Lack of object constancy in Borderline Personality Disorder is at the heart of borderline abandonment trauma and repeated relationship rupture.
As a person who had BPD and who has recovered from BPD, I am a great believer in what Masterson describes object constancy to be or the lack of it to be and its central role in being a major causative factor in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Those with BPD, until and unless they get a lot of therapy, therapy that is somewhat successful at the very least, emotionally/psychologically experienced an emotional arrest in development usually between or around the ages of 2 or 3. If you think about it this way, the borderline is emotionally 2 or 3 years old and lack of object constancy is a stage of development in those early developmental years that are not mastered by those who go on to be diagnosed with BPD. So just as a young child cries or screams for mom or dad when they leave, not yet having the ability to understand they will come back, a child in this stage of development experiences much of his or her world as "out of sight, out of mind." This is, what I came to understand about my experience when I had BPD. If someone wasn't directly relating to me or in the environment they were more or less out of sight and therefore out of mind.
When those with BPD experience this out of sight, out of mind, stuff, protective defense mechanisms kick in that result in them splitting and devaluing the "lost" or experienced-as-lost "object" – person. For many with BPD they require the constant attention of "other" to feel connected to "other". Remember, also that for most with BPD, in the active throes of BPD, "other" = "self" – the "self" that borderlines don't otherwise have.
In terms of the answer to the question "what is object constancy as relates to BPD?" Borderlines do not have object constancy. They lack object constancy. They do not relate in any consistent way. That's why you see the swing between all-good to all-bad, then back to all-good until they shift back to all-bad etc. Borderlines do not have the inter-personal skills to relate to "self" or "other" in any consistent or lasting way.
Lack of object constancy, in my opinion, isn't so much about emotional amnesia or a forgetting as it is about dissociation and splitting in which there are dual realities in operation at the same time or that shift back and forth, if you will. "Out of sight, out of mind, isn't so much an inability to remember certain things about a person as it is more about abandonment fear that drives borderline defense mechanisms like splitting and devaluation to kick in because the state of being left alone isn't tolerable when a borderline doesn't know how to soothe him/herself. Just as the young child in the playpen starts to cry when mother goes to work, for example, and experiences a discomfort with separation, borderlines experience a triggering back to abandonment fear, abandonment trauma (Masterson) which they do not have the inter-personal skills to cope with – thus the maladaptive pathological defenses kick in. Often also those with BPD will punish "other" for leaving or being busy because when "other" isn't immediately available to provide the soothing and reassurance the borderline needs, the borderline experiences feelings (related to original core wound of abandonment trauma which is often repressed – dissociated from) which is more about intra-psychic trauma and unresolved abandonment trauma from the borderline's past than it is about actual "memory issues". Borderlines cannot hold the experience of "other" or any connection to "other" when "other" isn't right there.
Masterson describes borderlines being "unable to hold the memory of significant others in mind" – not to say this isn't correct, but as I experienced this in my borderline years more than what I couldn't keep in my mind what was most central was my borderline fear of abandonment coupled with the reality that I was unable to form bonds or attachments in a way that could survive or be held through times of separation. Separation, even brief separation threatens the borderline and essentially triggers him or her back to what is actually (until and unless enough therapy is undergone successfully) their original experience of "the core wound of abandonment". It produces terror, fear, very primal emotional reactions on some level in those with BPD. The key thing about his, however, is that many borderlines have no conscious awareness of this. They are dissociated from this repressed pain – what I refer to as the abandoned pain of bpd (which I have an ebook all about by the way).
Borderlines do not experience the kind of bonding or secure attachment that would provide a foundation for being able to shift between closeness and distance. It is this lack of object constancy that is the heart of the toxic relational style of the borderline false self. It is this lack of object constancy that leads borderlines to search for their missing "self" through others and leaves those others feeling invisible in what is a toxic relationship feuled by the broken mutuality the borderline experienced at the time of their original abandonment trauma and that their lack of object constancy continues to trigger the re-playing out of within relationships.
The Shame of Abandonment in BPD perpetuates this deep-seated and complicated lack of object constancy in those with BPD.
© A.J. Mahari June 24, 2008 – All rights reserved.
A.J. Mahari is a Life Coach who, among other things, specializes in working with those with BPD and non borderlines. A.J. has 5 years experience as a life coach and has worked with hundreds of clients from all over the world.