Why I Struggle With 'Object Permanence' in Relationships as Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder


One of the most unfortunate parts of my borderline personality disorder (BPD) is the difficulty I have with initiating and sustaining relationships with others. Since childhood, I’ve never had luck making many friends and even worse luck maintaining the friendships I would create. The most recent addition to this has been devastating: one of my best friends of over 10 years — my “favorite person.”

This friend and I had a falling out back towards the end of November, during one of my darkest spells since high school, and haven’t spoken since. Through the first few weeks, I felt abandoned, worthless and lashed out at myself for ruining a wonderful relationship. Once Christmas came, though, things got easier. I was busy with family and enjoying the holidays at home. It was as if not being near her or being surrounded by anything that would remind me of her caused her existence in my life to fade away. I’ve read this is something else people with BPD can struggle with — object permanence. Object permanence is the ability to realize that objects can still exist even when they can’t be observed. In this instance for me, that meant being out of work (this former friend was someone I worked with) and being with my family caused me to forget she still existed and that our friendship was still over.

Then, the first day back from our winter break, she was in my school to do a training for all the teachers (including me). Suddenly I was overwhelmed with emotions. My thoughts were racing, I felt completely out of control. I survived the afternoon by texting another friend and my husband during the training. As soon as I left that afternoon, I went home and did everything I could to erase that day from my memory: I switched clothes, I distracted myself, I even threw away the papers from the training. If I didn’t see her and I didn’t have any triggers for my brain to dwell on her, then I would be OK. It worked before, it would work again, right?

The week after the training, I started dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and we began with the mindfulness module. Since being in DBT, I’ve been working hard to try to keep my brain focused on the present, acknowledge thoughts (like ones of my former favorite person) as they happen but not focus on them and also look at situations based on the facts instead of my feelings or opinions. If I stay in the present, then I hopefully won’t dwell on the fallout with her and go through my list of what I “should have done.” If I do find myself focusing on her, I can use my skills to draw my attention back to the moment, to my body, to my breath.

This weekend I am going to be at a work event and will be faced with seeing this former friend once more. I’m hoping I can use my mindfulness skills to stay professional and focused on the event, not her. I’m also hoping that once the event is done, I can allow my object permanence struggles to help me forget her again for a while. Another friend reminded me last night that the fact that I am forced to maintain a working relationship with this former friend may help me learn to work on some of my relationship issues in general and change how I handle relationships in the future. It’s a chance for me to eventually grow and gain power over BPD and most especially my struggles with relationships, but for this weekend, my main goal will be survival without self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

Getty Images photo via Cochran-Artworks


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