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Author Topic: BPD BEHAVIORS: Lack of object consistency  (Read 69938 times)
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« on: August 11, 2007, 08:26:43 PM »

As I understand object consistency, it has to do about forgetting or changing how they feel about someone when they are away.  In my case, her feelings for me are not consistent when I am away.  I have left for a business trip and when I get back a week later she is now mad at me over something that happened months ago but she was not mad at me when I left.  

I don't know.  I thought forgetting about events or actions was covered by a different term.  My w has forgotten something she has said just a few hours before.  I see that all the time.  The more upset she is, the more likely she will not remember.  

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« Reply #1 on: August 11, 2007, 08:41:38 PM »

There is a lot of confusion between "object constancy",  "object permanence"  and "transitional objects" on message boards. The former has to do with people, the later has to do with objects.

Transitional Objects: For children, a ''transitional object'' can be a teddy bear, or a security blanket. For long the conventional wisdom has been that, as normal children mature, they outgrow such fixations. And the attachment to blankets and the like after 3 or so was, in the classic psychoanalytic framework, defined as disturbed or regressive behavior.

The connotation has been negative, but Horton believes the evidence is against that.  His work embodies a school of thought among those in psychiatry who hold that such attachments can continue normally: ''The relationship that I'm talking about is vital, humane and essential to development throughout one's life,'' he said.

Object Permanence: The understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be observed (seen, heard, touched, smelled or sensed in any way).

Object Consistency / constancy: I think these pages from Gunderson's text (ISBN-10:1585620165) really help put it into perspective - it addresses the issue of object constancy for a pwBPD and their developing relationship to the major object (people) in their life.

Borderline Personality Disorder
John G. Gunderson, MD

The 3 Levels of Emotions found in Borderline Personality

This formulation emphasizes the degree to which the borderline person's manifest psychopathology can be understood in terms of relationships to major objects.

The term major object will be used to refer to any significant current relationship perceived as necessary . In the following section, the borderline person's current relationships to the three levels of psychological functioning are observed. Lower levels of psychological function emerge regressively and act to preserve a sense of contact with and control over major object relationships.


When a major object is present and supportive, the depressive, bored, and lonely features predominate. Here the borderline person is at the first and best level of function. It is characterized by considerable conscious longing for closer attachment but considerable passivity and failure to initiate greater sharing within the context of the relationships. There is a capacity here to reflect on past failures and to identify conflicts and resistances realistically. There remains, however, considerable concern about the object's fragility and concurrent fears of being controlled by becoming dependent. As Kernberg (1975) has pointed out, such concerns reflect fears of projected hostility, the wary expectation of being controlled can be used as an active attempt to gain control over others. The result is that a dysphoric stalemate exists in relationships, which is periodically disrupted by regressive efforts to provoke reassurance from the other or by progressive initiatives to acknowledge what they want and feel they need from that person more fully. Two major organizing and sustaining beliefs are "Should I want more from you, or should I be angry with you, you will leave" and "If I'm more compliant, something will be given to me that will make me invulnerable and less destructive." The nature of this "something" is generally not well defined. Behind these conscious beliefs are concerns with the destructiveness of their own aggressive wishes and wishes to find a powerful protector. In any event, the basic tension between wanting more from the object and fearing that less will be received accounts for the sustained dysphoria characteristic of borderline functioning at this level. Within treatment contexts, these features of the borderline's personality disorder will be evident during uninterrupted phases of therapy (even more evident in the middle of hours, and likewise when such patients are offered considerable autonomy within supportive residential treatment settings. During these periods, patients will generally be able to work collaboratively with an active therapist toward fuller affective expression and insight i.e., accept interpretations). The resistances most commonly encountered are the patient's passive compliance, accompanied by failure to initiate contact, bring in new material, and so on. This often occurs in response to activity by the therapist that is experienced as directive or helpful. Such compliance and failures to initiate often contain a covert demand that the therapist do more. Another resistance arises after having shared new material or affect; then the patient withdraws and becomes defiant. Such sharing is accompanied by fears that there will be a loss of control, that they will give in to their passive wishes, and that, if either of these fears is actualized, the therapist will then respond exploitatively. These represent threats to the illusion of control over the therapist which sustains the patient on this level. The overt expression of these concerns is an increased fear of being controlled and an openly defiant posture. Within residential settings, impatience and fears of giving much gratification (secondary gain) are common feelings among staff working with borderline patients who are functioning within this level. Treatment personnel are likely to overestimate a patient's strengths and try to stir patients into better social functioning and more independence. There is frequently a failure to recognize and interpret, especially to less verbal patients, the degree to which their passivity reflects fears of loosing control over their affects and the degree to which their compliance silently hides their belief that their object is under their control. Under such circumstances, it is difficult to appreciate and anticipate the extreme sensitivity to rejection that becomes evident when either greater autonomy or separation is encouraged.


