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What Is Emotional Permanence? 7 Signs You’re Struggling

We’ve all felt insecure at one time or another, but for some people, the feeling is compounded and magnified every time they are alone. 

Whether logical or not, some folks live with the crippling fear that their loved ones will forget them and stop caring as soon as they’re apart.

But why?

Well, it has a lot to do with emotional permanence (or a lack thereof). And that’s what we’re about to dive into.

What Is Emotional Permanence?

Emotional permanence is the belief that you are loved and valued by someone even if they aren’t around. Doubt in their care for you leads to doubting your self-worth simply because they aren’t present to display their feelings for you overtly.

It can also be seen in the fact that you know you are loved and appreciated by your friends and family when you are away from them. 

And while this sounds extremely simple, the truth is that many struggle with this idea and start to doubt the feelings others have towards them because they aren’t experiencing them in the now. 

So, even if you aren’t troubled while with your partner, this changes as soon as you’re apart. 

You start to doubt that they care for you, that their feelings are genuine, or that they even love you. This is called emotional impermanence – a lack of emotional permanence.

Most of us don’t really think about emotional permanence (or even know what it is). We might all recognize the fears that come with being apart from someone we love, but we can (usually) write these things off as insecurity, anxiety, or signs of a troubled relationship.

But what if you couldn’t?

That’s what it’s like for people who struggle with emotional permanence.

It’s not about whether your partner (or family or friend) truly cares for you; it’s about what’s happening in your head. 

Two hands let go of each other indicating a separation
Understanding Emotional Permanence

How We Learn Emotional Permanence

Emotional permanence is something we develop based on our life experiences from when we were young. 

Our childhood relationships and events shape how we interpret certain emotions, our perspective on those emotions, and whether we can believe certain feelings are enduring, even when we’re not around our loved ones. 

Humans are relational beings born to form attachments, specifically with our primary caregivers and those we spend time with. 

As we grow, we learn specific patterns of emotional exchange based on how emotions are expressed and reciprocated in our childhood. 

This is the foundation for emotional permanence.

Experts believe those exposed to inconsistent care and unpredictable emotions from primary caregivers – and ultimately develop insecure or ambivalent attachments – will struggle to develop emotional permanence. 

Since they are not accustomed to consistent emotional input, the subconscious assumption is that emotions come and go, just as people do.

Later in life, it stands to reason that we will feel insecure about whether our friends like spending time with us, whether our family will remain supportive, or whether our partner still loves us when they’re not with us. 

7 Signs You Suffer From A Lack of Emotional Permanence

If you’ve read this far and feel as though you can relate, these seven signs could help you identify if you have some struggles with emotional permanency: 

1. You constantly seek reassurance.

Whether this pertains to your partner, a friend, or a family member, emotional impermanence will leave you wondering if you mean as much to them as you think. 

This might look like asking if they love you, reaching out to them constantly to confirm their emotions, or behaving in a way that will prompt them to reassure you that you are loved.

2. You crave validation.  

Similarly, your worth and perceived value are shaken by your doubts, so you may constantly seek ways for your loved one to confirm that you are special, intelligent, beautiful, and important to them. 

This can be as simple as making jokes about your appearance so they can disagree and tell you you’re beautiful.

3. You experience extreme emotional fluctuations.

While being with your loved one undoubtedly makes you feel happy, peaceful, and content, this fluctuates wildly when you aren’t together. 

You may feel sad, hopeless, or even confused when you aren’t with them. Maybe you feel angry because of what you assume they’re thinking. These feelings tend to disappear when your loved one returns.

4. When away from loved ones, you’re plagued by anxiety and fear.

The extreme sense of insecurity you may feel when you’re away from your loved one will most likely prompt intense anxiety. Whenever they’re away, you start to question your worth.

It’s that whole fear of abandonment times ten. Once you’re with them again, the feelings vanish. Everything returns “to normal.”

A woman struggling with emotional permanence sits by the ledge of her window stressed, with head in hand
lack of emotional permanence

5. You have a hard time regulating emotions.

As you go through these intense ups and downs emotionally, you may find it difficult to calm yourself down or to reason with yourself logically. 

For example, let’s say you catch yourself spiraling a little bit.

You try to get yourself to think more logically. If someone says they love you earlier in the day, they won’t stop hours later. But if that’s not working or you find yourself having to go through an activity like this often, it can be a red flag. 

6. You sometimes act irrationally.

Those who experience intense insecurity due to a lack of emotional permanence may find they react in over-the-top or irrational ways

They may drive out to their partner immediately, call them incessantly, or even cause a crisis to draw their loved one back to their side. 

Attention-seeking behavior is a sign that you may be struggling.

7. You do a lot of doomsday thinking.

If you think the worst scenario is the most likely one the minute you are away from your loved one, you’re likely struggling with emotional permanence. 

