Emotional object permanence

Adults, children, relationships, and more

Object permanence refers to the ability to understand that objects exist when they are out of sight. Some people believe that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is related to problems with object permanence, but this theory is unproven.

One of the major symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is inattention. This refers to difficulty focusing and paying attention. Inattention can cause problems such as frequently losing everyday items.

In the past, some people have used the term “object permanence” to refer to this “out of sight, out of mind” phenomenon which affects some people with ADHD.

In addition, some have claimed that problems with object permanence could cause issues with relationships in children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD.

However, object permanence is not a recognized medical condition or symptom in ADHD. A person with ADHD cannot be diagnosed with object permanance issues.

Keep reading to learn more about ADHD symptoms and the theory of object permanence.

Object permanence, put simply, is the ability to understand that an object continues to exist, even though it can no longer be seen, heard or touched.

Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget was the first person to coin the term in the 1960s. He observed how babies reacted when a favorite toy was shown to, and then hidden, from them.

Babies who had not developed object permanence would appear confused or upset, as if the object had ceased to exist. Babies who had developed object permanence would continue to look for the toy.

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, some babies can demonstrate an understanding of object permanence as early as 4–5 months of age. However, most infants do not really grasp the concept until around 9 months old.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that may include some of the following traits or symptoms:

  • inattention to tasks and difficulty keeping focused
  • hyperactivity, including fidgeting, restlessness, and constant moving about
  • impulsivity, including hasty or harmful decision-making, risk-taking, and excessive interruption

Learn more about the early signs of ADHD here.

Most people with ADHD receive their diagnosis in childhood. However, others may receive their diagnosis in adulthood. According to the American Psychiatric Association, around 8.4% of children and 2.5% of adults have ADHD. It is more common in boys than girls, according to the APA.

Learn more about ADHD in girls here.

Forgetfulness is a symptom of ADHD that is related to inattention. People with ADHD typically:

  • lose objects they need for school, work, or daily life
  • forget about tasks, activities, and appointments
  • are easily distracted by present thoughts, people, items or tasks

Some claim that this indicates difficulty in remembering that objects, tasks, or items exist, when the person with ADHD cannot see, hear, or touch them. In theory, forgetfulness symptoms could be related to object permanence. But object permanance is not an accepted medical symptom or diagnosis.

Anecdotally, some parents of children with ADHD say that their children do realize things exist when they cannot see them, but have no idea, or do not care, where those things might be.

There is not a great deal of strong research to prove that problems with object permanence may arise because of ADHD, or vice versa. Most research around object permanence focuses on infants and development during early infancy, while the average age of diagnosis for ADHD is 7 years old.

Object permanence is linked to the ability to form secure attachments with others. Babies who understand that a person exists, even when they are not present, are better able to form secure attachments with care-givers. This ability is known as “object constancy.” It may help people to form secure relationships, or “attachments,” throughout life.

Studies have found clear associations between insecure attachment and people with ADHD. A 2021 study has found that insecure attachment in early infancy can increase problems in later relationships, such as the suppression of emotions, and disengaging from others.

Object permanence is not a recognized problem or condition in adults with ADHD.

However, inattention and forgetfulness are medically-recognized symptoms of ADHD. These and other ADHD symptoms often persist into adulthood, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Adults with ADHD may not realize they have the condition.

Problems with inattention in adults with ADHD may result in the following behaviors:

  • forgetting daily tasks, such as paying bills, doing chores, or remembering to keep appointments
  • forgetting to take medication
  • forgetting to stay in touch, return emails and texts, or respond to invitations

Learn more about untreated ADHD in adults here.

A 2015 review into the relationships of children with ADHD with peers and friends, found that children with ADHD tend to:

  • be less liked by their peers
  • have fewer friends
  • experience more rejection and isolation
  • have fewer “mutual” relationships
  • experience more aggression and conflict within relationships
  • join deviant peer groups in adolescence

The same review estimates that 50–70% of children with ADHD experience difficulties in forming and keeping relationships with their peers.

An older 2012 study on the relationships of 90 adults with ADHD found that participants were more likely to:

  • be more immature
  • act out in defense
  • be more neurotic
  • have insecure attachments

The tendency to forget important tasks, often essential to the harmonious running of a relationship or household, can also cause conflicts.

A 2018 review into ADHD found that people with the disorder are more likely to use substances, demonstrate rule-breaking behaviors, and have mood disorders — all of which could negatively impact personal relationships.

However, treatments such as medication and therapy can help people with ADHD manage their symptoms and improve their daily quality of life, including their relationships.

Learn more about ADHD in relationships here.

Object permanence problems are not a medical diagnosis or accepted symptom in ADHD.

However, there are known strategies to help manage ADHD symptoms such as forgetfulness. These strategies may help people who tend to lose track of essential objects, tasks, or communications.

Tips to cope with forgetfulness include:

  • not opening texts, emails and messages until they are sure they can respond immediately
  • choosing a spot to place essential items, such as medication, to-do lists and important devices such as phones
  • setting reminders for appointments and tasks in an online calendar with an alert function
  • setting recurring appointments with loved ones for visits or calls

It is important to note that while ADHD may cause some challenges, there are also potential benefits to the condition. Learn more about them here.

