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How Poverty Affected My Personality

By Jay Thomas Willis


Senior Columnist and Political Analyst

The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway

I thought about writing an article on “poverty and personality.” But I felt it might be necessary to write a rather academic paper to have a more powerful impact, academic is not exactly what I wanted to achieve in this article. So I decided to write about, “How Poverty Affected My Personality.” This is something I could do without necessarily being academic. In doing so, I could accomplish a similar but different set of objectives. However, most studies do suggest poverty has a negative affect on one’s personality. Poverty is just one of many factors influencing personality.

            There are several basic affects poverty tends to have on personality. But I’m not saying poverty affects most individuals’ personality in these ways. I’m only saying I can relate to how poverty affected my personality. As always there are genetic factors that help to determine how one will respond to any situation, and there are also environmental factors that help to determine how one will respond in any given scenario.

            I was born in what I call poverty, and lived in an isolated-rural environment in East Texas, with only a three-mile trail to my house until I entered first grade. This east and west trail led off the main highway, which led to small towns both north and south, each about twenty miles away.  Transportation prior to the road being built was by foot, wagon, or horseback only. My parents were dirt farmers. By the time I came along my father had taken a job on the Gulf Coast. I don’t know how much money my father made, but we barely survived. I don’t believe even my mother held him accountable for the money he earned on the Gulf Coast. We survived on whatever pittance he decided to disperse to us. My mother tried to survive from the crops and animals we raised on the farm. We had plenty to eat because we raised our own food, but were lacking in most other areas of need. My family consisted of ten children; most of them had migrated to larger cities by the time I came along. I was the last child. We were so poor my mother dressed me in my sisters’ old hand-me-down dresses until I was three years of age.

            We lived in a rusty-tin roof shack. It was cold in winter and hot in summer. The least bit of northerly wind could be felt indoors. When it rained we had to get out the buckets to catch the water. It was a long time before that shotgun shack was ever painted. The shack barely was stable on its rock foundation. We got electricity soon after the dirt road was constructed; butane was obtained when I was a freshman in high school; a telephone when I was a sophomore in college; and finally, makeshift indoor plumbing after I graduated college. My parents died in that little-shotgun shack.

            It’s a long story how I ended up in college, one would tend to wonder how I had the motivation, but I found it somehow, and here I am to tell this part of my story. I will have to tell the story of how I made it to college some other time. Here I want to focus specifically on, “How Poverty Affected My Personality.”

            It affected my mental health: I felt hopeless, anxious, fearful, and depressed about the world. It gave me a pervasive sense of apathy and dependence. It caused me to feel emotionally and socially unstable. I had a weak attachment in my early childhood causing me to feel insecure as an adult. Lack of a proper nurturing environment caused me to lack in areas of fundamental personality development. A lack of warmth and sensitivity caused me to be unable to form solid-healthy relationships with others. The failure of my forming positive relationships with peers inflicted long-term socio-emotional consequences—causing maladaptive behaviors as an adult. It also caused me to fail to develop life-long social skills, and healthy emotional responses to everyday situations.

            It placed restrictions upon my personality and gave me a limited perspective—seeing few possibilities in life for myself. It affected my ability to choose outside the circumstances I found myself in—further limiting my possibilities. It limited my ability to view possibilities for change. Poor education left me unaware of available opportunities and choices, and gave me a sense of powerlessness. It limited my aspirations and motivation.

            It also made me selfish, and caused me to feel I had to look out for only self, because no one else was going to do it. It caused me to feel I was born into this world alone, and would die alone. It gave me a sense of alienation, and a feeling we live in a dog-eat-dog situation. It gave me a negative view of myself and my place in the world.

            This caused me to in some ways fall into the poverty trap: passing along to my children certain of these issues. Poverty can be a trap that catches each successive generation in its clutches, until they can work themselves out of it. This is why it’s important to eradicate poverty whenever possible, or at least deal it a severe blow.

            Obviously these maladies don’t affect everyone in poverty in the same way. As I have said there’re powerful genetic, social, and psychological influences that determine how poverty will interplay with one’s situation. I’ve simply described how poverty has affected my personality to get my point across. Many people experience poverty, while others observe it every day without ever realizing it’s partly to blame for some of their dysfunctions.

            Depending on individuals’ perseverance and fortitude they can overcome such circumstances to varying degrees.


 *The above is on the Black Paper lane on the Black Information Highway and The Mid-South Tribune ONLINE. Mr. Willis is the author of twenty-three books, fifteen professional journal articles, a number of magazine articles, and over 300 newspaper articles. His books can be reviewed at www.jaythomaswillis.com .  Email him at jaytwillis@gmail.com  or MSTnews@prodigy.net or BlackInfoHwy@prodigy.net .



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