When a major object is frustrating to borderline persons or when the specter of their loss is raised, a second level of psychological functioning and a different constellation of clinical phenomena are evident. The angry, devaluative, and manipulative features predominate. Although the affective tone of anger is pervasive, it is only occasionally expressed as open rage. More frequently, it takes a modified form such as biting sarcasm, belligerent argumentativeness, or extreme demands. The anger is modified to alleviate fears of losing the object (in reality as well as its mental representation), while it still communicates the wish to maintain a hold on the person. Failing this, the patient can attempt to deny the fear of loss by dismissing the felt need for the object (i.e., devaluation) or attempt to prevent loss by dramatizing the object need. Manipulative suicidal gestures are frequent under these circumstances. At its extreme, when there is danger of the anger becoming too uncontrolled, the rage gets projected onto the object and paranoid accusations occur. All of these reactions are best understood as efforts, often conscious, to control or coerce the object into staying. These issues - to feel the need for a reliably available other and to feel able to control that person - have not changed from the higher level. Rather it is the repertoire of defenses and their behavioral expression that undergo regression and are most specific to the borderline patient. These reactions continue as long as the object is still perceived as accessible or retainable. The disabling effects of anticipated loss can frequently be seen as the patient struggles to find some acceptable expression of its attendant affects. This can take the form of rather elaborate and poorly connected affective states - giggling, bland dismissals, sudden rages, and, of course, extreme lability. The distinctive feature is the dissembled unsustained quality of the affects. Within treatment contexts, these features of the borderline's psychopathology become evident only when the treating person, or institution, has assumed the role of a major object (i.e., is felt as needed by the patient). When the object is felt as needed, these regressive phenomena emerge whenever separations are imminent (i.e., terminations, vacations, and end of hours). They also take place within the psychotherapy hours themselves whenever the inaccurate. The borderline patient's elaborate efforts to prevent separations and sudden anger at or withdrawal from frustrations are critical features in the treatment of borderlines. These features have been a focus of most authors who have primarily been concerned with analytic therapy (Adler 1975; Giovacchini 1973; Kernberg 1968; Masterson 1972.) Under these circumstances, borderline patients will frequently dismiss a therapist's interpretative or clarificatory efforts (i.e., to one). The therapist's primary task is to interrupt the patient's anger enough to draw attention to the provoking incident. This often requires confrontation or limit setting. Such responses address the change of feeling and attitude as a regressive retreat from some reality that the patient wishes to avoid. It preserves and calls on the patient to utilize still intact ego functions of reality testing and self-observation. It is not that the expression of anger at the therapist's failure are not critically important in themselves; it is that the transformed rage (i.e., devaluation, manipulation, or paranoid accusations) utilizes defenses of denial, acting out, and projection, which prevent the patient's recognition of the feeling response and its reason. I believe this helps understand why many experienced therapists have found it futile to allow borderline patients to spend much time in this preferred mode of angry expressiveness. Once the regressive efforts are interrupted, interpretative work directed at the devaluation ("You're working hard not to know what you want" or "You're afraid to want things from me which you can't control"), the manipulation ("You're trying to exert control over me without risking that it will provoke my anger" or "You want to prevent me from being unavailable"), or the projection ("You're mad at me for not always being available" or "You're afraid of how enraged you might be with me") can be accepted and worked with. An insistent examination of the importance a patient places on the therapist's presence brings to fears of experiencing the important helplessness that are a psychological function occurs within the therapeutic context, and while the object, the analysis of its purpose and form is a critical part of psychotherapy.