Object permanence refers to the understanding that objects continue to exist when they cannot be seen, heard, or touched. In babies, this is a key part of establishing secure attachments in early life.

Some have suggested that object permanence problems could explain certain ADHD symptoms, like forgetfulness.

According to this theory, object permanence problems make people with ADHD more likely to forget important tasks, objects, and people when they are not present. But object permanence is only a theory of ADHD, not an accepted symptom or diagnosis.

Strategies are available to help people with ADHD manage symptoms of inattention or forgetfulness. If ADHD is affecting a person’s quality of life, they should speak with a doctor about treatment options.

What're Object Constancy And Emotional Permanence - How Do They Affect People?

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.  

Learn More About Object Constancy And How It Affects People

Get Matched With A Licensed Therapist

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.

Learn More About Object Constancy And How It Affects People

Get Matched With A Licensed Therapist


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 (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.

Sub-phase of constancy of the libidinal object. PSYCHOANALYTICAL THEORIES OF DEVELOPMENT

Sub-phase of constancy of the libidinal object

To the extent that the child develops an integrated concept of the mother that can function to provide comfort and support in the absence of the mother, allowing the child to be less dependent and function separately from the mother, we can say that the child has achieved some the degree of libidinal constancy of the object. To achieve this degree of internal security, the child must resolve conflicts between his desires and prohibitions on the part of the mother and be able to tolerate ambivalence. Then his loving and angry feelings about her become securely controlled by her total representation (McDevitt, 1975). Now he can better soften and endure disappointment and rage, as his frustrating experiences are neutralized by memories of a mother who brings satisfaction, love and support.

If this representation can be maintained even when the child is angry or frustrated, it begins to take on a new function. That is, the positive quality of the images evoked by the mother's mental representations takes on the function of soothing, and the child who identifies with the supportive mother is better able to soothe himself (Furer, 1967). The functioning of the ego is progressing because the child, instead of falling under the intensity of his affects, is now able to regulate himself, whether the mother appears immediately or not. This is because part of the mother's integrated image includes expectations about her behavior - such as her regulating and soothing responses to his disorder. With the internal availability of such a representation, the child is not so dependent on the physical presence of the mother and can stabilize his functioning (Pine, 1971). Mahler discovers the beginning of such an accomplishment in the third year of life, but emphasizes that it extends beyond this age; it will never be fully completed.

It is in this area that Kohut's idea of ​​self-objects applies: throughout our lives we trust other people in order to secure peace and love for ourselves and thus maintain an inner sense of well-being. We do not think that Mahler meant to suggest that achieving libidinal object permanence means that a person can comfortably live in complete isolation from other people. Rather, our relationships with the people who are important to us become more tolerant and mature. Indeed, Pine (1974) notes that people throughout their lives undergo a change in the ability to receive comfort from an internal memory or image of an object, replacing the need for contact with a real object for the sake of comfort and pleasure. Pine adds, however, that a given representation can reflect both desire and reality. Thus, the internal object can potentially be better than the real object and can therefore function as an important internal regulator of strong passions and rages, as well as self-esteem.

The evolutionary significance of the permanence of the libidinal object lies not only in the fact that the child will be able to integrate his loving and adoring judgments about his mother with his evil and hostile judgments about her; it also lies in the fact that the child regains confidence that their loving relationship will continue, despite brief separations or temporary outbursts of anger or resentment. In other words, the child can maintain a constant relationship with the mother despite the developmental vicissitudes of frustration and satisfaction (Burger and Edgaimbe, 1972). The child now moves from almost exclusively self-centered, demanding, clinging behavior to the ability to participate in more mature, ego-defined relationships characterized by attachment, trust, and some (though limited by cognitive immaturity) respect for the interests and feelings of others. .

The development of libidinal constancy of the object is usually accompanied by the achievement of a certain degree of constancy of one's own "I" - that is, the ability to maintain a unified representation of one's own "I", embracing all affectively colored ideas about one's own "I". This step is strengthened and strengthened by the growth of the ego's faculties to impulse control and self-reflection, which give the child a greater degree of self-control and enjoyment.

This step also usually elicits pride and reinforcement from the mother, reinforcing the child's sense of being loved.

This text is an introductory fragment.

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THE PERMANENCE OF THE LIBIDO OBJECT AND AFFECTS IN THEIR SIGNALING FUNCTION If everything proceeds normally, then, starting from about 30-36 months, the baby comes to a useful period of libidinal constancy of the object: he internalizes quite a lot of those manifestations of maternal care,

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Theories of object relations in the works of M.

