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If the fear of losing someone overpowers your ability to bond with them, this may be an opportunity to work on object constancy.
Having people in your life that you love and trust is one of the greatest gifts in the world.
And it’s natural to be disappointed in these people every once in a while. It’s also OK to say goodbye if your lives go in different directions.
However, you may find that you’re falling out with these people more than usual. You may feel constantly disappointed by those around you for unclear reasons.
Maybe you tend to draw out fights or cut people off after they’ve hurt you. Perhaps you feel deep pain when you believe that someone you love isn’t showing up for you.
Sometimes a fear of abandonment gets in the way of having healthy relationships. You may worry that if you get too close to someone, they’re going to push you away.
If you find this fear gets in the way of your relationships, you’re not alone. Research about object constancy and coping mechanisms may help you feel more secure in your relationships.
Object constancy is the ability to retain a bond with another person — even if you find yourself upset, angry, or disappointed by their actions.
This particular cognitive skill develops around 2 or 3 years of age. As a child, object constancy sets the foundation for how you will feel about your loved ones when they’re not near you, such as how you feel when your mother leaves the room before your afternoon nap.
When a child develops object constancy, “they begin to understand that when their mother or caretaker leaves them, they are not being abandoned, and their caretaker will return,” explains Dr. Bryan Bruno, the medical director at Mid City TMS.
“Developing object constancy means a child can understand that objects and people retain the same traits even when they are not being actively watched.”
As a child, object constancy helps you deal with separation from your caretaker. As an adult, object constancy allows you to have healthy disagreements with your loved ones and remain close to friends — even if they don’t answer your call or reply to your text.
With object constancy, you understand that distance doesn’t mean abandonment and that you don’t need to see, touch, or sense someone to feel supported by them.
A difficulty with object constancy plays a role in borderline personality disorders (BPD). However, object constancy plays a central role in other personality disorders.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
“Patients with a borderline personality disorder often struggle with object constancy and find it hard to develop stable mental images of their loved ones,” explains Bruno.
“Consequently, someone with BPD may have a negative perception of the people they care about when they are no longer in their presence.”
For someone with BPD, distance may trigger a fear of abandonment, which may cause avoidance or anger in your relationships.
“People with BPD may not be able to fully understand that someone can have both good and bad aspects that make them whole, which could lead towards unreliable and unstable relationships,” says licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Holly Schiff.
Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)
Someone who lives with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) may see things as black and white — all or nothing.
With a lack of object constancy, one may find it difficult to retain positive feelings about someone once they make mistakes or have disagreements within relationships.
“If you do something they don’t like or are unhappy with or they notice a flaw, you suddenly become all-bad, and they devalue you,” explains Schiff.
“They cannot see you as someone that they love and someone who has angered them at the same time.”
With NPD and without object constancy, you may only be able to see people as “high status and special or low status and worthless,” says Schiff.
This can also cause you to find yourself constantly going back and forth on how you feel about your loved ones.
Due to your guardians’ parenting styles or early traumatic experiences, a lack of object constancy typically stems from your childhood.
“If a child was raised in a negative environment with emotionally invalidating or neglectful parents, they don’t receive good instruction on human behavior and managing expectations of loved ones,” explains Bruno.
“As a result, they will often struggle to form stable mental portraits of their loved ones as adults.”
While the roots of a lack of object constancy lay in childhood, you can make steps as an adult to help your relationship with yourself and the people you love.
Working on object constancy as an adult may take time, but it’s certainly doable and recommended.
Over time, you may that it can get easier to build trust, heal from past trauma, and maintain healthy bonds in your adult relationships.
To begin that journey, you may consider several options:
- building trust with a certified therapist
- reading about various attachment styles
- joining a support group with people with similar experiences
- practicing mindfulness meditation
Social isolation may dramatically affect how you bond with other people, so be sure to continue to spend time around your friends and loved ones, even as you work on yourself.
Bonding and building healthy relationships with the people you love can bring joy into your life.
If you have a hard time retaining bonds or feeling stable about the people in your life, you’re not alone. You can’t choose your childhood.
Moreover, you should know that mental health professionals can offer you support in working on object constancy — whether you live with BPD, NPD, or neither of those disorders.
As you work with a mental health professional trained to help you cope with object constancy, BPD, or NPD diagnoses, do be sure to take care of yourself. Self-care can help you prevent burnout and show yourself love and patience, rather than judgment.
Even if progress is slow at first, you may work towards seeing people and their actions in their full colors, rather than just black and white.