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.
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.
“Since the earliest period of our life was preverbal, everything depended on emotional interaction. Without someone to reflect our emotions, we had no way of knowing who we were.” – John Bradshaw
If we have an insecure attachment, any kind of distance, even brief and benign ones, can trigger us to re-experience the original pain of being left alone, dismissed, or disdainful. Our fear could trigger survival strategies such as denial, clinging, avoidance and dismissing others, lashing out In relationships, or the pattern of sabotaging relationships to avoid rejection.
Without Object Constancy, we relate to others as ‘parts,’ rather than ‘whole.’ Just like a child who struggles to comprehend the mother as a complete person who sometimes rewards and sometimes frustrates, we struggle to hold the mental idea that both themselves and ourselves have both good and bad aspects.
We may experience relationships as unreliable, vulnerable, and heavily dependent on the mood of the moment; There seems to be no continuity in the way they view our partner- it shifts moment to moment and is either good or bad.
Without the ability to see people as whole and constant, it becomes difficult to evoke the sense of the presence of the loved one when they are not physically present. The feeling of being left on our own can become so powerful and overwhelming that it evokes raw, intense, and sometimes child-like reactions.
When abandonment fear is triggered, shame and self-blame closely follow, further destabilizing us. Because the origins of these strong reactions were not always conscious, it would seem as though we were ‘unreasonable,’ ‘immature.’ In truth, if we think of them ourselves as acting from a place of repressed or dissociated trauma; and consider what it was like for a two-year-old to be left alone or be with an inconsistent caregiver, the intense fear, rage, and despair would all make sense.
“She held herself until the sobs of the child inside subsided entirely. I love you, she told herself. It will all be okay.” ― H. Raven Rose