Object Constancy: What It Is & How It Can Affect Your Relationships

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Object permanence and object constancy are two terms that are often used interchangeably. However, they are quite different things in real life.

Object permanence is a child’s ability to remember and retain that an object is real when it is no longer visible. The concept of object permanence comes from the theory of cognitive development created by Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget.

Piaget’s theory suggests that babies between birth and three years old tend to understand the world through motor abilities like vision, touch, taste, and movement. This is called the sensorimotor stage of development.

During this period, babies are egocentric. They cannot understand that there is a larger world outside of their experience and point of view. If you’ve ever played peek-a-boo with a baby, you’re familiar with object permanence.

What is object constancy?

Object constancy is a term that relates to a person’s ability to function and feel safe in a relationship where there is distance, contention, or conflict.

Every relationship experiences hardships. It’s normal to have disagreements, setbacks, and conflicts. After all, the relationship partners are two different people with their own opinions and views on life. Conflict is bound to happen, and that’s okay. However, confronting and overcoming those conflicts to find mutual resolution helps to strengthen the relationship.

People with weak object constancy have difficulties with that. They may experience extreme anxiety in all their friendships and relationships because they fear abandonment.

Trust is the bedrock of a good relationship. Trusting the bedrock of the relationship defines one’s ability to enjoy it. A strong object constancy causes a person to know their loved one will not abandon them because of an argument or distance in the relationship.

Object constancy is formed in childhood by the relationships a person has with their parents, guardians, or caregivers. A person who could trust their adults as a child will have stronger relationships and more trust in their adult relationships. A person who couldn’t trust their adults for unconditional love and support will have a more difficult time with vulnerability and trust in their adult relationships.

A person’s lack of object constancy may also be caused by early childhood trauma that affects the person’s ability to form attachments.

A weaker object constancy will cause a person to fear ambiguity in a relationship. They will likely question what the relationship is and where it’s going. That isn’t a problem when it’s not extreme. In fact, it’s quite normal during the early stages of a relationship.

However, a relationship’s lack of concrete expectations will be extremely stressful and anxiety-inducing for the person with weak object constancy. This may cause the person to draw-out fights longer than needed or cut relationships off when troubled.

Both object constancy and permanency affect the perception of stability. Object constancy affects interpersonal relationships, while object permanency affects tangible things.

The Effects Of Poor Object Constancy

Many people did not receive the appropriate support, unconditional love, and emotional cues as a child. The consequences of this dysfunctional development can cause mental disorders and impaired functioning as an adult.

Some potential issues include:

1. Low self-esteem.

Many people with weak object constancy have difficulty maintaining relationships with others. That difficulty will likely affect all romantic, platonic, and family relationships.

A person who does not understand object constancy may see their inability to have relationships as a personal failure of not being good enough rather than the consequence of dysfunctional development. They may view themselves as broken or unlovable.

2. Difficulty being present.

A person with weak object constancy has difficulty staying grounded in the present. They may get lost in fantastical thinking about the potential for relationships, what should have been, and what could be.

They may also lose themselves in thoughts about “what if” scenarios. What if that relationship had worked out? What if I had done that thing differently? What if? What if? What if? It’s normal to wonder a little bit. However, it becomes a problem when it interferes with current relationships or one’s ability to conduct their life.

3. Attachment problems.

A child should be able to attach to the adult in their life. They will also attach to friends and romantic partners as they grow older.

A child’s first attachment is to that of a parent or guardian. Should that parent or guardian not provide a safe, stable, and consistent environment for the attachment, then the child may grow up unable to develop the trust of object constancy. They may lack the ability to trust others to stay in their life when the relationship isn’t going well.

4. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Personality disorders are challenging behaviors that are often shaped in childhood. A person with BPD may struggle with attachment problems, dysfunctional relationships, intense reactions to emotions, and difficulty regulating emotions. In addition, poor object constancy may be strongly related to Borderline Personality Disorder.

5. Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).

A person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder often sees things in the context of all or nothing. Their perceptions tend to be black and white with no shades of gray. A person with this personality disorder may find themselves unable to retain positive feelings about someone once that person shows that they aren’t perfect. That may be arguments, disagreements, or perspectives that disagree with the person with NPD.

The person with NPD can’t see others as flawed individuals with shades of gray. Instead, it’s either all good or all bad, black and white. This behavior may also cause the person with NPD to switch between loving and not loving friends and family members.

Weak Object Constancy In Children

Though weak object constancy may be easier to see in adults, it can present itself in children. A child with weak object constancy may have difficulty connecting with other children. They will exhibit “out of sight, out of mind” behaviors where they don’t think about their friends when they aren’t around.

The child may also never consider themselves to have a best friend because the emotional depth for that kind of friendship is lacking. They may also lack consistent friends. Instead, they move from person to person in a series of shallow, short-lived friendships.

Improving Object Constancy

The good news is that object constancy is a problem that can be improved and strengthened so you can have healthy, loving, secure relationships. However, the process will require the assistance of a certified therapist who can help guide you with proven therapeutic techniques through the long-term process.

There are additional ways that you can begin to start your journey.

Social connection is important in improving object constancy because the issue orbits around social relationships. That makes support groups or communities facing similar issues a good place to start. Being around other people facing similar struggles can reduce feelings of loneliness and provide an opportunity for social connection. Be sure to spend time with your friends and loved ones while you work on this issue. Social isolation can make the healing process much more difficult.

Start journaling and learn some mindfulness practices. People with object constancy issues may find themselves dwelling in the past or future, constantly looking at past failures or the potential for future problems. The problem is that the past is long gone, and we can’t predict the future. If you have anxiety related to these relationships, you may think that you are only planning ahead for all the eventualities. The problem is that you can’t plan for all of them. Most times, you can only adapt when the problems come.

Journaling and mindfulness practices will help root you in the present and address problems as they come up. You have to remember that you can troubleshoot and problem solve when they do come up. This kind of practice can be exceptionally helpful for people with BPD and NPD who need a little more help to exist in the present.

In closing…

You can’t choose your childhood. The choices and actions of the adults that were supposed to provide love and support are beyond your control. But what is within your control is how you respond to the problems you may be experiencing now.

Improving your object constancy will help you have healthier relationships, form stronger bonds, and let you see your loved ones in all of their complicated glory. Furthermore, the healing process can help you level off your own emotions and provide a greater sense of stability.

This is a long-term project, and you will need the guidance of a certified therapist to address this issue. Don’t get discouraged if it’s a slow, difficult process. It’s too complicated for a self-help project. Still, know that you are not alone, and many others are walking similar paths to success.

A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

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