyred. I got that she is addicted to anguish.
So that you understand the foundation of these observations, I should mention that I earned a Master’s Degree in Social Work in 1967 and have been observing human behavior intently through more than 40 years of astrology and psychotherapy consultations. I’m not just some cynic.
Still, I don’t know how to describe her demeanor in a way that doesn’t make me look like a hard case. She….okay, wallowed sounds bad, I know. But she appeared to thrive on the welling up of empathy…to get enmeshed in the angst. That morning I could see that it’s a bit of living vicariously through other people’s sorrows. Most of us, when we live vicariously, love to partake of others’ joys or successes. As a people, we’re fascinated with the lives of the rich and famous, drinking in every detail.
As I tried to console her, I could sense a strange sort of excitement about being in that state, an almost sensual immersion in anguish. There was a glow about her that doesn’t usually exist, a tinge of ecstasy.
Experts in psychotherapy write that people who engage in self-inflicted pain—like compulsively cutting themselves with razor blades—tend to do so when they feel deadened, numb, and need intense stimulation to feel alive. On the emotional level, martyrdom—another Neptunian quality—can serve much the same purpose.
I spent time later that day trying to sort out what was going on—reflecting on my friend’s history and what’s been going on in her life the past several years. I came to the conclusion that feeling for others with the intensity she does may start out as compassion, and Lord knows she does a lot of good in our world. But part of the payoff is that when she merges with their pain, she no longer feels dead inside.
I’d guess we all feel deadened at times, and we all have our ways of coping. Neptune rules addictions, and addictions are one way, whether they be to substances, exercise, retail therapy, the various ISMs, dysfunctional relationships, or some combination of the above. My friend’s way of coping with numbness is probably better than most, and in the long run, makes the world a kinder place. It is not to be confused with saintliness, though Neptunians are often confused on that score. ~