The definition of object constancy, according to one of my favourite sites for C-PTSD is “An inability to remember that people or objects are consistent, trustworthy and reliable, especially when they are out of your immediate field of vision”
As I understand it, a lack of object constancy is a result of insecure attachments to caregivers when we are young. It means that those who suffer from a lack of object constancy are kinda stuck at that development stage, having never successfully managed to pass through it. At that age (about 2 or 3), when your caregivers leave, you are naturally frightened, sad and worried that they will be gone forever, but with any luck, you have a decent caregiver who models to you time and time again, that they will return and so you manage to learn that you don’t need to worry – that said caregiver is still “there” somewhere and will return. You learn to self-sooth and use your internalized image until they return to comfort you again. You gain “object constancy”.
Unfortunately when you don’t have a decent caregiver like moi, you don’t learn that and so when someone isn’t around, you still feel those infantile feelings of abandonment, panic, fear and/or anger and you begin to question whether that relationship even exists anymore. This is what causes the panic, the clinginess, the jealousy and can drive our partners crazy. It is what makes us feel “needy” when we compare ourselves to others who don’t suffer from a lack of object constancy. Having a lack of object constancy makes us insecure – literally. For example, if my boyfriend is out and doesn’t contact me all day – I won’t automatically think that he is just busy and will contact me later. No, obviously he doesn’t love me anymore, is planning to leave me or worse – is dead!! Dramatic isn’t it?
Learning about this has really helped me because now when I get these feelings and thoughts, the adult part of me can (try to) calm myself down. Easier said than done I must say, just see Emotional Flashback? for proof that I can’t think my way out of the feelings, but it does help to understand that I’m not “crazy”. God how hard I used to try to be “casual” and “calm” in relationships – I tried so hard to be the laid back girlfriend that boys wanted but eventually my true colours would come glaring out – usually after a few vinos and that was not a pretty sight believe me!! The worst thing about this is that when I eventually unleashed the crazy, it was the beginning of the end in my relationships and so my worst fears would then be realised – da daaaaaa!! It’s a wonder I’m in therapy isn’t it?
Anyway, I’ve been thinking today about all this object constancy stuff in relation to this therapy break… I think this explains a lot for me. It explains why I felt so awful on Monday. She was gone physically so to me, having a lack of object constancy, she was gone forever. That brought all my feelings of panic, abandonment, terror and grief flooding back. I’ve since calmed down because I can reasonably talk myself down to a degree, knowing that she will be back, just like she has every single time before. The logical stuff can work to a degree, but poor Little Twink, she couldn’t rationalise that way could she? She didn’t have a good role model like T showing her this stuff and she didn’t have a “good enough mother” either.
I guess that the fact I can’t “hold someone in mind” positively for very long is probably why I assume nobody can hold me in mind either? That would make sense. Clearly I am painting everyone with the same brush!! I did think this morning that Monday was particularly awful but since then I’ve been okay. I don’t know if I’ve just gone into “self-sufficient mode” because I’ve repressed any feelings since or whether I’ve genuinely been able to calm myself down enough with this logical thinking (or if that is even how it works?). I also thought that although I’m okay, I am looking forward to next Tuesday and that I would absolutely hate it if I no longer had therapy with her anymore. I also admit (cringing) that it does feel like she is no longer alive when she isn’t here… and that I will be anxious when I wake up on Tuesday – what I am nervous of I have absolutely no idea!!
This is another one of those things that I knew already – but know a bit more today.
T is re-parenting me by constantly showing me that she will return – like, I guess, most people will in this world. …..Just not my mother.