When a borderline person feels an absence or lack of any major object, then a third level of psychological function becomes predominant. The phenomena during such periods include the occurrence of brief psychotic episodes, panic states, or impulsive efforts to avoid such panic. These phenomena each represent efforts to ward off the subjective experience of aloneness (Adler and Buie 1979a) and, I would add, total badness. Under ordinary circumstances, this aspect of the borderline around - even if without any evident emotional contact, in using radio and television as hypnotics, or in heavy reliance on transitional objects (Arkema 1981; Morris et. al. 1984). Under the more extreme circumstances when there has been a loss of a specific and essential object relationship, dangerous impulsive acts occur that most commonly consist of taking drugs or alcohol. These serve both to numb the panic and to initiate social contacts. Fights and promiscuity occur under these circumstances - often assisted by the disinhibiting influence of alcohol - and reflect desperate efforts to establish contact with and to revive the illusion of control over some new object. A second major type of reaction against the experience of aloneness is a prolonged dissociative episode of either the depersonalization or derealization types. These detach the borderline person from either the reality of bodily distress or the reality of the environmental situation that evokes that intolerable distress. During dissociative episodes, nihilistic fears occur ("am I dead, has my body dissolved"), and these may give rise to self-mutilation in order to confirm being alive by feeling pain. Frequently, such self-mutilation is accompanied by restitutive fantasies in which the absent object is either believed to be performing the act or is being punished by the act, but in either event, is still involved. These self-mutilative actions are quite different in their intent and subjective experience from the suicidal gestures that occur when ongoing contact with a specific object is still being sought. Sometimes nihilistic ideas slip from dystonic fears to become beliefs; they then take on aspects of psychotic depressions. The conviction of being evil and nihilistic beliefs are two extremes that the borderline patient achieves when the usual defenses of action and substitutive objects are not that Kernberg (1967) refers to the borderline's very primitive underlying, generally avoided, abandonment depression as central to his formulations. Perhaps because of the amount of interpersonal involvement and the borderline person's dramatic responsivity to such involvement, sustained depressions of psychotic proportions are unusual in borderline patients, particularly for those who are in treatment settings. Occasionally, bizarre imagery, simple hallucinatory phenomena, or transient somatic delusions occur. The object restitutive aspect patient who developed the belief she was pregnant, or the patient who developed anal and urethral retentiveness requiring emergency room care). The most common delusional experience is ideas of reference. Not only do these project unacceptable self-judgments, they sustain a sense of involvement with nonspecific others where none exists. The general point here is function (desperate impulsivity, substance abuse, dissociative episodes, brief psychotic episodes, and ideas of reference) represent efforts to manage the fear of aloneness and the sense of badness. This badness is related to beliefs that they have failed or wronged their object. These experiences of alone-badness and the panicky reactions to it are seldom seen within the hospital or psychotherapeutic context. As described subsequently (Chapter 7) they do, however, often come to the attention of clinicians as a reason for seeking treatment or as phenomena described retrospectively by borderline patients. Understanding the context in which they occur is important so that their recurrence can be anticipated and avoided.

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you are the only you that will ever exist

« Reply #2 on: August 11, 2007, 08:43:29 PM »

Randi Kreger said this in Stop Walking on Eggshells. I think she is actually talking about Object Permanence. Thought it might help.

"Lack of Object Constancy[Permanence]: When we're lonely, most of us can soothe ourselves by remembering the love that others have for us. This is very comforting even if these people are far away-sometimes, even if they're no longer living. This ability is known as object constancy.

Some people with BPD, however, find it difficult to evoke an image of a loved one to soothe them when they feel upset or anxious. If that person is not physically present, they don't exist on an emotional level. The BP may call you frequently just to make sure you're still there and still care about them. (One non-BP told us that every time her boyfriend called her at work, he introduced himself using both his first and last name.)"

