Need Constant Affection? You May Struggle With Emotional Impermanence—Here Are Signs and Helpful Tips

Photo: Getty Images/Tom Werner
Emotional permanence can look like knowing your partner loves you, even when they aren’t around or actively showing affection. It’s similar in spirit to the term “object permanence,” which is a developmental stage where we realize objects exist even when we don’t see them. (For example, even if a ball is hidden under a blanket, we know the ball is still there). But there are all kinds of reasons a person might have a lack of emotional permanence, which stands to compromise their relationships. In fact, it's so relatable that the hashtag "emotional permanence" has reached over 10 million views on TikTok.

Experts In This Article

“People who struggle with emotional permanence often experienced unstable relationships in their past that can lead to insecurity and a fear of abandonment,” says Amelia Kelley, PhD, a relationship therapist and a co-author of What I Wish I Knew: Surviving and Thriving After an Abusive Relationship. Folks who struggle with emotional permanence (or experience emotional impermanence) also tend to have an anxious attachment style, she adds.

Having a lack of emotional permanence can open you up to the risk of feeling unloved for a large chunk of the time, and it can also function as a breeding ground for issues in romantic relationships.

Having a lack of emotional permanence can open you up to the risk of feeling unloved for a large chunk of the time, and it can also function as a breeding ground for issues in romantic relationships (particularly if you don't communicate the issue with them). For instance, you may end up in arguments about what “enough” affection looks like, take things personally (when they're not personal), or lack the ability to handle conflict effectively and healthily.

The good news is, it's possible to build a stronger sense of emotional permanence to strengthen both your sense of self and your relationships. But, before you get to those tips, it's key to first understand signs that you may be experiencing emotional impermanence in the first place.

3 signs you may have a lack of emotional permanence

1. You need constant attention to feel important

Desiring attention isn’t a bad or abnormal thing. However, with emotional impermanence, not having it constantly can make people feel unnecessarily insecure and unloved. As a result, they might “ask about their partner’s feelings to make sure they aren’t angry or resentful and still love them,” according to Natalie Maximets, a certified life transformation and relationship coach.

2. In the down moments, you can’t remember ever feeling loved

When your partner isn’t showing you affection, you don’t feel unloved only in that moment—you can’t remember feeling loved at all. “Internally, it can be difficult to remember a feeling other than the immediate one being experienced,” Dr. Kelley says. “For instance, if anxiety or fear is the present emotion being experienced, there is an inability to recall that joy was ever truly present. It is as if the idea of another emotion is there, but the belief that it can really exist is lacking.”

3. Conflict feels catastrophic to you

Another sign is feeling negative emotions intensely and not being able to handle problems that arise. “For them, even an occasional argument, disagreement, or conflict may seem like the end of a relationship,” says Maximets.

3 tips for building up your sense of emotional permanence

1. Talk about it with your partner

Letting your partner know helps them understand what you’re going through and what you need. According to Dr. Kelley, open communication is most important. “This allows for fact-checking, open dialogue, and the reinforcement of needs being met,” she says.

2. Go to therapy or a support group

Therapy (by yourself or with your partner) can be a game-changer for developing stronger emotional permanence. “During individual or group sessions, partners and therapists can work through feelings of abandonment and fear, strengthen relationships, and build a sense of trust,” says Maximets.

Dr. Kelley recommends dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), in particular, as it includes a module on interpersonal effectiveness strategies and tools. To engage in DBT, find a therapist who practices it and if that option is not available to you, consider buying the workbook.

Dr. Kelley also says attending support groups for the symptoms or side effects of emotional impermanence can be helpful, like for instance, a Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA) support group.

3. Adjust your perspective

Lastly, remember that two things can be true at the same time: For example, your partner can be mad at you and love you, simultaneously. “[Partners] are complex beings who can experience different emotions,” says Maximets. “What’s more, their feelings don’t always focus on you.”

She also suggests reminding yourself of key truths in moments of doubt: having some distance between you two doesn’t mean you’re being abandoned, and just because you can’t feel the love doesn’t mean it’s not there.

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