Monday, October 1, 2012

Lack of Object Constancy: Effects and How to Deal with It

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. You’ve heard this phrase before correct? Not for someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. For us, absence makes the heart grow colder. We see with our heart instead of eyes all too often.

Dealing with a lack of object constancy is difficult. It affects all our relationships. There’s only a tentative connection which needs constant, or at least consistent, affirmation, where a permanent bond should be. It’s like a radio signal when you’re passing through a mountain or out of range; the connection gets choppy and fills with static so you don’t have a clear signal. It makes you believe that since the person is out of range, you’re not really connected to them anymore. How can they remember you if you’re not around? So the natural reaction is to want to be around more, and more, to start to worry when they go off and do things on their own b/c it feels like you’re not a part of their life anymore.

Depending on the trust and the strength of the relationship this can be better or worse. With Tech Boy or Boring-Ex, I had significant enough trust in our relationship (that they wouldn’t cheat on me) that if I didn’t see them for a few days at a time I wasn’t getting panicky, but I did basically feel like I wasn’t a part of their world and I couldn’t fathom that they would be thinking about me, even though I hoped they were. Now with Evil-Ex, that didn’t exist. I lived with him, and if we weren’t in the same room I felt like our bond was broken and something shady was going on. In my defense, it usually was (that’s not paranoia, just fact). He would go out without me, and all I felt was a void where our relationship should be. If we weren’t literally together, than it didn’t feel like we were together in any aspect.

In retrospect that was a big indicator that something was severely wrong. If even the mere thought of your loved on/friend/family inspires ideas of loss and that sense of void, it’s time to ask yourself why do you feel that way? What is missing in your trust that you can’t hold onto them? For all the Nons, if you see this in your partners ask yourself the same. I’m sure I drove Evil-Ex crazy. He didn’t know why I would get so freaked out… but then again, he didn’t know that I was aware of all the shady shit he got up to and the lies he would tell to try and get away with them. Remember, we’re a hypersensitive bunch. It’s not that difficult for me to tell when someone is lying to me (in person). It got to the point that even when we were together I felt excluded from him. Or so guarded against him that I could no longer let him in. I had to protect myself so much that to open a window for that connection to come through would leave a place for him to start tearing me down as well.

For friends my panic isn’t quite so great, it’s just empty. Where I see them in my mind, there’s a void where their hearts should be next to mine. I think people forget about me. Not maliciously, but because they have their own lives they just have no reason to think about me. So they forget. And then I feel guilty for “imposing” on them by reminding them that I’m here; i.e. asking them to hang out. I want them to get ahold of me so I know I’m not interrupting or bothering them, and also for that validation I want that they remember I’m here. That they care.

I think a lot of having a lack of object constancy is part of a greater dissociative defense mechanism. Many people with BPD have been subject to significant trauma and abuse so we develop these defense mechanisms to cope with the abuse at the time. But because the experience is so traumatic that need to protect ourselves never goes away, and that coping mechanism becomes maladaptive; existing when it no longer is necessary.  

So what can we do about this?

Things for other people to do. Be present but not overbearing. Try to be aware of the space we need, but don’t disappear.

Here’s the thing. We know we need consistent affirmation in our relationships. Because we don’t feel a constant connection, it’s scary. We don’t have that emotion bond that provides reassurance in your absence. At the same time, many (most?) of us know how obnoxious it can be to portray that sort of neediness, and want to avoid being clingy. I’m not a clingy person. Despite my attachment needs, I’m very independent. I just want to know that I’m being thought about, that you care, that you remember me when I’m not actually with you. Easy things to help with this:

            Give a call.

            Send a text without prompting just to say you’re thinking about us.

Give a gift for them to actually hold onto. You don’t have to be obvious about it (i.e. Here’s something for you to remember me by blah blah blah), but just  something that’s a part of you for us to hold when you’re gone.  < ----- Around my computer and on that wall, I pin stuff too it, hang stuff on, just to remind myself that people have thought about me when I wasn’t around.

Something my Therapist does, she’ll tell me if she thought about me during the week and why.

For us: How do deal with it, work on it. Be patient. It will take us a long time to truly internalize someone. It’s okay.

It’s helpful to be mindful of your own feelings and work on staying connected to your own feelings, feeling them, in the moment. Don’t invalidate yourself. Don’t judge how you’re feeling. Don’t try to shut your emotions down. Allow yourself to experience them. Acknowledge them. Hell, write them down. Practice. Practice remaining present in your emotions without judgment.

But Haven, what does this have to do with connecting to other people?

