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Alcohol and Mental Health

Emotional Permanence: The Thread That Ties Us Together

July 13, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
July 13, 2023
10 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
July 13, 2023
10 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
July 13, 2023
10 min read
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Reframe Content Team
July 13, 2023
10 min read

Picture your best friend, partner, or a close family member. Now, imagine them in the middle of a hectic day — they’re juggling calls, wrapping up meetings, and trying to meet a looming deadline. In the middle of all this, you send them a text expressing that you're having a tough day and could use some cheer. They read it but don't reply immediately. Minutes turn into hours, and the response never comes. You start to wonder: “Do they still care about me?”

The psychological concept in play is emotional permanence. Understanding it can help alleviate the anxiety that can arise in situations like the one described above.

What Is Emotional Permanence?

Emotional permanence is the understanding that people's emotions — such as their love for you — continue to exist even when they are not immediately observable. In other words, just because someone isn't around to tell you they love you at this very moment doesn't mean they don't care for you anymore.

Emotional permanence is a linchpin in healthy relationships: it ensures trust, creates a sense of security, and strengthens bonds. Understanding this concept can put us at ease when a loved one is not actively showing their affection. Just because we don’t get an immediate response doesn't mean their feelings have changed or they have abandoned us — they might just be having a busy day!

It sounds simple, but this concept is often trickier than it appears. Many of us struggle with feelings of uncertainty about the constancy of others' affections when they're not physically near us.

Learning Permanence

What causes emotional permanence? The answer lies deep within our brain, in an area known as the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for higher cognitive functions such as decision-making, empathy, and — most importantly for today’s topic — the understanding of permanence.

A child’s first developmental milestone is “object permanence” — an idea that children learn at an early age, usually by the age of two. This is what peek-a-boo is all about: understanding that objects continue to exist even when they vanish out of sight. We learn that things that go out of sight usually don’t disappear for good — now we see it, now we don’t, but we probably will see it again. For example, when mom leaves the room, she hasn't ceased to exist; she's just watering the plants outside

Emotional Peek-a-Boo

Emotional permanence, in comparison, is a bit more complex. Unlike object permanence, it's not necessarily a milestone that we all hit at a certain age: it continues to develop as we mature, and it’s tied closely to our personal experiences, emotional intelligence, and mental health.

Emotional permanence is the bedrock of our social interactions and emotional stability. Research has shown that it’s a critical component of secure attachment in adults, influencing our friendships, family ties, and romantic relationships. Securely attached adults trust that their loved ones' feelings for them are enduring — even in their absence.

Emotional Glitches

So why do we — with our fully-developed prefrontal cortex — still struggle with this concept at times? Stress, anxiety, and past experiences can often cloud our judgment and lead us to question the stability of people's emotions towards us.

Insecurity, fear of abandonment, or past experiences of unreliable affection can mess with our emotional permanence. It's natural to feel insecure or anxious occasionally, but when these feelings persist, they can become a roadblock in our emotional well-being.

Moreover, humans are social creatures, wired to connect with others. We thrive on reciprocity in our relationships — the mutual exchange of feelings and actions. When this reciprocity is disturbed or doubted (with or without a reason), it can make us question our value in the relationship.

Over time, losing our emotional GPS can lead to abandonment issues. We are left feeling adrift and can end up interpreting every missed phone call or unanswered text as rejection or abandonment.

Your Road to Security and Trust

So what are some ways we can give our emotional permanence a boost? Here are a few ideas that can help:

  • Practice mindfulness. Staying present in the moment can help prevent overthinking — a common culprit of emotional distress. Take time to reflect on past instances when you felt doubt. Ask yourself if those feelings were based on evidence or if they were a reaction to stress or insecurity.
  • Learn the signs of your emotional triggers. What sets off your feelings of abandonment? Is it a missed phone call? An unanswered email? Identifying these triggers can help you navigate them more effectively. 
  • Journaling. Journaling can be a therapeutic tool for expressing and understanding your emotions. No need to create a masterpiece! Even a few bullet points or doodles can do the trick.
  • In particular, jot down the moments when your loved ones expressed their affection — these reminders can be a lifeline in moments of doubt.
  • Self care and compassion. Cultivate self-love and understand that it's okay to have these feelings. Be patient with yourself.
  • Also, take care of your physical and mental health. Regular exercise can boost your mood and provide a healthy outlet for any pent-up emotional energy. This can be anything from salsa dancing to power yoga.
  • Communication is key. Open up about your feelings of insecurity with your loved ones. This conversation can lead to reassurances that strengthen emotional permanence. And if you're feeling neglected, let your loved ones know. They may not even be aware of their oversight, and they almost certainly have no idea how it’s affecting you.
  • Explore therapy. If you're struggling, don't hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional. They can provide strategies to better understand and cultivate emotional permanence.
  • Secure attachments. Foster relationships with people who offer consistent, reliable affection. Catch up with a friend over a virtual coffee date, join a book club, or simply chat with your neighbors.
  • Healthy distractions. When doubts creep in, engage in activities you enjoy. They help by redirecting focus and reducing anxiety.

In Conclusion

Emotional permanence is an invisible thread that connects us to our loved ones. With practice and patience, we can cultivate it and foster deeper, healthier relationships

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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