What Are Object Constancy And Emotional Permanence? And How Do They Affect People?

Updated February 28, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Object constancy and object permanence are used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. When you were a child, did your mother pick you up and kiss your tears? Or did she shout at you to stop incessantly crying? Did your father encourage you to follow your dreams, or did he laugh at your ambitions? Online therapy is a great place to start to heal if any of the above negative occurrences happened to you. 

Object Constancy And Emotional Permanence - What Are They And What's The Difference?

The answers to these questions play a role in the development of your object constancy, a term that describes your ability to function in a relationship where there is a distance, conflict, or contention. 

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What Exactly Is It?

According to psychological research, object constancy is the ability to believe that a relationship is stable, hopeful, and intact, despite the presence of setbacks, conflict, or disagreements. People who lack this might experience extreme anxiety in relationships of all types-not just romantic ones or family ones-and may live in constant fear of abandonment. When people feel as though they can trust the constant nature of a relationship, they can enjoy that and other relationships. If you were able to trust your parents in childhood, for instance, your relationships into adulthood are more likely to flourish. Conversely, if you were unable to trust your parents and their love for and acceptance of you in childhood, you may have problems trusting and opening up in adulthood. This could surface as being afraid of abandonment, feeling guilty about one's relationship status, jealous of other individuals, or feeling ashamed of oneself.

Object Permanence 

Object constancy can be the difference between someone being able to enjoy ambiguity in a relationship, and someone constantly needing to question the relationship-what it is and where it's going. Although wanting a defined relationship is not unhealthy, living in constant fear of its lack of definition is. Lacking this can lead to fear and a depressed or dejected mindset around the relationship.

These can effect our relationships. Feelings of abandonment or permanence can be discovered with the help of a therapist.

Emotional Permanence and Relationships

Constancy is related to the idea ofpermanence. Both refer to the stability of an idea held in a person's mind, but it describes our attitudes toward interpersonal relationships, while permanence refers to our understanding of concrete objects. Constancy can be evaluated and improved by a mental health professional, while permanence would require the testing and intervention of a pediatrician or neurologist.

In relationships, it is often a predictor of satisfaction and feelings of safety and security. It's a relationship model of permanence, in that it allows you to still feel seen, safe, and loved, even when a loved one is not by your side, or constantly reassuring you that they do, in fact, love you.

"Most people struggling with object constancy do eventually seek out therapy, as it is the most effective way to repattern your brain and create healthier, stronger habits. Therapists can peel back the layers of your past-your relationships, experiences, and even your childhood pain-in order to map out the path to greater health and happiness."

Object constancy and emotional permanence may start with parents, but can also manifest through other caregivers, friends, and partners, all of whom can teach you that love are continual, even when you are not in another's presence-or conversely, that love is conditional and can go away at any moment.

If you think you're experiencing a break in object constancy, you aren't alone. Many people did not receive the proper attachment cues needed in childhood to develop healthy cues, and this can lead to relationship difficulties down the road, including feeling dejected and despairing over minor inconveniences which could potentially leave one disconsolate. 

In Psychology

A shaky or absent development of object constancy can impair basic functioning skills, and can even lead to a series of disorders as you grow older. Some of the potential issues present in dysfunctional development include:

1)Poor Attachment Patterns. Research in this area show children should attach to their parents, their family, their friends, and as they grow older, their romantic partners. The first model of attachment available to children is the relationship between them and their parents. If parents do not provide a stable, consistent, happy, and trustworthy model of attachment-most commonly through demonstrating unconditional love and trustworthy presence-children do not develop the ability to trust others to stay present in their lives in the face of distance, conflict, or confusion.

2)Borderline Personality Disorder. Borderline Personality Disorder is a serious personality disorder that is most commonly characterized by dysfunctional relationships, broken attachment patterns, and intense reactions to emotions, which leads to difficulty regulating emotions. Borderline Personality Disorder may be diagnosed and may have powerful ties to a lack of object constancy.

