Lack of Object Constancy

“Borderlines have problems with object constancy in people — they read each action of people in their lives as if there were no prior context; they don’t have a sense of continuity and consistency about people and things in their lives. They have a hard time experiencing an absent loved one as a loving presence in their minds. They also have difficulty seeing all of the actions taken by a person over a period of time as part of an integrated whole, and tend instead to analyze individual actions in an attempt to divine their individual meanings. People are defined by how they lasted interacted with the borderline.”
Object Constancy – They may have problems with object constancy. When a person leaves (even temporarily), they may have a problem recreating or remembering feelings of love that were present between themselves and the other. Often, BPD  patients want to keep something belonging to the loved one around during separations.
My therapist tells me I have a lack of object constancy.
Out of sight, out of mind: For me, I don’t believe people hold me in their memories. If I’m not around, or I am not in some form of contact/communication with them, I don’t exist in their world. I have an extraordinarily hard time holding onto the thought that people remember me, hold me dear or care for me when I am not in their physical presence. Out of sight, no longer connected. I’m sure to most people this is not how they perceive relationships (be it friendship, dating, familial). I think it should be a consistent progression of emotions and experiences that build together to form a deep bond. I also have a hard time holding onto the strong emotions I feel for those I care about, and when I do manage to I also manage to convince myself that I am the only one that feels this way and no one else could possibly share my depth of emotion though I desperately hope they do. This creates a feeling of panic and loss for something that may actually be there and I need to find a way to reaffirm these feelings in myself and others every time I am back in contact with them. It’s a maddening cycle of doubt, loss, connection and disconnection.
Holding Time:  I have a hard time holding together one event after the other. I remember events just fine, but holding onto the sentiment of events in series that something is bound. It doesn’t always feel to me that everything is connected. One thing may happen after another, but it does not seem like things hold together in essence after the former has passed. Like if I’m gone too long, that I was there before will cease to be relevant. There is no continuum of events. Everything is like a single instance in time and I have to completely reestablish how I am connected to the event, the environment, the people every time.  It’s very difficult for me to remember that everything is NOT a series of individual events. They ARE a continuum. The attachment of one event bleeds into the sentiment of the next giving life to yet another. That continuum is what binds memories, sentiment, and relationships. Yes? At least that is what I imagine it should be. I imagine so, I don’t feel it.
I often have terrible anxiety when people leave. There’s a desperate need to understand how others feel about me, hold me to them, our connection, because I can’t hold onto this concept myself. On the other hand, when people do leave, abandon me, never to return, after a while it’s as if they were never in my life. I have memories of experiences with people, but no emotional connection to the memories. It’s like I’m remembering a story someone else told me. Sometimes this happens immediately, other times it takes weeks of panic at the loss before I break from the emotional attachment I’ve been able to build. Lately though, I notice this happening more and more quickly, with less time spent obsessing over every instance that lead to the break.
My dissociation helps me here because after the initial fear and anxiety, my emotions deaden. I become numb to the experiences I have just been through. I feel detached from my own body and it becomes logical that others wouldn’t be attached to me when I am not even attached to myself.
How attached are things, moments in time, events, really? How does it feel to be so strongly bound by sentiment that you feel indefinitely connected by a series of things? I simply don’t know.
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14 comments on “Lack of Object Constancy

  1. You remind me so much of my ex. She has the same afflictions as you do, only when I try to bring her issues to her attention (I never call her by any label)she gets defensive, and back pedals all of the obvious evidence she just gave me. Our "relationship", if you can call it that, has been nothing but psychological games, lies, and manipulation. It's fun at times, but pisses me off when I actually am being serious, do want to learn more about her and her overly emotional state, and she takes it as paranoia, and skepticism.She's incredibly stubborn, and wants to show the world just how tough she is, and has recently admitted to me that she has lost her compassion over the years. She doesn't understand why but doesn't want to dwell on her thoughts too much. To me all I hear when she speaks are the cries of a scared little girl.Justice (too lazy to do the other step :P)

  2. I guess I'm fortunate in my ability to see my actions with some objectivity. It doesn't help the feeling of them, but clearly I'm not in denial. Your ex sounds like she was really insecure or maybe just immature. I used to get defenseive when I was younger, but eventually I realized that asking for help didn't make me weak. It just meant I was dealing with something bigger than I could handle on my own. You can be tough and have issues that you're working through. I've had people tell me repeatedly that I'm one of the strongest people they know to be dealing with so much. It sure doesn't seem like it some days, but I'm getting by, supporting myself. When you read suspicion and paranoid delusions into so many actions, especially from people that are supposed to care about you, losing compassion is almost a defense mechanism. Caring for people that you don't perceive as caring for you is a road leading to pain and unrequited effort. Pouring energy and emotion into something that causes such upheaval can make you feel like you're losing some of who you are because you're pouring so much into someone else. In order to hold onto herself, she might have had to construct walls to shield her from such things. All that does is create a way to hide from her problems though. Just a guess.

