Thursday, 3 January 2013

BPD & Object Constancy, Or, Why I Love Presents

Anyone in therapy or studying a form of psychology might be familiar with the concept of "object constancy".  This refers to a person's ability to recreate or remember feelings of love that were present between themselves and another person after the other person is no longer physically there.
For as long as I can remember, this has been something I have struggled with.  Even in primary school, I can recall how much I'd treasure scraps of notepaper from class that would "prove" I had interacted with a friend via some scribbles, or any other token or souvenir that could only be attained by being someone's friend.  Photos or presents are ideal.  Whatever the keepsake, I never have enough.  It never feels like enough.
This is because of my ineptness at maintaining object constancy.  I always struggle to feel loved by a person unless they are in the process of demonstrating it to me - I just can't feel it unless I'm seeing it, touching it, or hearing it.  Otherwise I feel totally disconnected, and potentially abandoned.

It's not that I don't love or appreciate the aspects of relationships that have lasted over time, it's just that I just can't remember them on my own.  I need prompting.  I have to be reminded of individual events, stories, and resulting emotions from throughout the relationship to get the full benefit of them having occurred. 

I can only imagine how exhausting this is to those who love me.  My relationships are a never-ending quest for the other person to prove their loyalty, devotion, and caring.

But because my brain can't preserve those efforts, it's the emotional equivalent of typing up a Microsoft Word document that can't save.  Every time you close the window, whatever you've written is gone, and you have to start again.

I'm not sure who gets the worst end of the deal with this symptom.  My loved ones, who can never do enough, or myself, given I can never feel permanently loved.

It's entirely feasible that a boyfriend of years has met a new partner since I saw them two hours ago, or that a best friend hates me after one cranky text message, or that a family member has disowned me because I didn't give them a Christmas hug.  It's feasible that people would do this to me, because I could do it to them.

It's that classic BPD trait of being able to "switch" or "split" and see someone as either all good or all bad.  Lacking object constancy is a big part of what makes this possible.  It's easy to switch to hating someone for one wrong move if you're unable to remind yourself of the many, many times they've done something right.

In reverse, I can honestly say that it is entirely possible for me to love a friend I have known for one day as much as a friend I have known for one decade, if the chemistry is right and if I view them as "all good".
Researchers have linked problems with object constancy to dysfunction in the area of the brain that deals with emotional memory.  The memories are there, but some parts of the brain just aren't talking to each other for me to be able to access them.
Dealing with this symptom is just another case of having to intervene in my thought processes manually, where a mentally healthy person would enjoy it on automatic.  

For me, I find it helpful to carry around pictures and notes from loved ones, as well as any gifts I've been given. Also, on the more extreme end of things, I've got my four closest family member's names tattooed on my back.  Every morning I look in the mirror and am reminded.

If I come up with other ways to deal with this, I'll be sure to post them here.


  1. I can totally relate to this, I am getting a little bit better but if I get the merest hint someone is annoyed at me I freak out and think they will leave. Rationally telling myself that that's not going to happen just doesn't work. If I need reassurance from my bf I tell him 'Little Clare' is worried ;-)

    1. That's so cute, "Little Clare" :) I loved reading your posts about her. I think that's a really good way to help manage it, by acknowledging it in that way. It's a skill I will try and use if I ever have a partner again myself (debatable!) but that I think I can also use with family/friends. Thanking you as always :)

  2. Thanks for writing this, I can completely identify. I feel such guilt for feeling that I want people to prove their love to me, constantly 'testing' them and looking for any possible indication of anything but love to 'catch them out'. I feel so selfish, espeically as there's the voice telling me I don't deserve their love, therefore it can't really exist. So I've always attributed this neediness to the low self esteem/unstable self image, rather than the actual inability to remeber the feeling of being loved - I love your Word doc analogy. The words 'entirely feasible' also struck me...when physically apart from people I can believe anything is possible. My boyfriend can simply be in another room and I'll begin to assess the liklihood of him having changed his mind about me, perhaps wanting to kill me, maybe that's why he's gone to the kitchen to find an's like there's no 'reality' filter, every possibilty is completely plausible.
    I also remember as a child desperately trying to capture voices and faces so I could try to recall them when people were gone, then getting very anxious when I struggled to do so.
    Thanks for helping me join a few more dots on the giant BPD puzzle!