3)Low Self-Esteem. Because many people without object constancy struggle to make or maintain relationships, low self-esteem may arise. Rather than recognizing issues with relationships as a symptom of childhood hurts, many people will internalize the loss of friends-or difficulty keeping them-as an indication that something is wrong or unlovable about them.

4) A Disconnect from Reality. Many people with damaged object constancy struggle to ground themselves in the present moment. This may come in the form of fantastical thinking but may also come in the form of "if only…then" thinking, or another nostalgic, longing thoughts. These thoughts can cause great difficulties in day-to-day life and is an indication of an unhealthy or sad emotional state.

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Although much attention has been given to the potential for childhood emotional injuries to affect adulthood, object constancy has not been given as much credence as some other more popular attachment theories. The basis of it, though, lends itself to the development of strong, healthy attachments of all types, and a lack could indicate that a child will have difficulty making and keeping friends-a difficulty that can easily manifest in adulthood.

Object Constancy & Permanence

Although lacking it might not reveal itself fully until adulthood or adolescence, children can exhibit the symptoms. This is most often seen when children are easily emotionally upset, have difficulty making friends, and display an "out of sight, out of mind" mentality regarding close relationships. These children might never engage in the notion of a "best friend," and might simply flit from person to person, without forming serious or long-term attachments.

A lack of object constancy and emotional permanence or permanence is problematic in childhood, but thankfully, it can be treated. A lack of constancy, object constancy, or permanence does not have to be permanent.

Getting Help

The best source of help for a lack of object constancy is through a qualified mental health professional as they practice these skills with their patients on a daily basis and study the latest trends in therapeutic ways to treat lack of object constancy. Seeing your primary care physician with your concerns can be useful, as your PCP may be able to refer you to more services, but you can also call local therapists to determine if they have experience working with the disorder or something similar. Therapy usually involves creating a close, friendly, and serene or tranquil bond with the therapist to reshape your ideas regarding abandonment and commitment.

Practicing healthy attachment and communication with a parent, sibling, friend, or partner can also be useful, though it can initially put some strain on a relationship if you try to level with them in ways they are not used to. Because many people who struggle with object constancy feel as though the relationship is over the moment a conflict has arisen, relationships may struggle at first and a red flag or two may appear, but continuing to push through feelings of abandonment and fear can strengthen these relationships while building up your sense of trust. This can lead to an exuberant or euphoric change in your relationships, especially if you have a long history with these people.

How BetterHelp Can Help With Object Constancy & Permanence 

Most people struggling with object constancy do eventually seek out therapy like object relations therapy (sometimes after a quick Wikipedia search), as it is the most effective way to repattern your brain and create healthier, stronger habits, avoiding angry and pessimistic mindsets. Therapists in your country and a multitude of others can peel back the layers of your past-your relationships, experiences, and even your childhood pain-in order to map out the path to greater optimistic health and happiness.

Online Therapy For Object Constancy & Permanence 

BetterHelp offers online therapy, which allows greater freedom in scheduling and pays. Because therapists do not incur the expense of dedicated meeting space, many online therapy sessions are the same price (if not less than) a standard co-pay. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors.

Counselor Reviews

"Dr. Baggs has been very helpful in helping me deal with anxiety, and I've been overall satisfied with the experience. She's helped me work through and understand trauma from my childhood, as well as help me realize I'm on the right path to getting help and improving my life. Overall a very good experience."

"I have been working with Dr. Cheng for a few weeks now. She is extremely caring and patient. Very quickly, she was able to identify my struggles and I feel very well cared for. I struggled a lot with one on one sessions, but doing online has been less tiring for me. She is helping me with my anxiety and with past childhood traumas. I find that the exercises she provided me are of great use. I definitely recommend her."

Object Constancy, Emotional Permanence, and Growth

Object constancy is an important part of any relationship, whether it's with your parents, your friends, or a romantic partner. With the right tools, you can re-learn healthier patterns of behavior, and enjoy relationships filled with trust, comfort, and joy. Take the first steptoday.

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