  3. Your "guess" is very on point Haven, thank you. For the past week or so we have been having a "text" war. I'd rather speak in person, or at least by phone, but she has more control and can avoid me more if she uses text. I'm still able to hear what she isn't telling me through her words, but she disguises the "misinterpretations" as, "Texting glitches". For now, we are good. After avoiding me and my questions, and after I grew weary of the game and backed off, she finally told me what I wanted to hear and knew. Only when I get fed up is when she freaks out, and gives me what I was initially asking for. She's attracted to the drama. I do care for her the way I can care for a person, but I really don't have the patience for all of this. She does need to grow the fuck up. She is incredibly immature.

  4. Drama prone. She sounds classic. Arguing creates enhanced attention and an outlet for volatile emotions. Texting being a need for her to have control but when you give up (abandon the situation) she loses her control, which causes her to freak out in a different way for fear of being left like you left the conversation, and then has to flip directions and give you what you want in order to re-establish the link to the attention she craves. Yeah, I know that game, it's exhausting. I don't have the energy for that.

  5. My goodness. I have been searching and searching for this issue I have with time & never even considered it was part of BPD! Thank you for so eloquently describing my thoughts exactly!Time is such a strange concept to me, and like you, I feel a sense of panic with regard to my past because it doesn't feel like I have actually experienced it. It's as if each moment I wake up from amnesia, only I do remember…I just don't connect to past experiences very well.I am wondering if you also have a strange connection to places. I am obsessively drawn to physical places of my past. This has lead me to drive to an old house I used to live in, go to a park I once played at. I've driven by old elementary schools, got out, & walked around. A theatre I went to with the ex. It didn't occur to me until now that perhaps I am attempting to anchor my past to my presence. As if these physical places hold the key to that feeling of continuity.Brilliant post. Thank you.

  6. My connection to places is strange, but I have almost the same difficulty hanging onto my sense of belonging in a place, as I do holding onto my sense of belonging with people. It's like a vague de ja vu feeling kinda? I /know/ the place is familiar and I have memories associated with it but I never feel like the place has a sense of 'mine'. I have also lived a very transitory life. Since high school I have never lived in the same place for more than two years (twice in college but usually every 2 to 5 to 9 months or so I'd move) and I've moved every 6 months to a year since then. I do, do that when I go back to my parents house though. I'll sit in my walk in closet or on the floor of my bedroom for hours reading notes from middle and high school and walk the familiar route I used to roam every night, visit my park or my old climbing tree as a child, just to feel the neighborhood. Remember places I was supposed to belong.

  7. i had already written a big comment and it vanished pftI dissociate daily and completely get you. i said to my shrink i don't think i love anyone, expcept my kids and my sister – she nearly died recently and i was shocked to find how attched i am to her. i am attached to my children, but apart from that. my frineds have no idea. i don't give a hoot about them. not really. i am not connected to anyone. i have ZERO object constancy. the only thing that has worked with my children and sister is that basic instinct to put their needs ahead of mine, in fact they are why i live. i have no purpose to live beyond that. i'm not suicidal, i just don't like life and really don't like people. well occasionally i do.i feel like a psychopath, but i'm not. i have bpd and completely lack object constancy.. completely.. due to a horrific traumatic event that took place when i was separated from my mother at 3. i have never been the same. i remember before that. and any feelings of comfort or love make me feel suffocated. strange hey?i recently slept with an old school friend and freaked out. i realized how i am totally unequipped for a relationship. he could see that in me and has stayed my friend. i am practicing on him to try to get close to someone. i can only do it if it remains platonic. even then i am dubious about my ability to truly care for anyone. it's not that i am cruel or mean. my psyche is completely shattered. after years of therapy and 43 years of age, i realize it will never be "right" but i try to work on it.i am able to let go of, detach from relationship losses so quickly now. it's amazing.that old dissociation kicks in.i am petrified of intimacy and petrified of people. this comes from extreme trauma and violence for many years as a child.

  8. This is really insightful. I've cared for/worked with a few women with BPD and it was difficult at times. I would build relationships, closeness, trust only to find after a few days off that it all disappeared and I had to begin again. One of them was so angry at hearing I was going on a two week holiday that she tried to stop me by disabling me. (She tied string at the bottle of a door – if it'd worked I'd have smashed my head on a fire-hydrant and quite possibly broken my legs.)Dissociation from their past was prevalent though perhaps thankfully. They'd both suffered neglect and sexual/violent abuse at the hands of their parents. So much so that the one whose father had sold her tiny body (according to her and believed though never proved by social services) she seemed confused why we wouldn't want her to see him anymore. She always came back from visits distressed with violent mood swings, self harming etc. But give it a few days and she'd 'forgot' or it'd stop hurting. And a few more weeks she'd got back to visit him (if he bothered calling). I cried for many hours after work over both of these beautiful young women. In reality I probably felt more of their pain than they did for themselves. I'm bipolar i would guess we are the total opposite of this (although they often get similarly diagnoses – my psych thought I might BDP at first?) We feel everything and way too much. Hurts linger – we're generally forgiving and naive (if manic we can be totally taken advantage of because the reason facility seems to switch off completely – and id depressed you can hurt us because we feel we deserve it or don't care enough about ourselves to avoid or prevent abuse). We carry these hurts with us in our healthier more balanced times and they torture us there too. All we do is feel in fact. Heightened and debilitatingly. Thanks for this post, it gave me an insight into the difficult relationships I had all those years ago with my Lindsey and Samantha – both of whom i still miss today. And I doubt they even remember my name.Shah X

