The Effects of a Lack of Emotional Permanence

Emotional permanence allows you to enjoy your relationships, trusting in their strength. When it fails, difficulties appear on the social level related to maladaptive behaviors. Consequently, you have to try and regain balance in an environment that you feel is profoundly unstable.
The Effects of a Lack of Emotional Permanence

Written by Elena Sanz

Last update: 24 November, 2022

You need to trust the stability of your relationships. You need to know that those who love you will continue to do so, even if they’re not around or if there are disagreements between you. It’s known as emotional permanence. If you have deficits in this regard, your quality of life and psychological well-being will suffer.

A lack of emotional permanence makes you feel insecure as if you’re walking a tightrope. It generates strong feelings of anxiety, encouraging you to act in such a way that goes against your interests.

If you’re experiencing this problem, the root of it probably lies in your past history. However, the good news is that you can start working on it straight away and reinforce your self-reliance.

sad and apathetic woman
People with a lack of emotional permanence feel insecure and are extremely afraid of being abandoned.

Emotional permanence

The idea of emotional permanence states that emotions continue to exist even when they can’t be observed. This, as you’ll see later, applies both to your own feelings and those of others. For this reason, a lack of emotional permanence generates mistrust in relationships and significant difficulties in emotional regulation.

Emotional permanence is a concept related to object permanence, a developmental milestone that we reach around the age of two. It refers to our ability to understand that the existence of objects and people extends beyond our perception. In other words, people don’t cease to exist just because we can no longer see them.

With regard to emotional permanence, as we grow up, we learn that feelings also have continuity and that ‘out of sight’ doesn’t mean ‘out of our lives.” However, for this understanding to be achieved, we need caregivers who offer us unconditional affection, who are predictable, and who allow us to develop internal certainty and permanence.

When this doesn’t happen, or if there are negative experiences and later unstable ties (for example, with romantic partners), the sense of continuity with respect to ourselves and our relationships doesn’t develop, or it’s compromised. Thus, a series of difficulties arise.

Signs of a lack of emotional permanence

There are some indications that can help you identify if you have problems when it comes to conjugating your emotional permanence. Here are the main ones.

Problems regulating your emotions

If you lack emotional permanence, you have difficulty regulating your emotions. You tend to get emotionally upset easily and find it difficult to manage conflict. In fact, you tend to interpret any disagreement, argument, or misunderstanding as catastrophic. This causes you great discomfort.

You also find it difficult to remember how another emotion other than the one that you’re feeling right now feels like. For instance, if you feel sad, depressed, or anxious, you don’t remember that, at some point, you felt happy and calm.

That said, you do remember having previously experienced these emotions on a cognitive level, and can describe them. But it’s as if you were describing someone else’s experience. All that exists for you is what you’re experiencing now.

You may also find it difficult to understand that two emotions can coexist at the same time. For example, you don’t realize that it’s possible to feel angry or upset with someone and yet continue to love them.

Difficulties in your interpersonal relationships

These are the kinds of relationships where the consequences are most evident. In fact, if you lack emotional permanence, you live with a strong fear of abandonment in your emotional relationships.

You’re unable to enjoy relationships because you don’t trust that they’re stable and constant. Therefore, you permanently feel insecure. This often leads you to feel jealous and you need constant reassurance that your relationships are okay and that you’re still loved. 

A lack of emotional permanence is also an obstacle for you in trusting others, in turn arousing an intense rejection of ambiguity. It means that you can only maintain and generate relationships that are really well-defined. Moreover, having doubts about the nature of your relationships makes you feel really uneasy.

Psychological suffering

All of the above causes you great psychological suffering, as you feel unloved much of the time. You’re often sad or anxious and suffer from low self-esteem. You may even be more vulnerable to developing borderline personality disorder, due to your insecure attachment and construction of emotional permanence.

Woman suffering for her ex-partner
A lack of emotional permanence implies problems of emotional regulation in relationships with others.

Interventions for a lack of emotional permanence

Fortunately, it’s possible for you to build a sense of trust and work on the idea of commitment and abandonment to improve your well-being. First, you need to identify the consequences of your lack of emotional permanence. Then, with the intention of changing your beliefs and interpretations, you can start to apply interpersonal efficacy strategies, thus reinforcing the pillars that support your self-concept.

Some helpful guidelines include keeping an emotional journal (to check how your moods vary), sharing your difficulties with loved ones, and talking openly about them. Above all, you should get help from a qualified professional. Finally, identifying the vulnerability associated with your emotional impermanence will help you to better manage your emotions.

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  • Adler, G., & Buie Jr, D. H. (1979). Aloneness and borderline psychopathology: The possible relevance of child development issues. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis60, 83-96.
  • Moore, M. K., & Meltzoff, A. N. (1999). New findings on object permanence: A developmental difference between two types of occlusion. British Journal of Developmental Psychology17(4), 623-644.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.