Improving Object Constancy
May 26, 2021 12:27 AM   Subscribe

I struggle when people I care about leave, in any sense of the word. Be it ending a phone call, driving away after a dinner together, going home after an event, there is a reasonably high chance that I'll end up very upset. This can happen even when I know I'll see them the next day. I've become a lot better at managing my reaction, but it still happens with great regularity. I also can't think about people I've cared about in my life that are no longer in it. It's detrimental to my life in that I almost don't want to interact with people I care about as I know what parting will lead to. Has anyone experienced this and found a way of dealing with it or making it lessen, or have resources they'd recommend?

This question has been a long time coming. I finally got around to posting as I had to stop reading a book I'd just started due to the themes. I'll give some background in the hope that it will help.

I'm in my 30s, had a difficult childhood with a lot of physical abuse, control, fear and isolation. I moved country a number of times as a young child, and my parents never had real friends (my abusive father was too depressed to want friends, and presumably out of a need for control drove my mother's beginnings of friendships away). There were no supportive adults in my life. I learned to be hard and non react externally to abuse.

Out of fear and a need to please and luckily enough ability I made my way through college and postgraduate programmes, and my life is outwardly at least going in a good direction now. I first attended mental health services in my twenties and was diagnosed with cPTSD/ BPD (I think they used the latter as an excuse to get me on a DBT program). DBT taught me a lot and since doing it and going on SSRIs a number of years ago I've become a lot better at managing emotions, and experience emotional extremes a lot less (which I'm very grateful for.) I think I have changed a lot over the years.

I've read every book or article I can find on anything related to it. Pete Walker's idea of emotional flashbacks probably comes closest to describing it. I'm not sure if it falls under fear of abandonment, lack of object constancy might be closer to the mark. I've mentioned it on a number of occasions to my psychiatrist , they suggested CFT (compassion focused therapy), which I hope to do in the next year.

If you have resource recommendations, I'm more interested in finding solutions than understanding the cause. I've read all the posts on here (I think!) that might be relevant. Authors I've found helpful include Tara Brach, Pema Chodron, Marsha Linehan. I've read 'the body keeps the score' and 'trauma and recovery' and found them more upsetting than helpful (though I think they're fairly accurate). I've read a bit on attachment, which while it was interesting didn't seem that helpful.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (5 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
If you can identify certain abandonment-related experiences or memories from your childhood that are being triggered when you feel this way, you could try treating them with EMDR so they have less power over you. EMDR is good to do if you are otherwise stable, it really helps to rewire your brain's response to a particular triggering stimulus, but it can be exhausting because it's intense. (Not a good idea to, say, do an EMDR session on your lunch break and then try go back to work right after.)

Another approach would be some type of bodywork or somatic therapy. You've done the reading so you understand how important it is to find a way to balance the nervous system's responses. I'm not exactly sure what you mean by upset, but I'm assuming you mean some element of it is anxiety, and the sensations of that.

I am participating in a trauma group/class right now that is skills focused, and most of what we are discussing are concrete, specific ways to physically change how our bodies feel while experiencing a triggering event or going into a flashback. It's very practical, and has not involved anyone in the group offering a description of their trauma. If you can find something like this near you, I think you would appreciate it. Other somatic therapies include things like the Hakomi method, some forms of myofascial release, some forms of yoga and dance, meditation, sensorimotor psychotherapy, body dynamics, and core energetics.

A short term solution, if the issue is anxiety or panic, might be to ask your prescriber for a beta blocker to have on hand for the moments when you are especially triggered by a real life social interaction, and can't just put down a book or otherwise give yourself a break.

This is an area of interest for me personally and professionally, as a patient myself and as a bodyworker who sees patients with complex trauma. Feel free to message me directly if you want to talk more.
posted by zdravo at 12:50 AM on May 26 [3 favorites]

Have you tried ACT-type therapy/practices? It has a lot in common with DBT but some differences as well and maybe it would resonate better or be a better fit for you at this point in your life (I don't know much about DBT, more about ACT). Just from your question, it sounds like you are going to a fair amount of effort trying to avoid your feelings of abandonment, possibly even sacrificing other things that are important to you in order to avoid feeling abandoned. At a very broad level, ACT would encourage you to note those feelings, and feel them, but also to recognize that they are *feelings* and they cannot, in and of themselves, hurt you.

There's a popular book, The Happiness Trap, that takes you through the basics of ACT with some exercises and lots of examples.
posted by mskyle at 4:51 AM on May 26 [2 favorites]

This might be more about attachment than you think. If your attachment figured growing up were scary and you moved a lot this could be unmet attachment needs. We don't care about losing someone we aren't attached to. It's probably difficult with a history like that to feel safe about feeling attachment so it may be hard to think about it in those terms. It can be a bit like the normal attachment development process in an adult body, because you probably didn't get to go through that attachment process when you were originally supposed to. It IS hard on our childlike selves to say goodbye to someone we care for, that we feel cares for us. It is a moment of grief for those less developed parts of ourselves. If you had to be hard maybe you don't like listening to that younger softer part inside of you.

I agree with the recommendation for EMDR, find someone attachment focused if you can. (Some are specially trained in "attachment focused EMDR").
posted by crunchy potato at 9:45 AM on May 26 [1 favorite]

Silly idea but with a close friend who understands your struggles, could you two have an object that you hang on to till next time? I used to keep my boyfriends scarf.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:56 PM on May 26 [2 favorites]

I'll add: I miss people minutes after seeing them. I haven't experienced your trauma (and may your recovery and survival continue) and I still feel the absence of someone I've just been around.
posted by k3ninho at 2:44 PM on May 27

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