Often those who feel their partner stopped loving them simply because they don’t see them will expect a breakup or the end of a friendship as a result – which isn’t rational or sensible.  

Conflicts? Impossible to handle. The slightest disagreement feels like a catastrophe. 

How Emotional Permanence Issues Affect Relationships

Emotional impermanence can be a tremendous hurdle for relationships and is a hallmark of codependency. Not only can a lack of emotional permanence be distressing for all parties involved, but it can put a severe strain on the relationship itself.

  • Your loved one may be confused, startled, or even disbelieving that you feel so strongly about being separated from them. They may also feel they are doing something wrong and strive to offer more reassurance and validation than necessary, which can be exhausting.
  • Conflict arises due to emotional fluctuations and mood swings, and your loved one may feel like you don’t trust or believe them or that you’re trying to blame them for not loving you “well enough.” 
  • Partners can quickly feel frustrated and smothered. If you constantly seek out your partner and don’t get them any space, this can cause issues.
  • There’s a lot of pressure on loved ones to fill the gaps left by your lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. This creates an unhealthy relationship where your partner is responsible for your self-image.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) And Emotional Permanence

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition characterized by an inability to manage emotions and a continued pattern of unstable relationships. It is marked by a deep fear of abandonment, a fear of rejection, and a desperate desire to be close to a favorite person on whose shoulder the person with BPD’s happiness rests.

Because of the inherent lack of self-worth and low self-esteem, and pervading insecurity, people with BPD struggle to maintain healthy relationships.

While they idolize the person initially, it soon turns sour. They start doubting the relationship in a process called splitting. This makes them vulnerable to (and prone to) the effects of emotional impermanence.

This is a clear example of a lack of emotional permanence. The perceived negatives that cause them to doubt the relationship in the first place are usually irrational and misplaced.

People who wrestle with this are terrified of rejection and find it in every little thing.

It’s natural for people to want space or time away from partners and friends every now and again.

But BPDs who lack emotional permanence don’t often see it that way. It gets translated into something much more extreme.

“They didn’t want to hang out this week, so that must mean they’re done with me.”

Emotional Permanence And Mental Health

Emotional permanence features heavily in many mental health conditions as a symptom, trigger, cause, or even result of mental health issues. The overlap is significant. 

Emotional impermanence can contribute to the development of disorders like anxiety and depression. It is also a symptom or precursor of other conditions like narcissistic personality disorder, BPD, and paranoia.

Some theorize that not developing emotional permanence is why certain mental health conditions occur in the first place.

The constant lack of trust in yourself and doubting your self-worth is bound to have psychological consequences.

It can also lead to substance abuse, reckless behavior, and in extreme cases, suicide ideation.

Strategies For Cultivating Emotional Permanence

If the information you’ve received so far has made you realize you or a loved one may be struggling with emotional permanence, there is hope. 

Here are a few strategies and tips to help you deal with the struggles, improve your situation, and nurture emotional permanence: 

1. Open Communication

Fostering healthy and transparent communication is an excellent first step to building trust between you and your loved one and helping you verbalize your anxieties and hear their responses. It will also eliminate their inevitable confusion and frustration.

2. Seek Help And Support

Getting professional help is ideal. A therapist can help equip you with the tools needed to manage your emotions, heal from the traumas that triggered the emotional impermanence, and empower you to move forward. 

You might also find family or couples counseling helpful for all parties who have undoubtedly suffered from emotional back and forth. 

This can be especially helpful if you’re dealing with extreme anxiety, depression, paranoia, and the like, as a professional may be able to prescribe medication to help you deal with the situation a little easier.

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3. Teach Yourself Emotional Regulation

If professional help isn’t an option, learning more about emotional regulation and practicing it will be valuable. 

Start by identifying the emotions you’re feeling and what has triggered them. Then ask yourself how it is affecting your current thought patterns and actions. This is a great journaling activity.

Once you understand how these thoughts affect your behavior, you can delve deeper by asking yourself if these emotions were appropriate or even rational, whether the situation can be controlled differently, and whether you could cope with feeling the emotion again. Remember, feelings aren’t facts.

For some independent exercises, I recommend the following books and workbooks:

4. Schedule Your Own Time Out

Another helpful strategy is learning to enjoy time with yourself.

Taking control of time away from your loved one may help with anxiety because you decided to be apart from them and not the other way around. Plus, it will give you a sense of independence and purpose that is not reliant on external validation.

Something that can be entirely your own.

You may even want to use this time away to connect with a support group, like Co-Dependents Anonymous, that will understand your perspective or help you see things differently. 

Final Thoughts:

Emotional permanence is crucial for having positive, healthy, and fulfilling relationships. For those struggling with it, it can seem like a never-ending cycle of happiness and despair.

But you can break free.

You’ve already taken the first step by recognizing these patterns in your behavior. The next question is, are you ready to take action?

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