Poverty Consciousness

I was in my twenties when I first heard the expression “Poverty Consciousness” and I immediately related to it in myself. I understood it then as expressing a presumption that there is a finite amount of resources to go around and so everything I get takes from someone else. It expresses a bias in perception towards “what there is not” or “what is lacking” and away from “what there is.”

Poverty consciousness leads us to hold tight to what we have, in fear that there will be no more. It can lead people to stay in jobs or relationships that no longer serve them, or to collect things that have no meaning or value for them because they fear that nothing will fill the space left by the absence of those things. And it leads to a focus on external reasons for staying stuck, such as, “There’s no point marketing my practice because there aren’t any clients who have money to pay for therapy.”

And for many people, this perspective of the world is their reality.


Many years of personal growth later, and I can still find myself getting lost in the same old ways of thinking that I started to recognise all those years ago. I hear myself say things like, “I’ll have this cup of tea because I may not get a chance later.”  Perhaps you can relate to it as well.

I can remember sitting at the dinner table when I was about five or six. My older sister didn’t finish her dinner, and having tried to persuade her in different ways that she should clean her plate, my mother threw in the guilt card, “Think of all the starving children in Biafra.” My sister, displaying courage I could only dream of, said, “Would you like me to put it in an envelope and send it to them?”

My sister’s cheeky retort was very wise. Whether or not she finished what was on her plate had nothing whatsoever to do with the starving children in Biafra. She could not then, and cannot now, influence anyone else’s hunger by eating more or less food. While this is probably self-evident when I spell it out about food, the picture becomes very muddied when we look at issues of money and wealth, because how I use the money I earn does have an impact on others.

But perhaps we don’t always see the full picture.

In another post, I tell the story of how one man’s payment of €100 turned into payments of €500. This story tells us how economies work. It tells us that the relevant factor we need to focus on is not the finite amount of resources available, but the flow. One payment of €100 can pay five or ten or twenty bills of €100. Unlike food, money is not consumed, it passes from hand to hand. Every giving is a receiving in someone else’s hand. People who earn more do not take that money from others, unless they withdraw it from circulation, for example, by hiding it in a tin box under the bed. Otherwise, it is available for someone else to use. If it’s lodged to a bank account, it’s used by the bank to lend to other customers or to pay their staff or other expenses. In the same way, if it is spent, shopkeepers or service providers receive the benefit of it.

Poverty consciousness is crippling because it defines how we see the world, and using those distorted lenses, we


make choices based on faulty information. We see the world as a big cake which when eaten, is gone, never to be replaced. So when we see a threat or lack, we hold tight to what we have, rather than meeting the world with an open hand. However, because it is true for us, it is hard to believe or accept that others might hold or experience a different reality. It can be difficult to identify because while we might see abundance in many aspects of our lives, we may not see it in others. For example, it is not unusual for someone to see the abundance of nature or love in the world, but also see a shortage of health or money.

Poverty consciousness is also expressed in “facing reality.” This expression usually refers to facing the negative stuff, rather than facing the good things in life. Have you ever heard someone say, “you should face reality here, it’s much better than you are seeing”?

Where might you have an awareness of lack or poverty in your life or about your practice? How might you adopt a more positive perspective, and how might that support you? Can I help you to explore any of these issues? Contact me here.

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