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Transient Longings

Author: Olivia Li

Editors: Maria Flores, Sophia Chen

Artist: Emily Hu

Have you ever wondered why peek-a-boo is so appealing to kids? It has to do with “object permanence,” a concept developed by psychologist Jean Piaget. Object constancy is a psychodynamic concept. We can think of it as an emotional manifestation of the object's permanence, meaning we can maintain a “constant” relationship with the “object.” Through a series of observations and experiments,  Jean Piaget studied babies from a few months old to around two years old. Piaget showed children their favorite toys to play with and then covered the toy with cloth or hid it behind a screen in the presence of the baby. Piaget observed how the babies reacted to the disappearance of their toys. Young babies often act as if the toy no longer exists, not attempting to find it. However, older babies, especially those 8 to 12 months old, begin to show signs of looking for hidden toys. This shows their knowledge of the objects’ presence even when out of sight. The experiment revealed that as babies' brains develop, they become able to understand and distinguish between subjects.

Psychologist Judith S. Beck believed that the key to a person's ability to develop a stable self or constancy of objects depends on timely and appropriate parental response and care during the formative years. Among them, personality stability refers to the relative strength of individual personality characteristics following their own cognition and performance rules and is unaffected by the environment. The child must accumulate enough warm experiences and accept warmth as a normal part of life so that the stable and beautiful inner object of the heart will not be shaken by slight separations or unhappiness. When children swing between the extremes of feeling good and deserving of love, to bad and unworthy of love, they’re unable to make sure if the other person is stable or not. For example, individuals may feel abandoned when their partner leaves them or disappears briefly. Those who experienced the feeling of being kept as children can realize that even though the other person has not been in touch with them, they can still feel that they are in love. Those who lack the experience of a stable and lasting relationship cannot psychologically form a sufficiently stable inner object, or if they do, it collapses very easily. A brief loss of news, a real-life disagreement, a separation, or not seeing the person for a while can cause a complete upheaval in their connection to the object and their feelings, resulting in loneliness and helplessness, loss of control, and extreme fear. 

People who lack a stable self-image may have been treated temperamentally by their parents as a child. They may have been valued highly one day, and devalued the next. As a result, these individuals don't believe there is stable, consistent love in the world. As they grow up and enter intimate relationships, their childhood longing for the constancy of their parents is transferred to their partner. As a result, they become susceptible to their partner's every move, and there are countless moments of loneliness and panic. In those moments, they may feel that they are no longer loved, and will push their partner to try to love them in ways that will not hurt them.

However, so-called object constancy is just a psychological experience. Everything is constantly changing; it doesn't stay the same even in the passing seconds, which is disappointing. Originally, the infant is not endowed with the perception of constancy, and he has gone to great lengths to practice it, only to find in the end that the world is not at all static.

This sadness leads to resistance. People want love to be immortal, and for their loved ones and friends to last forever. The most prominent manifestation is that people want their partners and companions to be at their beck and call. If not, there is great anger, which is an expression of the initial powerlessness of life. We seem to forget that the world is never constant, and there is nothing terrible about that. Peace and stability are different for everyone and cannot be described in a few words. We can face external changes by cultivating inner peace. For example, we can experience peace through meditation, exercise, contact with nature, or creating art.



Harris, P. L. "Development of search and object permanence during infancy." Psychological Bulletin 82.3 (1975): 332. Accessed 30 Apr. 2024.

Bell, S. M. V. (1968). The relationship of infant-mother attachment to the development of the concept of object-permanence. The Johns Hopkins University. Accessed 30 Apr. 2024.


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