“Object constancy” is a Psychological Concept which I will now try to explain. (When I say “try to explain,” I mean that I’m going to Google it, check to see whether the definition there matches my assumptions in the moment) (and, if I find a definition that’s good enough, steal it).
Of course, it’s risky when you go to the Internet for information. Who knows which sources are reliable? But here’s a definition of Object Constancy, from the GoogleSphere:
in psychoanalysis, the relatively enduring emotional investment in another person.
That doesn’t quite “click” for me. Hold on.
Well, I’ve looked at a few, and I’m going to use this one, which — interestingly enough, defines LACK of object constancy.
Lack of object constancy is the inability to remember that people or objects are consistent, trustworthy and reliable, especially when they are out of your immediate field of vision.
Hmmm. It’s occurring to me that this definition reflects a kind of all-or-nothing thinking. I mean, look at those words: “lack.” “inability.”
Object constancy is not usually something that human beings either have OR don’t have at all. The vast majority of us are somewhere on the scale from 0 to 100%, Object Constancy-wise.
Let me tell you why Object Constancy is the Topic Du Jour. Yesterday, I gave a party for myself, to celebrate a Big Numbered Birthday. And I invited people to come and help me celebrate the day — people who have meant a lot to me and people who I assumed would feel comfortable being there.
And these people said some pretty incredible things to me throughout the party — face-to-face, by cards and other writings, on video messages, and during a point in the party where people sat around and shared memories. And I was trying really, really hard throughout the party to take the good stuff in. I was trying not to get caught up in what might go wrong with the party, whether people were having a good time, whether I was being a good host, whether I seemed too self-centered in having this kind of party for myself, and the other varied menu of judgmental choices. And I was friggin’ exhausted the whole time, because I had trouble sleeping the night before. So I was trying not to judge myself for that, too. (Why didn’t you make sure you got enough sleep so you could be more present?) And I was trying not to be disappointed that I hadn’t managed to figure out how to RECORD what people were saying at certain points, so I could remember it later.
And I really wanted to record things, because I think of myself as a person who has “Poor Object Constancy.”
Which, I realize right now, is a judgmental term.
I mean, it’s the word “poor” that tipped me off, right then.
But let me tell you by what I mean by that belief about myself: People may be vivid, real, and important to me in the moment, but they can fade when I’m by myself. When I am by myself, I can start believing that I’m not important — that I fade from their minds, too. And even though I know on some level that there are people out there who care about me, when I’m alone and feeling scared or insecure, I have trouble accessing a sense of those connections.
I spend a lot of time, in my work, talking to people about What Sticks and What Doesn’t Stick. And I have noticed, in myself and other people, that what scares us — the negative things — do tend to stick and seem more important than the positive things. If you’ve read other posts in this blog, you’ve probably noticed this theme coming up before. And here’s something else I’m sure I’ll write about more than once. When we’re feeling at our worst, we tend to NOT do the things that will help us feel better. Over and over again, I see people isolating when they feel worse about themselves and their lives.
The tendency of the negative to “stick.” How people, when they are in pain, tend to isolate. Yes, I will probably write about these themes — and others — many times throughout this Year of Living Non-Judgmentally. Because (as the cab driver said in response to the rider asking, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”), practice, practice, practice.
It takes repetition and practice to let go of old ways of seeing things.
So, yesterday, I tried to practice, practice, practice throughout the party. I tried not to judge the judging thoughts that came up for me during the party. I tried to take in the specific positive things people were telling me. And I tried to let these very positive messages in: You are important to me. I am important to you.
When I say “important” I don’t mean “all important.” All of us have complicated lives, and maybe we do lose track of each other here and there. But importance — like most things — is not All-Or-Nothing.
And there was a moment yesterday, when people who mean a lot to me were singing “Happy Birthday.” In that moment, I let go of all judgmental, self-conscious, and scared thoughts, looked around the room, and thought, “Wow.” Here are all these beautiful connections, right in the room. Here are all these wonderful faces, looking at me, and celebrating my birthday with song and with themselves. And I took a mental photo of it, filed it away, and reminded myself to Practice, Practice, Practice making that image stick.
And even if my Object Constancy is not the best — even if that image fades and maybe is hidden from me at times — that image is still there. And I’ll practice, practice, practice making that picture more constant.
Thanks, dear reader.