    1. Thanks so much for an awesome comment Katy Rose! (Beautiful name by the way.) I have definitely felt a lot of guilt when I have acted out these tendencies in the past. I like how you said "catching them out" as it's exactly how it's felt to me too. But since looking up some of this stuff I'm better able to step back and notice what's going on. I think understanding what our tricky brains are up to helps give us back some of the control.

      It's so easy to feel like the problem is with us and that we're just somehow "bad" or "wrong", but once you start to wrap your head around BPD, you start to realise that it isn't just you being selfish or unworthy - there's actually an entirely legitimate cause that you're responding to in a very sane way given the messages your brain is sending. If a non-BPD person could feel as easily abandoned as us, they would react like we do, I guarantee!

      Anyway, enough of my ramblings, thank you for stopping by and hope we can keep working on the puzzle together :)

  3. I remembered when I was out.. I meant to add to my earlier reply that this issue is explained by Bowlby's Attachment Theory and I would imagine that most peeps with BPD formed insecure or disorganised attachments with their caregivers. You might want to watch this presentation about it here -

    1. ClareBare, that video was AWESOME! Thank you times A MILLION for pointing me in that direction! I think Attachment Theory definitely links in to all this. I have so much learning to do. Thank you again, amazing lady xox

  4. WOW!! I had never heard of this, and I can't believe how much I can relate to this. You are the most insightful bunny I've ever known, that's for sure. Thank you for the tips as well. <3

    1. I am just hopping along, most of the time not entirely sure what I'm doing! But I love talking to you guys and I love how we all share our thoughts and ideas by posting stuff on our blogs :) so please keep sharing your turtley wisdom with me xoxox

  5. 1This is a major issue for me Not only does having items or object constancy reminders from others around me help, but I often feel soothed by giving gifts to people and knowing that the other person has a part of me with them too. I feel like I have little "Horcruxes" out there with all sorts of special people! I have a bracelet that symbolizes my husband that I wear whenever he leaves or I have to leave him. Without it, I feel lost, empty. It's not a bad thing to need these reminders, it's simply good to notice it and address it. :)

    1. Hee hee, I love the idea of Horcruxes! That's exactly what they're like! As I've worked my way through addressing some of this stuff, lately I've found that one of the most helpful ways I tackle this is by having a photo montage in my room of everyone who is special to me. Sometimes I feel totally alone and can't remember who I have in my life, so I have everyone up on a pin board. It's really helped. I agree it's not a bad thing at all and is definitely something that can be worked on :) thank you for stopping by! xox

  6. I just read this blog post and think I have a better idea of what one of my grown children is going through. Wherever I look, in their house, in cupboards, on counters, bookcases, etc. I see things that are gifts or momentos of some sort. This family member also changes photos of family members and friends. if thy've had an argument with them and they've fallen out of her favor, they take the photo out and replace it with someone who I think is considered to love them unconditionally, like their grandparents. This person has a rocky relationship with their father, so his picture isn't even on display. I feel the suffering of my child, but my child is an adult and I can't force the issues. I hope that help will be sought, soon. This child is very unhappy with life right now, so maybe there will be a reaching out for help in the near future. Thanks so much. You are very much appreciated! Peace of Mind & Love to You! Nana

  7. I relate so much to this writing. A question though, that I haven't been able to find any answers to online - have you ever struggled or heard of people struggling with not believing that someone even existed when they're gone? For example, my ex-boyfriend and I broke up 3 1/2 weeks ago and even though I can still look at the pictures and read the texts, all emotions about him are completely removed (despite tremendous heartbreak) and I really struggle to believe that he even existed in the first place. I have recurring thoughts that I must have made him up.

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  9. It’s no secret that a man’s ego has a powerful pull on him.

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    Thanks again.