Emotional Permanence

Emotional permanence refers to our capacity to believe in the feelings of other people even when we are not with them.  For example, to know that your partner loves you even when you are not together. 

For some of us, this is not something that can be taken for granted, and instead of feeling secure about your parents’, partners’, or children’s feelings, you may fret about them, mistrust them, and become more anxious and fear that they don’t care for you. 

If you were lucky, you grew up in a home that felt safe and secure, and you internalised that sense of security. If so, then you will have a core sense of emotional permanence within you. If you didn’t grow up in such a place, then your task is to develop that sense of emotional permanence within you.

The problem lies not in other people, but in our own struggle to maintain a sense of emotional constancy, in our own lack of emotional permanence.  But although this might be a problem, and it can be, it also means that we might be able to develop the possibility of taking stock of our own capacity to maintain emotional stability, and so work to improve things for ourselves and for the people around us.

  • If we can recognize and think about our problems, we can find new ways to adapt and live well.
  • We can work on our sense of emotional permanence.

How Emotional Permanence Develops

Emotional permanence is something that we develop.  We aren’t born with it, but we are born with the capacity to attach to our caregivers, and to develop reciprocal patterns of emotional exchange, and these form the basis of us developing a sense of internal emotional stability. 

It is natural that we miss the people that we feel bonded to when they go away, but it is important to develop the sense that they will return to us and that our relationships will endure any separations. 

  • In this way, our feelings are like a stable currency, and because we have this sense of emotional permanence, we can develop confidence in our own potential to explore and be curious about the world beyond us.

But if you grew up in a home in which there was a lack of predictable emotional care, if a lack of emotional consistency was the norm, then you may have problems having confidence in the emotional consistency of other people.  And instead of acquiring a sense of emotional regulation, you may be likely to be prone to emotional dysregulation.

How are you meant to have confidence in the emotional permanence of other people when you grew up in a home in which this was lacking?

  • Can you develop your own sense of Emotional Permanence later in life? 
  • Can you do it for yourself?

In my experience, improving your relationship with your sense of emotional permanence is possible. 

  • The first step is to recognise that you lack the sense of emotional permanence, and the second is to remember that you lack it.

Because if we can learn to understand ourselves better, and to know more about our own emotional blind spots, then we can become better at taking these aspects of ourselves into account on an ongoing basis.

We can start to remember that though we might find ourselves feeling anxious that our family, partners, and children don’t care for us anymore – that this is actually just a typical reaction that we tend to have. 

  • The doubts and insecurities that we are feeling might not be true, we always tend to feel this way. 

It is a bit like knowing you have a weak ankle.  Having a weak ankle doesn’t mean that you can’t run, but you will feel safer running if you can remember that you have a weak ankle.  So you learn to take your weak ankle into account on an ongoing basis.  You learn to counteract the deficit, to balance things out.  In this way, you start to adapt and live better.

Patterns of Addiction and Emotional Permanence

The default patterns of self-rejection that we develop through a lack of a sense of emotional permanence can become part of addiction. Addiction thrives on a sense of ourselves as separate, cut off and detached. To break the pattern of destructive addictive thinking we might try practice a daily habit of accepting ourselves. The healthy emotional permanence that we are working to develop starts with us accepting ourselves.

If you can find a way to become interested in your own vulnerabilities like this, then you can counteract the inbuilt biases that you have acquired and learn to live better.  Over time you may even come to improve your sense of emotional permanence and dilute the sense of threat you used to feel in the world around you.

Left without attention problems are likely to develop.  Feeling that there is a lack of emotional permanence or stability may easily become the beginning of feeling increasingly alone, anxious, or depressed.  Then it is all too easy for the sense of depression and anxiety to become the story without you being aware of the underlying problem.

This is why it is so important to build as good an understanding of ourselves as we can.  To know about the context of our problems, like:

  • when did they begin?
  • how long have you felt prone to anxiety about feeling a lack of emotional permanence?  

These are good questions, good places to begin finding out more about yourself, and to taking you and your problems more seriously. Armed with these questions you really can start to change the way you live, to defend yourself against certain vulnerabilities.

And this is vital not just for you, because these kinds of anxieties are all too easily passed from one generation to another, and perhaps they don’t need to be.

One of the valuable things about looking into this experience and doing this kind of work is that it means we become less likely to burden our children with the kinds of doubts about emotional permanence that we grew up with.

Contact me

Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often key to developing a clearer understanding of our reactions and the reasons for our reactions, of the way we may lack a sense of emotional permanence.  By giving yourself a safe space to speak you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of emotional stability. 

The chance to reflect on your memories, feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative.  Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed.

I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years.  My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live. 

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.

Mobile: +44 7980 750376
Email: toby@tobyingham.com