Emotional Permanence: What It Is + How To Deal With A Lack Of It

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Emotional permanence is the understanding that emotions continue to exist even when you’re not around or unable to directly observe them. Thus, an emotional permanence deficit alters the way the person experiences their emotions.

For example, they may have extreme difficulty remembering what a particular emotion feels like if they are not currently experiencing it. 

The ability to understand how one feels is an integral part of living a happy, healthy life. Conversely, a lack of emotional permanence can severely disrupt a person’s life and relationships. 

Why?

Because your loved ones aren’t going to be around all the time, every day. You will need space, work, or care for situations requiring individual attention. It will cause anxiety and conflict if both parties aren’t comfortable being apart when they need to be.

Because when times are hard, many people need to remember that they can feel happy again, which is a struggle if one cannot easily recall past emotions. A lack of emotional permanence can worsen depression and anxiety. 

A person with a lack of emotional permanence and depression (or other mental illness) may believe they will forever be trapped in an unwell mental state. A person who lacks emotional permanence often has difficulty recalling emotions they are not currently experiencing. That may make depression much worse because they can currently feel and understand all of the emotions, or lack thereof, of their depression but cannot recall happiness or hope.

Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you develop greater emotional permanence. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.

What causes a lack of emotional permanence?

Emotional permanence is developed or hindered in childhood by the adults in the child’s life. Unstable, emotionally distant, or absent parents may create abandonment issues and anxiety in their child, which carry over into their ability to connect as adults. A lack of emotional impermanence is often associated with childhood trauma, an anxious attachment style, and Borderline Personality Disorder.

A lack of emotional permanence in personal life.

The lack of emotional permanence branches into other aspects of the person’s life. It alters how the person views themselves and their relationships with others, which may cause them to avoid close socialization altogether. 

They may not believe they are worthy of being loved or cared for; if they should get into a relationship, that person will cease to love and care about them. But, on the other hand, they may desperately want connection and crave close relationships. Still, the emotional benefits of past relationships don’t stick in their mind. Instead, they assume that other people won’t value or care about them because they can’t fully conceptualize how others might have cared for them in the past.

The person may feel unwanted by friends or family members and self-sabotage those relationships by creating a distance that wasn’t actually there to begin with. 

A lack of emotional permanence and romantic relationships.

Emotional permanence serves a vital role in strong, healthy romantic relationships. Since the person “forgets” what emotions they are not currently experiencing, they focus entirely on what they are currently feeling. And suppose they are currently feeling anxiety and sadness about being apart from their loved one. In that case, there are no positive emotions to counterbalance that negativity. 

The person may exhibit certain behaviors like:

Requiring constant reassurance and reaffirmation of love. They will struggle with their loved one’s absence because they need that constant reassurance and reaffirmation to feel okay. Similarly, they will want regular affection from their partner as proof that they still love them.

– They may be unable to connect their loved one’s actions with their emotions. For example, if their loved one brings them flowers, they may not view it as an act of love to make them happy but instead, view it as some ruse for a bad thing their partner did. That can lead to fighting as the person digs in to defend themselves from a threat that doesn’t exist.

– The person may have difficulty accepting that their partner can be angry, sad, or annoyed with them but still love them. Emotions like anger, sadness, or annoyance are temporary, whereas emotions like love are far more enduring. Anger, sadness, and annoyance will pass; healthy love doesn’t just disappear or pass from minor disagreements or fights. If it does, it’s not healthy love.

– They may have trust issues because they are unable to sense their partner’s loyalty when they are absent. They can’t look back to find evidence that confirms the commitment and contentment their partner feels. They may experience jealousy and insecurity if their partner spends time with those they consider a threat.

Signs you may lack emotional permanence:

1. You have difficulty understanding that a person can experience two conflicting emotions simultaneously.

As in the above example, a person can be angry at you while still loving you. A person with an emotional permanence deficit may not understand that because their mind is so focused on what they feel in the present. If they feel angry, then the only emotion that must exist at that moment is anger. If they feel love, then the only emotion that must exist at that moment is love. This relates to the concept of object constancy which provides a feeling of safety and security in a relationship despite conflict or emotional distance.

2. You seek constant reassurance and validation from your loved ones.

You may feel insecure and unloved for no reason for long periods, particularly when you’re apart from the people who love you. As a result, you may regularly ask questions like “are you mad at me?” and “are you okay?” for no tangible reason. These questions are reasonable at times when there are difficulties. A person lacking emotional permanence will ask these kinds of questions often.

3. You may not be able to recall what a past emotion felt like.

People with an emotional permanence deficit may intellectually and cognitively understand what a particular emotion feels like. They may be able to accurately describe the emotion. The problem is that they can’t recall how it feels. 

To go back to a previous example, a depressed person may not remember what it felt like to be happy or hopeful. The inability to recall those emotions may lead to worse depression. 

Similarly, a happy person may not remember what it felt like to be sad. So if that person is happy, but their friend is going through a hard time, like a breakup, they may not be able to provide the appropriate emotional support because they can’t relate to those emotions. All they can feel in the present is their happiness. So why feel bad? Why feel negative? Just be happy!

Tips to manage and improve emotional permanence:

1. Employ cognitive behavioral techniques.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is about understanding and affecting the thoughts and emotions you are currently experiencing. This can be particularly helpful for people with an emotional permanence deficit because of the emotions they have in the present.

The idea is to counter the thoughts and emotions you are experiencing with healthier narratives until they start to stick. It may be a struggle, but this intervention can help stop or lessen a hard spiral. For example:

Instead of “My spouse wants to be away from me because they don’t love me,” you could replace that with “My spouse does love me even though they want some time to themselves. Everyone needs time to themselves once in a while. This is healthy.”

Instead of “My spouse isn’t out with a friend, they are cheating on me. I need to text them to see what they are doing.” you could replace that with “My spouse loves me and would not cheat on me. They have not given me a reason to distrust them, so I will leave them to their recreation.”

2. Talk to the people that you are having trouble with.

Emotional impermanence can affect all kinds of relationships. Sometimes, the person needs that extra little bit of reassurance that everything is okay and they are loved. They may also need to work harder to find resolutions to conflicts so they don’t have to sit with that anxiety and discomfort for extended periods. 

To decide whether or not to initiate a conversation, try looking at the context surrounding the emotions you have about the situation. For example:

“I feel unloved. Does my spouse love me? I should ask.” Pause and think about why you feel unloved. Is there something your spouse did? Or didn’t do? Is there any particular, direct reason you can trace that doubt back to? If you can’t identify the reason, your brain is likely messing with you rather than an actual problem existing.

3. Use a mood journal.

A mood journal can be exceptionally helpful for people with an emotional permanence deficit because it allows them to go back and see previous emotions written in their own hands. It is a distinct reminder that there are more emotions than you currently feel.

If you’re feeling unbalanced and unsure, you can go back and look at previous entries and experiences to pull back those unhealthy thoughts and feelings you’re experiencing.

4. Seek out a support group or professional help.

A lack of emotional permanence is often rooted in childhood trauma. However, it may be a symptom of another problem that needs to be addressed. If you find that you can relate to this article, it would be a good idea to talk to a professional about what you’re experiencing so they can help you get to the root of the issue, resolve it, and build better habits back in its place. 

That should help you create a happier you with healthier relationships.

BetterHelp.com is a website where you can connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.

Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues such as a lack of emotional permanence, but most never get to grips with it. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.

Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.

About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.