Object constancy is what separates good sports from sore losers
Object constancy is one of the more awkward terms in psychology, but its meaning is so relevant, that it’s worth understanding and worth developing when it’s lacking.
Object constancy is the ability to hold onto a positive regard towards a person, a company, a project, yourself and even a country in the face of being upset, frustrated, angered and disappointed by any of them.
Object constancy develops early in your life, even back to infancy, when you develop a trust, belief and confidence that your parents (especially your mother) will return after they have gone away. That is thought to be due to the fact that you are highly dependent on that person and if they are gone and you feel hungry, need to have your diaper changed, feel cold and need to be held, feel just plain scared and need to be held and they are away too long, the fear and anxiety can become intolerable and you lose your object constancy.
Alternatively, if your parents do come back relatively quickly, but become angry at you and even yell at you to “Shut up” when you’re feeling scared, that can also mess up your ability to maintain a positive connection to them.
When you don’t have object constancy, and you’re feeling intolerable anxiety, you become vulnerable to addictions, fanatical obsessions and compulsions. When those three have in common is the capacity to make that anxiety go away temporarily. The fact that anxiety comes back so quickly is what deepens your addictions, obsessions and compulsions.
Someone I know who has had a long standing cocaine addiction has told me that he no longer needs cocaine to get high, he needs it just to get by. As he told me, “The only thing more powerful than a cocaine rush, is the utter agony during a cocaine crash.” Lacking object constancy to deal with upset, disappointment and anxiety had caused or at least contributed to this person self-medicating himself with cocaine.
Albert Einstein said, “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” When he said that, I think he was referring to object constancy. If we decide the universe is friendly, i.e. safe, we look at the world with optimism and hope. If we decide the universe is hostile, i.e. dangerous, we look at the world with pessimism and hopelessness.
After election day, the side whose candidate loses will have their object constancy sorely tested. The reason for a palpable fear of violence by that side is because there is so little belief in people’s ability to maintain a positive connection to the future of America in the face of their candidate losing. Their becoming angry and possibly violent is an attempt to take back control through revenge and retaliation rather than enduring the pain associated with their candidate having lost, dealing with it and then moving past it. Object constancy is what allows people to tolerate that pain and move beyond it (again harkening back to the infant’s tolerating parents being away by believing they will return).
What can you do if you are lacking object constancy?
Here are a some suggestions taken from Talking to Crazy: How to Deal with the Irrational and Impossible People in Your Life (Amacom Books, $24.95):
I’d welcome any of your thoughts about whether American society has lost its object constancy and if you agree, what suggestions you might have for getting it back.