Klein, A. Freud — CyberPedia


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Anna Freud's views on the development of object relations were shaped by her observations of the infants and young children of the Hampstead Orphanage, long separated from their parents (1942). She believes that babies in the first few months of life are completely dependent on their physical needs, so the main function of the mother during this period is to satisfy these needs. She points out, however, that babies separated from their mothers already at this early stage of development show signs of disorder, partly explained by a violation of the order of life and partly by the loss of specific closeness with the mother. needs. Much later, Anna Freud characterized this stage as the stage of object permanence, when the mother is already a stable libidinal object, and the child's libidinal attitude towards her does not depend on the degree of his satisfaction (1965). She believed that in the second year of life, the attachment between mother and child reaches its full development, acquiring the strength and diversity of mature human love, and all the instinctive desires of the child are focused on the mother. She also noted that these "happy relationships" then weakened and were overshadowed by feelings of ambivalence and, later, rivalry; with the appearance of these conflicting experiences, the child “joins the complex interweaving of feelings that characterize the emotion

25) Theory of object relations. Theory M. Mahler.
M. Mahler focused her research on the process of formation within the infant's mental structures in the context of his normal relationship with his mother. The development process is considered by M. Mahler as a combination of two different, but intertwined lines - separation and idividuation. The separation process aims to form within the infant a psychic representation of himself that is distinct and separate from his mother's representation. Separation implies not the physical, spatial independence of the child or the collapse of interpersonal relationships, but the emergence in the child of an inner feeling of the ability to function independently of the mother. Individuation is an attempt by the infant to build his own unique identity, to perceive his own individual characteristics. Separation and individuation go together in the optimal variant of development, but may diverge as a result of a delay or accelerated development of one of them. The process of separation / individuation, as a result of which the child becomes autonomous and independent, M. Mahler called "the mental birth of a person."

The constancy of the libidinal object is the intrapsychic representation of the mother, who, like a real mother, provides support, comfort and love. To establish the permanence of the libidinal object, it is first necessary to establish a reliable attachment of the child to the mother, and then the integration of the positive and negative qualities of the mother into the mental representation of the child must occur. The permanence of the libidinal object allows the infant to cope with anger, deprivation, providing support from the internal image of the mother, exuded comfort and reassurance. On this basis, the independent functioning of the child's ego becomes possible. With the establishment of a certain degree of permanence of the object, interpersonal relations can move to a higher level, because the child is able to maintain both community and independence at the same time. A permanent libidinal object, combining desire and idea, provides a stable attitude towards people who are sometimes kind and loving. then aggressive and angry. However, M. Mahler believes that the constancy of the libidinal object is never fully achieved, it is a process that continues throughout life. Stages of Personality Development The study of the development of the child from early attachment to separation made it possible to distinguish the following stages of personality development or stages of the process of separation / individualization.

First stage - normal autism (first two months). It is characterized by the absence of a relationship between the child and the mother, the infant is not sensitive to the appeals of an adult.

Second stage - normal symbiosis (from two to four to five months). The child does not separate himself from the mother and does not perceive her separately. At this stage, an idea of ​​\u200b\u200bhis physical self begins to emerge. Pleasure or displeasure from meeting the needs of the child forms his first emotional experience. The absence of a phase of normal symbiosis explains, from the point of view of M. Mahler, some mental deviations (symbiosis, schizophrenia).

Third stage - autonomous operation. Includes three phases.

In the first phase - early practical activity (from 7 to 9 months) - the mother is a support and a source of emotional support for the child, which is carried out through physical contact. The body image of the child develops.

In the second phase - implementation in practice (from 9 to 14 months) - upright posture occurs, which allows the child to physically move away from the mother, maintaining only a sensory connection (ie, see, hear). In the absence of a mother, her image appears in the child's field of vision. Independent actions of the child contribute to his awareness of his separateness, independence and, at the same time, the limitations of his capabilities.

The third phase is the approach crisis (from 15 to 24 months). Two tendencies collide here: the desire to connect with the mother and the fear of losing one's autonomy, a protest against the violation of independence. This is manifested in alternately following the mother on the heels and moving away from her. Reality forces the child to recognize maternal independence and destroys the illusion of community. This leads to a "recovery crisis". The resolution of this crisis is shaped, on the one hand, by maternal warmth and comfort, and, on the other hand, by her encouragement to independence. Having overcome the crisis by about twenty months, the child can operate relatively calmly at a distance from the mother.

The fourth stage is the consolidation of individuality and the beginning of establishing the constancy of emotional objects (from 24 to 36 months). There is an emotional-object constancy of mother and child, which allows us to assimilate patterns of adult behavior, express our desires in symbolic form, etc. There is an integration of the “good” and “bad” image of the mother into a single representation that does not depend on situational circumstances. However, the prolonged absence of the mother causes the anger and grief of the child, since her image must be constantly maintained.

M. Mahler's theory contains a number of advantages that contribute to the development of ideas about early interaction between mother and child.

First, it was shown that adequate emotional openness of the mother and emotional contact with the infant are a necessary condition for the formation of his mental structures and subsequent independent emotional functioning.

Secondly, M. Mahler pioneered the long-term study of children in natural settings, which served as a stimulus for subsequent studies of the mother-infant and father-infant relationship.

Thirdly, M. Mahler's developments contributed to the expansion of the concept of preoedipal object relations, which complements the theory of the Oedipus complex in the framework of psychoanalysis. Along with the obvious advantages of M. Mahler's theory, there are also critical remarks. In particular, the assertion is disputed that the infant begins life cut off from the world, not perceiving social stimuli, i.

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