Scarcity And Its Effects

So far, my life has been chiefly dominated by scarcity, and its effects. Not enough food, not enough money, not enough love, not enough focus and attention. I grew up poor, with PTSD and (as I know now) ADHD.

The effects of this scarcity mindset are hard to communicate to those that haven’t experienced the circumstances that grow it. Food being scarce means that you both covet it and will try to hoard it, and are also extremely self-conscious about how much that is at odds with societal stances. Love being scarce means that you will cling to anyone that gives you the faintest whiff of it because it’s a prized treasure, regardless of the circumstances, even if that negatively affects you. Money being scarce means that you can’t ever shake the feeling that the minor, fun expenditure you can absolutely afford would feed you for a day if you converted it to pasta and canned goods. Always being short on focus, concentration, and energy means that you can’t meaningfully rest. Anything restorative is ruined by chiding yourself over all the undone projects and tasks that would be a better use of your time. It also means that you react with hostility and defensiveness to anyone that asks for your resources, no matter how minor, or how good of an investment it would be.

As time has marched on, I’ve not found myself developing the emotional regulation skills that come from not needing to see any of those as prizes. Or, well, I haven’t found myself developing them without doing anything for it after the scarcity passed, which is a very different thing. In consequence, I’ve started unpacking, and then also dealing with, the effects this has left on me. Subjectively, it feels like any behaviour I exhibit in some variety can be traced back to me not having enough of something, and compensating in behaviour.

The fact that love is now plentiful (I’m happily married) means that I can start dating from a position of non-scarcity. This shifts the perspective from “I hope someone accepts me and can bring themselves to love me” to “If I end up not vibing, I can just… walk away”. It removes me from a fundamental “petitioner” role, — which is a terrible place to start any relationship from, anyway — and automatically makes any relationship that does end up happening much more beneficial and just fun. The perhaps most well-documented effect here is poverty and its effects, tendency to hoard and think on the short term, because while you may get two marshmallows in the future, the one in front of you feeds you now. Similarly, money worries started abating as my career developed, and I’m slowly unpacking those and learning how to think long-term, rather than how I’m going to cover rent and food.

The one that is currently in the process of slowly being resolved is the lack of focus and concentration. I’ve documented my journey of first experiencing medication for ADHD on twitter, and part of my attempt to resolve this soon-to-be-non-scarcity is writing this. For once, I do not have an overbearing brunt of important-but-undone tasks bearing down on me, and writing is a conscious choice of how I choose to spend previously-unheard-of “spare” focus. Being able to generalise from the previous transitions out of scarcity helps here, like knowing that part of it is consciously spending the resource in question in a manner you would never have before and sitting with the emotions that come from it.

The long-term impacts of this scarcity are hard to estimate. I think that if I had grown up in an environment that did not have these scarcities, I would be an unrecognisably different person, and so this is hard to consider a worthwhile thought experiment. I’m sure plentifulness has some similar characteristics, especially once you then encounter scarcity, but I’m not sure I can point to any in my life so far.

My life, as a whole, has turned out well, so far. Well enough that I can’t help but be suspicious of it, as of course I would be if good times and tidings would be as scarce as they were. But I think this, too, over time, will be remedied, or at least addressed.