On Emotional Constancy

There’s a concept in psychology, called “object constancy”, that however I see more effectively referred to as “emotional permanence” or “emotional constancy”:

[Emotional constancy] originates from the concept of Object Permanence — a cognitive skill we acquire at around 2 to 3 years old. It is the understanding that objects continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, touched, or sensed in some way.

[Emotional constancy] is a psychodynamic concept, and we could think of it as the emotional equivalence of Object Permanence. To develop this skill, we mature into the understanding that our caregiver is simultaneously a loving presence and a separate individual who could walk away. Rather than needing to be with them all the time, we have an ‘internalized image’ of our parents’ love and care. So even when they are temporarily out of sight, we still know we are loved and supported.

I. Lo (2018) Object Constancy

It can be framed as when someone tells you they love you, and you know it’s true in the moment, but minutes later you aren’t sure anymore and without that confirmation you assume they don’t.

This is a very interesting concept, as it seems to explain better some attachment and emotional distressful behaviours some people have. In its proper definition it regards any kind of emotion, but I’ve the impression this could be also effectively used as a gradient without necessarily having to diagnose a BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder).

It’s also interesting how this is an important concept as it allows people to hold two contrasting aspect of the person at the same time:

  • Our partner could be limited and good enough at the same time.
  • Our partner could love and be angry at us at the same time.
  • Our partner might need to distance themselves from us sometimes, but the foundation of the bond remains solid.

These thoughts aren’t contradictory, yet they rely on the constancy of a thought, while another is present. It’s really healthy, and it’s something we can all strive to develop more — toward us, and toward others, not necessarily partners.

Author: Erin 'Folletto' Casali

Designing Product Experiences at Automattic · Advisor · Mentor · Speaker · Baker Framework Founder · ManifestoIbridi Author