Recovering from Trauma – Object Constancy

At Bridges this week we talked about ways people recover from trauma, beginning with the area of Object Constancy. Simply put, object constancy is something children generally develop as they grow. It is about attachment, and means that – when Mum is out of the room, the child understands that she still exists, and is able to be comforted by the thought of her. Children who do not have object constancy have an ‘out of sight – out of mind’ kind of experience, where if Mum isn’t in sight, she ceases to exist entirely, which is frightening and upsetting. A lack of object constancy in adulthood can be a painful part of a number of different mental illnesses. Many people with dissociative disorders have difficulties in this area.I’m no exception. I’ve discovered that managing chronic dissociation is often about finding creative ways to help information cross dissociative divides. So, I have learned that I need reminders of my important relationships around me, such as photographs. I wear perfumes that have links to people that are special to me, such as my Grandma, or my lovely neighbour Marie when I was a child. I have had to write the names of my friends on paper and pin them somewhere I can read them regularly, or when I am stressed, I forget that these people exist and care about me.

That sounds cosy and simple. The reality is more complex. Sometimes there are no relationships to draw comfort from. Sometimes there are relationships, but they are cold, or distant, or abusive. None of these qualities inspire attachment. There’s no point in trying to overcome dissociation to be more connected to an existence that is painful and destructive. There’s often a reason it’s there in the first place. Sometimes relationships can look and seem close, but be missing essential qualities that create connection. Sometimes, feeling lonely in a relationship can be indicative not of attachment problems, but of a relationship that is disconnected on some fundamental level. I once had a close relationship with someone like an aunt in my life. Increasingly discontented and confused by my sense of distance I tried to rebuild a closeness between us, sending gifts and cards and calling by. Eventually when confronted she told me that she had stopped loving me years before, but still maintained the semblance of a friendship so that I would not make a fuss. Having attachment issues does not mean that all your relationships are good and any problems are always you.

But, when there are good caring people around you, having them cease to exist on an emotional level the moment they leave your side is a horrible and frustrating experience. So, carry pictures of your children with you. Keep tokens that remind you of your loved one. I have a candle I burn at Christmas in memory of my Grandma. She’s still with us every Christmas. I wear jewellery given to me by people special to me. I keep cards on display for months. This is the place I’m trying to stay out of:

I can’t feel you

or see you
everything is dark here
and you are
only a story told to me
so alien and lovely
I try to believe
That the world is not empty
That other hearts beat in the dark
But it is difficult
On the edge of my vision, you blur into the night
Becoming only shadows and whispers
The wind speaks cruel things to me
And I wonder
If there is any love left in the world.

4 thoughts on “Recovering from Trauma – Object Constancy

  1. This has been quite helpful to me. It is confusing to understand if it is the other person in a relationship being emotionally uncaring or if it is actually you. I'm currently in that confusing place where I suddenly feel like my three year relationship is gone and it is very strange

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