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.