Many people come to therapy when they find themselves caught in an emotional tug of war in the absence of their loved ones. They grapple with questions like:
- “Am I loved enough by my partner?”
- “Is my partner going to abandon me?”
- “Am I being judged by my partner?”
Such thoughts cross our minds too often when we struggle with an emotional permanence deficit. Emotional permanence is the assured feeling of being loved even in the physical absence of our loved ones.
Much like the concept of object permanence where infants react negatively to the absence of objects, a lack of emotional permanence can make you feel unloved for prolonged periods of time and can become a burden on your relationships. It can prevent you from strengthening the bond you have with your partner.
Three signs of emotional impermanence are:
- Seeking constant validation and reassurance from others. People who struggle with emotional permanence constantly need to know that they are loved and that their relationship is secure. This is often linked to a fear of abandonment.
- Being caught in extreme emotional fluctuations. People with emotional impermanence may find themselves constantly fluctuating between emotional extremes. They experience emotional volatility. When feeling depressed, they can hardly recall feeling happy and hopeful.
- Having difficulty regulating emotions. People who lack emotional permanence struggle with emotion regulation. This means they are often unable to manage their emotions in an emotionally charged situation. It is almost always difficult for them to understand that two opposite emotions can be experienced at the same time. For instance, a partner can be angry at their significant other but still love them.
Lacking emotional permanence can bring about negative relational experiences stemming from fears (often irrational in nature), mistrust, and insecurities. Here, I’ll talk about three ways you can build emotional stability in the absence of your loved ones.
#1. Communication is your first line of defense.
Communicate with your loved ones to build your trust. Open communication allows space to explore topics that might trigger your mistrust. Transparently communicating with them about your concerns in the relationship and telling them ways that can make you feel secure will allow you to get on the same page.
Research published in the academic journal Nature suggests that asking your partner to provide clear reassurances of their love for you and their continued commitment to the relationship can help ease attachment anxieties. This can come in the form of:
- Accentuating positive regard
- Expressing emotions that convey commitment
- Soothing distress through physical touch
“Receiving greater support and gratitude from partners can help highly anxious individuals feel more satisfied and can reduce attachment anxiety over time,” says the lead author of the paper, Nickola Overall.
#2. Practice emotion regulation.
Make practicing emotion regulation a part of your daily or weekly routine. Identify and name your emotions and try to identify the causes behind them. Once you have successfully identified the cause behind the emotion, notice how it is affecting your thoughts and behaviors.
One of the best ways to work through your emotions is to reflect on them, and challenge them by writing them down.
You can ask yourself questions such as:
- Was my feeling appropriate given the situation?
- Could this distressing situation be controlled?
- Is it possible for me to accept and tolerate this emotion?
For situations that you think you can change, create an action plan. For instance, talk to your partner about things that are bothering you. If it is something that is unavoidable or unfixable, consider deploying coping mechanisms to alleviate the feeling, such as practicing mindfulness.
Also keep in mind that while emotion regulation is a great way to manage your emotional swings, it is not appropriate in every situation. For example, research published in Practice Innovations shows that when we are in a heightened emotional state (for example, when we experience intense anger or irritation) it is not practical to employ an emotion regulation strategy. Instead, it’s better to take a shower, go for a run, hold an ice cube in your hand and let it melt, or suck on a lemonhead. Once the heightened emotional state recedes, we can deploy our emotion regulation strategies to help put the event into context.
#3. Include ‘me time’ in your schedule.
Spending time with yourself makes you appreciate your own company and prevents you from being dependent on others.
When you spend time by yourself you get to know yourself better and become more comfortable being the person you are. It brings about a sense of authenticity and self-fulfillment.
Spending time with yourself, doing the things that you enjoy – such as working out, cooking a nutritious meal for yourself, painting, or engaging in any hobby you enjoy – will help remind you of your own self-worth. This can help alleviate feelings of abandonment when your loved one is away.
Lacking emotional permanence can hamper your sense of self and can cause you to doubt the solidarity of your relationships. In order to combat these feelings, openly communicate with your loved ones about your fears and insecurities, practice emotion regulation daily or weekly, and make time for yourself doing the things you love to do.