Narcissists aren’t capable of something called ‘object constancy’- and it helps explain why they are so cruel to the people they date. Lindsay Dodgson
Last summer, when I was in France, I read a book called “Un Homme Dangereux” (A Dangerous Man) written by Emilie Frèche, a French novelist. It is a semi-fictional novel, largely based on the author’s experience of her relationship with a person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder – who is said to be the French writer and journalist Patrick Besson. The book tells the story of the toxic and destructive relationship between Emilie and Benoit.
One weekend they decide to book a hotel room to spend the night together. As they arrive in the room, he realises that he has forgotten to take his medication, so he tells her that he is going to the local pharmacy to buy some and will be back shortly. She gets herself settled into the room but minutes turn into hours and he does not return. He does not text or call to tell her what has happened thus she ends up waiting for him for two days, too afraid to leave the room, even for a short while, just in case he happens to come back. Weeks later, she bumps into him and he acts as if nothing had happened. When she asks him why he did it, he replies: “I don’t know. Frankly, I have NO idea. I went to buy my medication but the pharmacy was closed. So I went looking for another one and step by step…there you go.” NB: the book has not been translated into English so far, so this quote is my own translation.
For people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, out of sight does really seem to mean out of mind. While we are pining for them when we are apart, narcissists are able to forget that we exist from one minute to the other. Narcissists can therefore go from bombarding us with ‘love’ to completely ignoring us at the flick of a switch. We can go from being their soulmate to being someone they do no longer acknowledge.
From what I have been reading, this Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde behaviour is mainly due to a lack of object constancy, which is the ability to understand that people remain constant, even if we are unable to see them. If someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder is angry or bored with us, they cannot experience love – or whatever it is they call love. It is particularly distressing for their loved ones as they are more than often completely unaware of the causes of this sudden change in emotions.
Children who did not receive the care that they should and were abandoned, neglected or ignored failed to develop object constancy. According to psychologists, Narcissistic personality Disorder is in itself a reaction to dysfunctional attachment and lack of bonding in infancy. Object relations in people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder remained immature and chaotic.
Children who live through distressing situations can experience what is called “splitting” which is a defence mechanism that results in the division of objects or people into good and bad by concentrating alternately on their positive or negative attributes. They therefore dissociate from the positive feelings while experiencing negative feelings. People are either good or bad. People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder cannot therefore reconcile the fact that the person that just infuriated them or disappointed them is the same person that they ‘love’.
This dichotomous view of people prevents narcissists to form long-lasting bonds with people as they will instantly lose the affection that they have for a person as soon as this person starts showing flaws or does not live up to the idea of the ideal partner that narcissists had at the beginning of the relationship.
I find this as fascinating as it is disturbing and it helps me understand that the ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ sensation that I experienced throughout our relationship was not only a feeling on my part. It was really a case of out of sight, out of mind.
Trying to form a long-lasting bond with a narcissist is an impossible task and the only thing we can do is put them out of our minds and our hearts even if they are still in sight…