Part of my problem is I often feel very disconnected from myself. I feel empty, like there’s no one inside to live through. (Not so much anymore, but this memory is still very very clear). If you can’t connect solidly to yourself, how can you connect to others?

Then  you can work on remaining present with your feelings when you’re with someone else. Preferably someone you can trust. Not just someone you want to trust, someone that has proven trustworthy. Often we are so on guard, are so wired into Protector mode, that it’s impossible to penetrate the walls we erect.
We need to practice being vulnerable. Vulnerability has become a bad word because we’ve made it synonymous with weak. But that’s not true. To be vulnerable is to be human. We know we are. We know how susceptible to being hurt we can be. That’s why we create these massive protective defenses to keep from getting hurt. But those defenses are also what keep us from creating allies. They keep out the bad, but they keep out the good as well.

We live in a world with bad people. That’s the truth. But not all of them are bad. Everyone does make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean some people don’t deserve a chance. So be mindful. Keep your eyes open. Allow yourself to let down those walls on brick at a time with someone that you can trust, or can develop trust with.

Keep in contact. Consistently. Even when I trust someone, if I don’t see them for a couple weeks, my connection begins to fade. Make an effort. Eventually you won’t even have to be so consistent, but when  you’re trying to develop that lasting bond, consistency is key, especially since we’re not emotionally consistent people.

Be patient. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your lover/friend/family. I takes me a very long time to really internalize someone as a real fixture in my life. I can count the number of people on one hand that this applies too, and honestly, it doesn’t even include my parents all the time; though it’s starting to. Don’t try to force it either. I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to internalize people anymore, so frankly, I just didn’t think about it. I just kept trying. I focused on developing a healthy relationship with people I cared about. Some people are still in this process with me (whether they know it or not), some people, like xRoommate, are totally there. It takes time, and the amount of time it takes is going to depend on you and the person you’re working with.

Those are some of the things that have helped me. I hope they help you too. 


  1. So true...
    Diagnosed with BPD for a while, now, I must say that the lack of object constancy is my main problem (except, of course, when BPD doesn't affect me in another way...) and nearly killed my relationship with the girl that I'm with for almost 7 years. We were living together and almost everything went absolutely fine but I had to leave her for almost 2 years because of my work and she just couldn't follow me. This is when this personnality trait really kicked in : I began to feel extremely alone (more than ever) and to doubt of her feelings, which were really true. I began to build a wall around me in order to protect myself from my feelings of loneliness and sadness. She spent many nights out, seeing friends and having fun, which is absolutely okay but I began to wonder if she still had a place in her life for me. She kept telling that this was the case but just couldn't take care of all my needs, among them the absolute need for reassurance. So, slowly and inexorably, doubt settled in my mind. And made me tell her that I just couldn't take it anymore and had to break up (which, in case, was just the opposite of what I really wanted - namely to be with her). After much crying and anger, we decided not to break up, having strong feelings toward one another. But I'm still alone, still 800 miles away from her and man, do I need to be patient !
    As you say, patience is key. However, patience is just like trust : it takes a enormous amount of time and effort to develop it. And just one tiny blow to take it down...

    Anyway, many thanks for sharing this with us, Haven !

    PS : sorry for my English, I can't really say that it's my mother tongue ;)

  2. Your blog is great. Thank you for putting your thoughts into pixels.

    I have some members of my extended family who suffer from mental illness. I was raised with a lot of compassion and have learned to understand how to interact in an as-positive-as-possible manner. I am struggling, though, with wrapping my brain around certain behaviors that pertain to BPD. I was hoping you or one of your readers could help me out. Riddle me this about object constancy:

    My girlfriend broke up with me at the end of the summer of 2011. I now know a year later that she indeed has a PD, but the specifics of the diagnosis are unknown to me. (In retrospective analysis, she exhibits many waif-like tendencies. She also ended the relationship at a high point. Things were going smashingly well. I thought I would marry this woman.)

    Even after she hastily broke up with me and put me into silent treatment, she would still visit my private blog and look at pictures, principally ones of her. A few months later, she posted one of her art assignments to her blog. I stumbled across it and it was clear that it was showing "us" in an esoteric place halfway around the world, and it was posted exactly when I (alone) was in that place. Let's just say that it would be highly unusual for someone to know my trip's details without having done some digging.

    Through the fall and winter, I would periodically write my ex-girlfriend a short note, indicating that I was thinking of her and that I hoped she was well. I was also quite deliberate in not writing her during the grad school term, so not to cause an overt trigger when an email with my name popped into her inbox. I didn't want to compromise her studies.

