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Poverty: A Holistic Definition

Updated on February 22, 2010

A Typical American Definition of Poverty

In another hub that I wrote on poverty, I took a look at signs of poverty, and how to deal with poverty. In this hub I want to take a look at what poverty really is, how it is defined. In the other hub on dealing with poverty I focused on financial poverty; however, a person with a lot of money can be in poverty. You may wonder how that could be, so let's look at a holistic definition of poverty.

The term 'holistic' is being used more in American culture these days, but has been used for a long time in Eastern cultures. By 'holistic' we simply mean that we are taking a look at our whole self rather than just one area of our life. So, if we are looking at a holistic definition of poverty, then we are defining poverty as something that people can experience on more than one level. Therefore, a holistic definition of poverty means that poverty can happen in areas other than finances. The areas that we can experience poverty in is: financially, emotionally, mentally, spiritually and socially. Let's take a look at each one.

Financial Poverty

A person can experience financial poverty when they lack the money or financial resources for basic survival. Since this is what most people think of with poverty we will not spend much time thinking through this one. Please see my other hub entitled, "Dealing with Poverty".

Emotional Poverty

A person experiences emotional poverty when they have endured a traumatic experience that has so scarred them emotionally that they lack the ability to achieve emotional balance. Too, a person may have endured a harsh childhood or some other harsh environment that caused their emotional maturity to be stunted.

A person who is emotionally whole or mature is able to deal with difficult situations without drugs or other harmful escapes. Too, they are able to deal with those situations with poise and focus. They are able to cry when it is necessary. They are able, after dealing with the difficulty, to get back to a productive life. They may get discouraged, need to mourn or in some other way deal with the problem at hand, but are able to deal with it without a total breakdown.

Those who are dealing with emotional poverty can achieve wholeness or maturity in their emotional life. I hope to deal with this in another hub.

Those who are whole emotionally should not judge those who are not, but should walk with them and help them with their difficulties and lead them to wholeness.

Mental Poverty

Many people suffer from mental poverty. Sometimes there is mental illness involved. I have worked with mentally ill people for many years and have discovered that many actually are not mentally ill, but rather struggling with mental poverty. I make this distinction, because it is a shame when we label so many people as mentally ill who are not, which leaves them hopelessly trapped.

Those who struggle with mental illness have some sort of dysfunction mentally that is beyond their control. These individuals need our compassion and support.

Mental poverty, on the other hand, happens when a person lacks the mental ability to live a productive life, though they do not have a true mental illness. This is something that they can overcome. Mental poverty can come from a variety of sources such as lack of proper education, abuse, constantly being put down, etc. These individuals have learned to deal with these unfortunate realities in their life by compensating in a way they only knew how. They are not mentally ill, in that their habits are due to a dysfunction mentally, but rather they are mentally poor due to a lack of knowing how to mentally deal with their reality. Again, I hope to expand more in another hub on how to overcome this.

Those who find them selves in this situation should take hope that they can overcome their mental struggles, whether it is extreme anxiety, extreme moods, etc. With the right help you can achieve mental wholeness.

Those who do not have this struggle should not look down on these individuals, but should have compassion on them and walk with them towards mental wholeness.

Spiritual Poverty

Many find themselves spiritually poor. Spiritual poverty occurs when a person lacks a connection with God and feel as though they are alone in this life with no true purpose or hope beyond the here and now.

Too, a person can be spiritually poor, though they have a relationship with God. This person may have been hurt by religion, the church or in some other way. They may still seek God, but feel so hurt that they just float aimlessly trying to find their way.

Hope can be found by praying and asking God to show you the way and not giving up until He does show you the way. I have been there and it can be frustrating to experience the pain, but it is good when you finally find the way.

Social Poverty

Social poverty occurs when a person lacks the ability to have whole relationships with others. Either they have not been taught how relationships work or they have developed certain habits that drive others away. Some have only been in bad relationships. These individuals lack the vision of what a good relationship looks like.

If you struggle with social poverty I encourage you to read my hub entitled, "The importance of Whole Relationships". Too, I hope to write a future hub dealing with how to develop good relationships.

As you can see poverty can happen to all of us. You do not have to lack in just your finances to be poor. If you find yourself suffering from some sort of poverty I encourage you to take the necessary steps towards wholeness. Though you are okay in other areas, if you are in poverty in one area, then you are not truly whole. I want to qualify that statement for finances, because those in Western cultures tend to define poverty differently. Not having a lot of money does not make you financially poor. So, you may be fine financially though you do not have everything your neighbor has. Keep going and enjoy the life you have.


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    • Michael Davis profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Davis 

      3 years ago

      Came- a google search should lead you to the right place

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I carry on listening to the necwsast lecture about getting free online grant applications so I have been looking around for the most excellent site to get one. Could you advise me please, where could i find some?

    • Michael Davis profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Davis 

      5 years ago

      RoryColgan- Thanks for the props. I will check out your hub

    • RoryColgan profile image


      5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

      I think it's been a while since you've gotten a view, so here's one! Good job. You spoke on the same subject that I defined in my hub A Metaphysical View of the Right to Bear Arms. Check it out if you're interested.

    • Michael Davis profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Davis 

      7 years ago

      gmwilliams- To a point I agree with you. There are many people who could get out of their situation with a little effort, and a change of thinking. Well put. I work with the poor daily and I do see some people, which you admit, who get thrown down time and time again. Their are systems in place that seem to work to keep people impoverished and thus dependent on those systems. Especially in countries where government controls everything it becomes increasingly difficult for individuals to get out of poverty.

      Thanks for the insight.

    • gmwilliams profile image

      Grace Marguerite Williams 

      7 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

      Great hub. However, poverty starts with a mindset of passivity. Yes, there are circumstances when a person cannot help himself/herself. However such cases are rarities. The average impoverished person believes that the world owes him/her a living and that society should rescue him/her in order to live a better life. Many poor people adopt negative behavior mechanicism and believe that this is normal. No, I do not see any excuse for people to remain impoverished if they do not wish to do so. People need to adopt a more proactive mindset if they wish to leave their impoverished conditions.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      i believe spiritual poverty is a common problem in some nations now a days, its a state of not realizing that we are a global family, in holistic definition, it is our strong faith and maintaining our good relationship with God could ease each spiritual poverty, its a very nice topic and very well researched , ,thanks so much Mr, Davis

    • Michael Davis profile imageAUTHOR

      Michael Davis 

      8 years ago

      Dave- thanks for bringing that up. Poverty is a full time job. It takes your whole day and your energy to try to keep up.

    • DavePrice profile image


      8 years ago from Sugar Grove, Ill

      One of my best friends made a memorable comment on welfare. He said that if you consider the hassles and the loss of dignity that people on welfare have to indure, its no wonder they feel they earned the money. I think that is true of any kind of poverty - often the loss of dignity, the loss of self-worth, and the social stigma of poverty of any kind makes people feel they deserve the pity and the support. It makes for a vicious cycle that is extrememly hard to break.


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