Object constancy is the idea that something (a person, for example) doesn’t change just because you can’t see it. A rectangular book doesn’t stop being rectangular-shaped just because it’s not in front of you anymore. We learn this at a very early age. It’s what allows us to spend extended amounts of time away from our parents without the separation sending us into a panic. You’re apart and you can’t see them, but you know they still exist and they still love you. People who fear abandonment struggle with this, and it makes them jealous and clingy as a result. It’s as if, during those moments when a connection or relationship isn’t something you can see or feel or touch, it’s not real.
There’s probably never been a time when being in a relationship with me wasn’t at least sort of a nightmare. I get irrationally jealous over stupid things. I’ve had a lot of relationships that ended with me being cheated on, and for the longest time I assumed that justified my antics. Looking back now, I think it’s way more likely that me being an overbearing maniac probably pushed a lot of people who were just as broken as me to do things they otherwise might not have.
[I self-medicated with alcohol.] What I didn’t realize at the time is that all of those crazy thoughts and impulses that come with fearing abandonment become almost impossible to control when you drink. Trauma is considered in some circles to be a disease of the amygdala. That’s the emotional center of your brain. It’s responsible for your fight-or-flight instincts, among other things. When you suffer a trauma, information about it is imprinted on that part of your brain. When something triggers memories of that trauma, that part of your brain reacts [reflexively]. Those panicked messages hit the brain first. It’s an overwhelming feeling. Abandonment is a primal thing. Of course people fear it. It’s fucking awful. In those moments, that’s your brain tapping your most basic instincts, and in most cases, it’s going way overboard.
Anyway, that lessened sense of object constancy also impairs a person’s object permanence. What that means is that any extended absence from a loved one has the potential to feel like a legitimate loss.
It’s not just separation that makes a person with abandonment issues come off as an obsessive nightmare. Their issues with object constancy also tend to make the most minor things seem like a slight. Minor things like a text message that goes unanswered or a request for more space or free time. These are normal things in any relationship, but a person who fears abandonment will very likely see them as the first signs that the person they love is starting to pull away. If that person is in a less-than-pleasant mood, you immediately assume they’re angry at you.
It’s a constant state of believing that everything is going to come crashing down at a moment’s notice. That’s how love works in your head. It’s there one day, then it’s just gone. You worry about that happening, to the point that it eventually happens, one way or another.
It’s inevitable, though, that a moment like this will happen when a person with uncontrolled abandonment issues enters into a relationship. The person on the receiving end of all that insecurity and worry probably won’t even realize that they’ve done anything wrong. They haven’t done anything wrong. But it almost always ends up being a huge turning point. It’s the moment when that irrational part of your brain starts dictating your behavior. It’s the beginning of the end.
What I’ve been finding out is that this is all much simpler to get a handle on than it probably seems. That’s especially true once you actually take the time to acknowledge and understand what exactly it is that’s happening inside your head in those moments when you feel insecure and unstable. There are books you can read and exercises you can do to make things a lot easier on yourself.
Sometimes you’re going to be alone. I’m learning to accept that, and I know I have something inside me that I can turn to in those moments to make me feel better if need be. You can do the same thing. Make an effort to find something about yourself that helps you make peace with being alone. It will happen from time to time. If that scares you, look into why that might be and do what you need to in order to get better. Help is out there. Go find it. If you don’t, chances are you really will be alone forever.
– Adam Tod Brown for Cracked.com
Every word here could have been written by me,, except the thing about alcohol, I think I was using sex in that way.
It can still be so hard sometimes. I became terrified of abandonment after my best friend was freaked out by me falling in love with her in high school. Her friendship was the first time in my life I could remember feeling understood and wanted and safe. It happened in 9th grade; I didnt get over it until after graduation, and only because of a new environment.
What followed after that was a series of short-lived, intense and toxic relationships where I sucked the life out of people who were trying so hard to fill that “strangely shaped divot” in my soul that TLP described. I was that way right up until my relationship before the one I have now with ____. Healing and being able to start building (or at least try building) a healthy relationship with her came about by realizing what I wanted to do with my life and thus being able to fully appreciate the fact that my partner has similar goals, which is a rare and valuable thing. Secondly is that I think we have roughly the same levels of need for time together and communication, which helps tremendously.
So it wasn’t that the time alone made me “become complete in myself” or whatever else pop psychology calls it when a borderline turns into a narcissist, but that it gave me perspective and a (relatively) peaceful period in which I contemplated that “strangely shaped divot” and recognized what it really was that I needed to fill it, instead of forcing whatever and whoever into it, in cycles that always ended in failure.
(None of this was conscious though when I decided to be with her; I just remembered a different look in her eyes and a… some thing… in her touch, basically a side she’d never shown me before that night, and afterwards feeling an overwhelming regret that I’d made a huge mistake.)
But… there are still times when I feel that atavistic fear coming on. For stupid reasons, also. Knowing that it’s needless is half the battle. It’s past midnight and the green neon sign of the hotel across the street is shining into my room. The passing cars skim their headlights across the ceiling. All we could have today was a quick phone call and I’m feeling oddly disconnected. I hate that there are parts of my life that I won’t be able to share with her, experiences so divorced from her life, and parts of her life she won’t be able to share with me – the separate concaves where the Venn diagram of our relationship don’t intersect. I don’t really know how to explain it. That there are experiences that won’t come across in words. It shouldn’t bother me so; I understand that I’m being impatient again… someday we’ll be moving in the same spheres, I could catch up… it’s just hard sometimes. I wear a necklace that reminds me of her. I’m not crazy about jewelry I guess but this is just something I need/want to have on me. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.