I’m fairly sure we’ve all seen it,
and possibly experienced it ourselves.
There’s certainly lots of emotional poverty all around us.
It can happen to a person, a family, a segment of society
or even a whole nation.
It can be fleeting, long-term or permanent.
The symptoms start out as barely noticeable,
and increase so gradually that even the victim
may be unaware they are being slowly distorted
by their emotional privation or wounds.
By the time the damage has gone beyond repair,
the victim has accepted their twisted outlook
as a natural part of who they are.
Sadly, they are by then far beyond accepting
that they have as much as a small blemish,
let alone deep wounds or a broken heart.
But who would do such a thing to another person?
Would it take someone who is knowingly evil
and enjoys hurting others?
Are they like that all the time,
or only when the mood strikes them,
or only when chance offers them an opportunity
to do it without being seen?
Never mind the punchers, pinchers, jabbers,
hair pullers or arm twisters of childhood,
they’ll be found out soon enough, and disarmed.
There are more devious types
who go after their victims under the skin,
in the unseen parts,
where hurts can linger in the shadows
and may be allowed to accumulate forever.
Those who offend just for fun
never do it to someone
who has an equal or greater amount of power.
Bullies are too cowardly for that.
Such offenders will first inflict a little nick,
unseen, but an injury anyway,
just to watch the victim squirm,
but more importantly,
to enjoy the reaction of witnesses.
If the offender gets away with it
they will then go further,
especially if they have gained helpers or fans
who would like to get up the nerve to copy
that same sort of sneaky savagery.
And so cruelty spreads and multiplies,
and gathers more adherents, more victims,
and more emotional poverty.
Was there ever, or is there still,
an emotionally impoverished member in your family?
If you can’t think of anyone, could it be you?
Is it possible that you, whether intentionally or not,
then went on to occasionally hurt a sibling or even a parent.
We all have a tender spot or two.
It’s well known that victims
tend to even the score by victimizing others
when they have the chance.
Cruelty is easily learned and well remembered.
A single word can be a stab to the heart.
A look or a gesture can stay in the memory
for a lifetime, bouncing back out of the past sometimes,
an echo of earlier pain,
to bruise once more an old sore spot.
But we have forgotten what was done to us
and even what we did to someone else.
A spoken word is an arrow
loosed into the chasm of time
and can never be retrieved
by any means, for any reason.
What about the family circle
where there are power structures
both formal and informal?
If parental power is used dictatorially,
we can safely predict emotional poverty
to be endured
by at least one marriage partner,
and by one or more children,
and possibly by all of them.
If one of the victims tries to defend one of the others
the dictator will probably go after the defender,
to humble them, not only then, but from then on,
in order to terrorize the rest into silence.
In the home of a bully someone may live under a self-imposed, internal exile. If others feel the same they may keep their thoughts to themselves, and bide their time until it's safe to speak their truth, if they can still recognize it.
Social scientists tell us that within a family
we all try to find a spot where we'll feel as safe
as we can hope to be in such circumstances.
They also say that we'll always carry
that same emotional address with us, just in case,
that safe place where we hid from pain,
and knowingly or not we'll carry that address,
our secret hideaway, our refuge,
into all our adult social and family settings
as well as into our work environment.
Therefore, if we as adults find ourselves
once again in emotional poverty,
we can quickly retreat to our safe haven.
There, until the danger passes,
we have at least the comfort of familiarity, of normality,
and so we may not try to make things better.
We don't try to fix
what doesn't seem to be bent or broken.
A parent who wouldn't dream
of carelessly keeping their spouse or children
in financial or physical poverty,
can casually condemn members of their family
to emotional poverty
by letting them feel ignored.
If a spouse or a child always, or often,
sense that they rank behind
a job, a hobby or friends,
that family member will gradually draw
their own conclusions about where they rank
within that parent's realm of interests,
and then make their own behavioral adjustments.
A child doesn't have to be very old
before they can see where they fit into line
compared to a parent's other interests.
It can hardly be a surprise if such neglect
is later returned in kind from child to parent.
Don't we all carry a repair kit
in our emotional baggage
and secretly, even from ourselves,
sometimes pull it out
to put on some patches
we hope will shield our tender places.
The story of who we are
holds many sub-plots which can be read by only a few.
A mother, a father, a sister, a brother or a mirror
can see only some of the scars we have built up
through the years, and visible or hidden,
we will wear as long as we live.
Be careful, you have more power than you know.