The Psychological Effects of Poverty
What comes to mind when you think about what it means to experience poverty?
For most, physical descriptions of what life is like when individuals and families lack the monetary resources needed to meet their basic needs come top to mind. However, poverty’s accompanying psychological effects on an individual continue to go unnoticed and unattended in our society. These psychological effects build upon themselves and create an even more significant gap for those working towards regaining stability.
Hardships like poverty affect every family member, from the oldest parent to the youngest child. The traumatic experiences children become exposed to at a young age can result in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Food insecurity, homelessness, and financial instability all negatively affect a child’s stress response system. Thus, resulting in health complications, toxic stress, and childhood trauma.
“ACEs don’t have a single cause, and they can take several different forms. Many factors contribute to ACEs, including personal traits and experiences, parents, the family environment, and the community itself,” as the CDC noted. “To prevent ACEs and protect children from neglect, abuse, and violence, it’s essential to address each of these factors.”
As a center for hope, we want to ensure that every member of the community is cared for. For this reason, we have welcomed a Mental Health Therapist, Keith Sims, MA, LMHC, QS, to our team to ensure we are able to care for the whole being of the individuals and families we serve at The Sharing Center.
As an expert on the matter, Keith shared the following. “When I think of the psychological effects of poverty, I immediately reflect on how these effects collectively produce the activation of survival mode. I liken the concept of surviving to treading water: You’re not moving in any direction. Instead, every ounce of the remaining energy is devoted to keeping your nose above the water line to fulfill the basic need of breathing. While in survival mode, the onset of depression typically occurs without our awareness. Sometimes it manifests in characteristics such as anger and oppositional aggression. Other times, sadness, lack of resilience, isolation, or even apathy can be byproducts. But, for most of us in survival mode, we effortlessly cycle through these characteristics, among others, with minimal awareness as to why. I’ve often found one question can determine if an individual is in survival mode. When asked, “What do you need, emotionally, right now?”; an individual in survival mode will typically pause, then respond with, “I don’t know.” This is because, in survival mode, we can only think of our basic human needs (water, food, shelter, safety, etc.). We’ve redirected our energy, out of necessity, away from emotional awareness (of ourselves and of others). And, of course, the longer we remain in survival mode, it begins to feel normal. This explains why we can find safety from a threat, only for our minds to still function as if the threat is very much active. Our circumstances have changed, but our mind still operates as if they have not. The goal, ultimately, is to shift from surviving to thriving. As we find stability with our basic needs, this positive shift becomes more and more realistic. This is when we can reconnect with our true selves, even if our true selves were left behind years ago.”
To learn more about the ins and outs of poverty and its effects, we invite you to join us for our second annual Exploring Poverty Summit on January 20th, 2023. For more information on the event and to register, please visit thesharingcenter.org/exploringpoverty.