  9. I can't tell you how amazing this article is that you wrote. You have a gift in your ability to translate into words exactly what is at the heart of the matter. Quite simply, you hit the nail right on the head. The way you have framed this issue and the amount of depth and insight that you give is just too valuable for words to describe. It is very eery reading it because you sound so much like my self-diagnosed BPD girlfriend.We've been dating for two years. A very tumultuous two years of break-ups and reconciliations. The way you put into words the concept of object constancy and how it relates to your own situation feels like it was somehow created specifically for me to find. Very weird, but very comforting.To give you a brief rundown on my relationship. We began dating in the process of me going through a divorce from a long marriage/relationship. Early on in the relationship with my new girlfriend, she confided with me while intoxicated (an important point which I'll come back to) that she thought she was BPD. I had never heard of it and I sort of dismissed it. Partly, because I didn't want to believe there was something wrong with her and partly because it was a completely foreign concept that I had never heard of. During the course of the next year, we would experience horrific fights, break-ups and then reconciliations. It was obvious early on that she had serious trust issues which she attributed to her dad for having cheating on her mom serially and then divorcing and leaving and starting a new family. She outwardly hates her father and refuses to allow him to be a part of her life, but inwardly does admit to loving him still. It's like she wants carry the hurt around by not forgiving him, because maybe it is the only thing that allows her to anchor something to the past. She is void of sentimental feelings for anything in the past and says that she has many moments during her early childhood and adolescence that she says she can't remember. Going back to the alcohol part, it's when she has been drinking that she seems to be able to open up and release some of these pent up feelings or emotions, and also that I learn some of the things that have happened to her in the past. I could go on and on in describing my experiences with her over the past two years. The main thrust of my comment that I wanted to make is that her lack of object constancy is such a very hard thing to cope with in the relationship. During arguments, I frequently accuse her of seemingly not caring for me or paying me any though when she is around other people or has something else that is compelling her attention. cont.

  10. …BUT, as soon as she is alone with her own thoughts with nobody else around then she wants to reach back out to me, and often times it will be a panicked reaching back out to me begging me to come over to her place, usually when she has awoken during the night or early morning. On a side note, she always has bad dreams. And says many of the dreams involve me and she can't find me. When we do spend the night together (which we do on most occasions), she often wakes up in the middle of the night and reach over to see if I'm there. This is what makes this whole thing so confounding. I know deep down that she loves me and it seems like when we're together she thrives off having me around and will assimilate many of things that I like doing. However, when she is with others or drinking it's like I don't really exist. But as soon as she's alone, poof! She craves me. She's either clingy or detached. At the end of the day, I love her. I love her more than anything. I just wish something would trigger and that she could emotionally hold onto the the sentiment of memories. She does do this with physical objects, such as if I give her a greeting card w/ sentimental meaning she'll be enamored by it and it seems to really have a profound impact on her. I have never met such a complex individual in my life. On moment, she can be everything I could ever want in a mate, emotionally connected and capable of such love. The next it feels like I'm irrelevant and but an afterthought. It's a real roller coaster. The weird thing is I think some of her tendencies have rubbed off on me. During our fights, there comes a point that eventually she reaches back out to me, whether it be a day or two after it has happened. I really do think we are tethered to one another, but during the fights I lose faith in that and it does feel like the end this time. But inevitably, we always come back to one another. As part of her has rubbed off on me, I do think some of me has also rubbed off on her. I just pray that she continues to grow and that one day whatever happened in her past whether it's a single isolated event or a series of events which cause this emotional upheaval in her life and to basically shut down her ability to experience sentimentality (a fondness of recollected memories) will one day flip back on then she can experience emotional growth and well being and it will be with me still a part of her life. Thank you again for putting your thoughts and experiences out there for us to read. I realize it's probably cathartic for you, but it's also a very unselfish thing you are doing.

  11. You're very welcome. You're right, it is cathartic but I want to help anyone I can as well. It sounds like you've been through a lot, as I know many people who are in relationships with a Borderline have gone through. Unfortunately this problme with object constancy doesn't usually just flip back on by itself. I hope you can convince her to maybe see a therapist and work through the deeper unresolved problems that have created this defense mechanism. These things are not easy to overcome, but they are beatable! It just takes a little work. Thank you for sharing your story with me!

  12. Hello Haven, It's so nice to meet you. I came over because of the deja vu blogfest, but as I was reading this post, I couldn't help but fee like I was reading my own life. I thought, much like you did, that I was alone in feeling this way about things and people. It's so strange…thank you for sharing this again. I'm glad I found it. Keep writing. It's the only way I've found to make sense of anything.

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