Stop walking on Eggshells

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« Reply #3 on: August 11, 2007, 08:46:07 PM »

Here's a good Gunderson quote:

Something which is all good one day can be all bad the next, which is related to another symptom: borderlines have problems with object constancy in people -- they read each action of people in their lives as if there were no prior context; they don't have a sense of continuity and consistency about people and things in their lives. They have difficulty seeing all of the actions taken by a person over a period of time as part of an integrated whole, and tend instead to analyze individual actions in an attempt to divine their individual meanings. People are defined by how they lasted interacted with the borderline. In the same sense of constancy borderlines have "emotional amnesia", they are so completely in each mood, they have great difficulty conceptualizing, remembering what it's like to be in another mood.

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« Reply #4 on: August 11, 2007, 08:51:58 PM »

Yes- pwBPD does have emotional amnesia - which as i said in my post is all to do with object consistency and is the reason for the rages , frustration , accusations , tears etc . They cant link - the past with the present at all and is also the reason why they are so suggestible .

With my ex she would talk to a friend about me and her friend would say but beckett hasn't got this or doesn't do that and because of the object consistency and  amnesia - shed call me and want to finish -and had completely forgotten that we had spent the weekend together and were planning to buy a house together - pwBPD,  because of object consistency,  can only live in the moment.  

so very good point and this is turning into an excellent thread
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« Reply #5 on: August 11, 2007, 08:59:29 PM »

Object constancy develops between 25-36 months of age or a bit after . It relates to recognising the mother and also recognising the mother not being there for any period of time does not mean that the mother has left for good ( annihilation). At this stage the child learns to tolerate ambivalence and frustration - which BPDs do not - consider black and white thinking for example . And of course need I write more about frustration ! Also at this stage the child will recognise that anger or sorrow is only temporary so will not feel abandoned - need I write more- BPDs in general dont get to this stage at all. Instead BPDs remain fixated an earlier developmental stage where splitting and extreme defense mechanisms are prominent.

There is also a memory issue involved here - you'll often hear a BPD say I dont  remember that or I forgot what you looked like or keeping some of their partners stuff like cologneor shirts or something of that ilk  so that they can remmber their partner . Also it explains why BPDs always seem to act in the moment rather than think about their past actions and what the future consequences of their actions will be .

Its best illustrated by the classic example of when a BPD says you dont love me , youre going to leave me - which they truly believe or when they break up with you because they fear that you might leave them . If they did have  object constancy then  they could look back at the past and realise that their partner by his previous actions does love them and that their comments are completely invalid . Think about how a three year old acts when mom goes out for the evening for the first time and then how a five year old acts and youll get the idea . The five year old will understand its only temporary and behave well whilst sometimes the three year old may  feel bereft and no matter how much you try its virtually impossible to get the idea across that Mommy will be home soon .  

Incidentally it was one of the clues my exgf left me that made me start thinking about possible BPD . When she get agitated or cried she would constantly refer to being only 4 and stuck in a 42 year old body and how she wanted to go out witha 26 year old and not a 5 year old as she continuously told me I was (projecting )

So object constancy is a big  big factor if you really want to know why BPDs are BPDs- the fact is they dont grow up on an emotional level and this would explain  their impatience ,frustration ,  their impulsivity and their belief in safety- sucha contradiction  , their need etc, the way they can jump very quickly to a new partner, their rages , their attacks , their prolonged silences , their sulks , their high maintenance lifestyles - always wantinga new toy   - just like a three year old acts . Think abouyt how a three year old is in a queue or sitiing at restaurant able and now think about your BPD - hopefully by now youre beginning to get the picture .

It might also be the reason why BPd is so hard to fix, why BPDs are always in denial and why they will refuse to admit they are wrong - think of that screaming three year old again who no matter what you say to them they believe the mother has left them  .

I think once you get to grips with Object constancy you will really get  get to understand whay a BPD acts the way they do .

Kresisman deals with this matter indetail in " I hate you - dont leave me" - if theres any scholars out there and Schnitzel on other posts has discussed this in great detail as have other people on a post entitled emotional immaturity .

I hope this helps - I feel its fundamental to understanding BPD.        
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« Reply #6 on: August 12, 2007, 01:01:00 AM »

Here is what I had written on another topic.  Brucey was very helpful there...