    Her birthday was in May. I wrote her a short birthday email. Other than some terse notes immediately after the breakup, she has been 100% email or text or phone call silent with me. Other than the odd click on my blog photos (they're private, so it has to be her...), she hasn't said anything to me.

    Suddenly in June, she starts viewing my LinkedIn profile and adds me as a contact. I accept, write her a note, and receive no response. A month and a bit later, I ask her if she would consider meeting up. I received no response and she deleted me from LinkedIn.

    To be fair, I have never "confronted" her, but I have used terminology that she used back at the breakup point. "clarity", "boundaries", "triggers", etc. A counseling psychologist friend of mine indicated that it would be highly likely that she has had prior counseling exposure because of her use of these and other "psychological" terms. It suffices to say that my short notes to her have always been thoughtful, non-accusatory, and empathetic. A number of my "non" female friends cried when they read them. "Letters no woman would ever throw away, never mind forget" is how my notes have been described.

    I was out with friends at an art event this past Friday. She shows up with some classmates and turns and cowers away from me as she walks by. It looked like she was hoping I wouldn't see her. This is the first time I've seen her since a chance public encounter after the breakup a year ago where she also cowered away. She must have then bolted because she wasn't seen again by either me or my friends.

    I'm in the process of detaching and moving on, as I am coming to final terms with what has transpired over the last year. Seeing her again for a second on Friday stirred up my emotional pot, though... it brings up the comments that a number of mental health professionals have told me over the last year (after hearing the long, detail-laden version of the story): "if we were to bet, it's just a matter of time before you hear directly from her again, in spite of the year of silence from her".

    Highest regards!

    1. Why do the mental health professionals you mention say they think it's just a matter of time before you hear from her, in spite of the year of silence?

      I'm aware of what's sometimes referred to as "hoovering," but aside from that being a pejorative term, what makes them think she'll reestablish contact, given that she's slunk away both times she's seen you in the last year, and she's made no attempt at all to reconnect? The fact that she ended it when your relationship was at a peak?

    2. If I knew for certain, I wouldn't be asking for alternate takes on the situation! :-)

      I believe their point is that there have been demonstrated "passive" communication attempts in that the web-surfing of photos is logged and known to me, as are the profile views on the networking website. It's like leaving foot or fingerprints.

      Additionally, based on their experiences with other individuals with PDs and other behavioral nuances of hers I described to them, it was explained to me as "more likely than less likely" based on the premise that she appears to have a reasonably high awareness of her behaviors and may have acted so to essentially shield me from seeing the "bad stuff".

      One theorized that the breakup might actually have been precipitated by a triangulation involving one of her parents (dad being the abuser, me being the rescuer), occurring immediately after I met her family. I may have simply been the weakest side of the triangle after walking into a multi-generational PD situation. There is some anecdotal evidence (including a text message from my ex-gf a few weeks later along the lines of "I really miss you. I wish things weren't so complicated.") as well as some corroboration from trusted third parties to this extent too.

      Unfortunately there are number of "devils in the details" that I can't readily share here without telling a very long and elaborate story.

    3. Hi dskennan, It sounds like you worked with mental health professionals who knew a great deal about pwBPD and their behaviors. I was in a very f-ed up situation with a woman with BPD about a year ago and I have been wanting to talk with a counselor about it but I want to be sure I talk to someone who knows a lot about pwBPD so they'll understand better. How did you locate a mental health professional who is specifically knowledgeable about BPD? I've read that not all counselors are.

  3. If I don't talk to someone for a bit it's like they don't exist.

    Then when I talk to them, even if it is years later, it's like we never stopped talking shortly after.

    Your post reminded me of this.

    1. Same for me too. It works if the other person is confident in themselves. If they have their own issues and couldn't show their confidence in our previous relationship for that moment sometimes I instinctively treat them as someone I'd just met, forgetting all the times we've talked and conversed with one another. I think I've hurt many people that way.

  4. Wow....I just was in a relationship with someone who has BPD and its left me a bewildered emotional wreck. Its gone from her leaving notes of love and praise on my car windshield to her telling me Im the most worthless human on earth. Im not an overtly sensitive guy but the things she said were vile and cruel. Id rather be punched in the balls than go through a verbal onslaught like that again. She waz using heroin before she and I were seeing one another and shes gone right back to the crowd of people that were using her and her car to go cop. Shes delusional and told her brother I hit her. She thinks she wont get hooked on heroin she is above all that. She blocked my phone, blocked my facebook and immediately put up a pic of her and the guy she dated before me. I dont understand how I went from zero to hero in a two week period where we had no contact (I was in an accident). I need closure. WTF Should I do? Since the accident ive no car yet and cant get to her.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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