A simple definition of poverty is a lack of basic resources that leads to insecurity about the future. In her classic book, A Framework for Understanding Poverty, Dr. Ruby Payne lists 8 resources people in poverty lack. Resource #2 is a lack of emotional resources.
Emotional resources are the most important resources because it keeps people from returning to old habits. A lack of emotional resources refers to being able to choose and control emotional responses, particularly to negative situations, without engaging in self-destructive behavior. This is an internal resource and shows itself through stamina, perseverance, and choices.
Through the socialization process we learn how to act and react in most every situation. If those around you handled situations in a self-destructive, negative type of way, than that is what you learn and it takes a tremendous amount of emotional energy to unlearn it. Especially if there are no models around for you to follow.
Here is just one example: One of the hidden rules in the poverty culture, especially among men, is to not let anyone disrespect you. If you are a guy growing up in poverty, you learn at an early age to defend yourself physically and to not let anyone “diss” you. Few things are worse being disrespected. To be disrespected is to be emasculated. A person coming from poverty carries this value with them into the work place and the first time they feel their boss disrespects them, they either quit or get in the face of their superior and get fired. Being unemployed is favorable to being disrespected.
I have personally seen this cycle over and over again. I have had tough conversations with men in poverty, trying to explain to them that a hidden rule of middle-class culture is to swallow your pride and take “crap” from people everyone once in a while. Anyone who has ever “made it” has done so. It’s about learning how authority works, and many people in poverty have never learned that.
Handling difficult situations by quitting, or fighting, or drinking, or doing drugs, or cussing, or losing your temper, or a host of other negative emotional responses keep knocking a person in poverty down as they try to climb out of their situation. One reason a person can climb out of situational poverty is because they have the emotional resources available to them that a person in generational poverty does not have.
The reason most people who get out of generational poverty have to break off all ties with their family is friends in order to escape is because of this lack of emotional resources at their disposal.