Borderlines are erratic because they don't really feel toward people the same way that we do.  They think of people the way we think of objects.  You care about your refrigerator, but then one day you junk it and get a new one.  It doesn't bother you.  You love the pen you write with, but eventually you tire of it and throw it away.  You don't think or care about its feelings.  You love your bicycle, but one day you find a more interesting, a better one, and you begin to ignore the old one.

On top of this, borderlines need constant attention and drama.  So, they role-play a loving relationship (not exactly the same as faking, but in that neighborhood).  They come on strong until they have another one lined up, then they leave.  They don't have empathy because they were just "using" you, the way you use your refrigerator, pen, or bicycle.  Then they move on to "use" someone else.  That person will get dumped too, when a better one comes along (if a better one comes along).  They are always on the prowl for a new source of attention and drama.

Excellent illustration, brucey.  Is that what the experts mean when that talk about object constancy?  ...they read each action of people in their lives as if there were no prior context; they don't have a sense of continuity and consistency about people and things in their lives.  When a person is not physically present, someone with BPD slowly loses an emotionally consistent 'sense' of that person's existence.

Wikipedia: Idealization_and_devaluation  (see paragraph titled "Kernberg")

"...the individual has a problem with object constancy and sees others as all good or all bad, thus bolstering idealization and devaluation. At this stage idealization is associated with borderline pathology.

My stbx was "predictably unpredictable".  If I left and she was happy, I didn't know whether she would still be happy when I returned.  If I left and she was upset or ranting, I didn't know whether she would still be upset when I returned.

Oh, and her memory was exceptional (her version anyway) when she had a grudge against someone.  Her faults or good things about others?  Well, that was quite iffy.  Naturally.

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« Reply #7 on: August 12, 2007, 04:23:13 AM »

He would tell me that he forgot he loved me. He was always falling back in love with me.

Out of sight out of mind kind of thing.

When BPMIL lost her sister she did not cry even though they saw each other several times a day. Her response was more like once she was dead she no longer could remember her feelings enough to be sad that she had lost her.


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« Reply #8 on: August 12, 2007, 09:15:22 AM »

"...they read each action of people in their lives as if there were no prior context; they don't have a sense of continuity and consistency about people and things in their lives.  When a person is not physically present, someone with BPD slowly loses an emotionally consistent 'sense' of that person's existence"

That's probably why UBPDex DIL NEEDS her three a week phone calls with GS-so she can 'keep' him.  He is definately not benefitting from them-she is.  It is her every other day 'I am still your Mommy' fix.  Gotta keep up her public MOTY appearance.

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« Reply #9 on: August 12, 2007, 12:04:18 PM »

I can give two very strong accounts of what I believe to be a lack of "object consistency" that I saw in my ex.

1)  I took the ex to Disneyland on day as a surprise post christmas present.  She's never been to disneyland before and was very excited once she realized where we were going(we live in so. california)  we had a fantastic time all day and just enjoyed being with each other the whole time.  Laughed - felt like kids, all the good parts of a relationship.  When we got home, instead of staying at her place, I went home because we both had to work early in the morning, and I didn't want to have to get up extra early, drive home to get ready, and then go to work.  She called me the next day and broke up with me.  Saying she couldn't let our relationship continue this way.  She was so overwhelmed by the thought that I wouldn't stay with her that night after our day at Disneyland that she couldn't see a reason to continue with our relationship.  We got back together later that day.  This was one of several break-ups for us.

2)  When I left to go on vacation (I went on vacation by myself because she was still in school and couldn't go during classes.  It was a vacation I had planned since before she and I had ever even met) she asked to keep the shirt I was wearing when she dropped me off at the airport (it was a button down - I had a tshirt on underneath).  When I called her from the road, she told me how she was sleeping in it every night and how she liked to smell me on it.  She broke up with me while I was on this vacation because she had moved on with another guy.  (In this case *I* was the object lacking consistency)  When I asked her what the new guy had that I didn't (a horrible thing to ask someone btw) she said that she loved his 'consistency' - literally!  When she gave me back my shirt, she said that it lost the smell of me after about a week.  She had found the new guy a week after that.


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