You long for affection, but when they are given, it is as though you cannot take in the soothing, because you are bus panicking about losing the love you have, and your energy is already focused on getting the next ‘fix’.
You hold grievances for longer than you would like to and ruminate over events in which you feel you have been wronged.
You make intense efforts to please others, but feel resentful later when your efforts are not reciprocated. Sometimes, you are deeply hurt by other people’s thoughtlessness.
You tend to seek advice or reassurance but remain unconvinced when help is given.
When there is a conflict, you may storm off, but on the assumption that you can return whenever you are ready. You might have underestimated the strain this puts on the relationship until your partner protests by leaving you.
You get distracted by relationship stress so much you have a hard time focusing on work and get held back in your career.
Is your fear of abandonment and object constancy negatively affecting your relationship? Read 8 Ways Your Fear and Insecurity Is Sabotaging Your Relationship
What Is ‘OBJECT CONSTANCY’?
Neuroscientists have found that our parents’ response to our attachment-seeking behaviors, especially during the first two years of our lives, encode our model of the world. If as infants, we have healthy attachment interactions with an attuned, available, and nurturing caregiver, we will be able to develop a sense of safety and trust. If our parents were able to respond to our calls for feeding and comfort most of the time, we would internalize the message that the world is a friendly place; when we are in need, someone will come and help us. We would also learn to calm ourselves in times of distress, and this forms our resilience as adults. If, in contrast, the message that we were given as an infant was that the world is unsafe and that people cannot be relied upon, it would affect our ability to withstand uncertainty, disappointments, and relationships ups and downs.
Most people are able to withstand some degree of relational ambiguity and not be entirely consumed by worrying about potential rejection. When we argue with our loved ones, we can later bounce back from the negative event; When they are not physically by our side, we have an underlying trust that we are on their mind. All these involve something called Object Constancy– the ability to maintain an emotional bond with others, even where there are distance and conflicts.
Object Constancy originates from the concept of Object Permanence— a cognitive skill we acquire at around two to three years old. It is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, touched, or sensed in some way. This is why babies love peekaboo- when you hide your face, they think it has ceased to exist. According to psychologist Piaget, who founded the idea, achieving Object Constancy is a developmental milestone. To learn more, there are plenty of youtube videos of babies demonstrating this.
Object Constancy is a psychodynamic concept, and we could think of it as the emotional equivalence of Object Permanence. To develop this skill, we mature into the understanding that our caregiver is simultaneously a loving presence and a separate individual who could walk away. Rather than needing to be with them all the time, we have an ‘internalized image’ of our parents’ love and care. So even when they are temporarily out of sight, we still know we are loved and supported. In other words, with Object Constancy we are able to experience things and people as reliable and constant.
In adulthood, Object Constancy allows us to trust that our bond with those who are close to us remains whole even when they are not physically around, picking up the phone, replying to our texts, or even frustrated at us. With Object Constancy, absence does not mean disappearance or abandonment, only temporary distance. People with a secure early attachment could locate a sense of trust from within themselves, rather than relying on the constant reassurance from another.
Has your childhood contributed to your fear of abandonment and object constancy? Read How Childhood Trauma Impacts our Physical, Emotional and Relational Health
For all of us, the fear of abandonment begins when we were thrown into the cold, alien world from our mother’s womb. Since no parent could be available and attuned 100% of the time, we all suffer at least some minor bruises in learning to separate and individuate. However, if we had experienced more severe early or even preverbal attachment trauma, have extremely inconsistent or emotionally unavailable caregivers, or a chaotic upbringing, our emotional development might have been stunted at a delicate age, and we never had the opportunity to develop Object Constancy.