ABSTRACT

This chapter starts with the premise that human vulnerability is closely associated with helplessness that arises when we feel we are powerless to change our environment or ourselves. In exploring this, it takes a broad look at the importance of perceived control for human well-being and highlights studies that have demonstrated that chronic powerlessness can have devastating physical and psychological outcomes. The text then moves to explore the central role that control plays in modern theories of stress and how stress results from a dynamic imbalance between the demands placed upon individuals and their capacity for coping. As with elsewhere in the book, emphasis is placed on role of individual perceptions in determining stress and it shows how, with a small number of notable exceptions, life events are inconsistent predictors of stress. The author then examines the importance of the human need to belong, and in doing so, draws attention to research, which shows that social exclusion and marginalisation are associated with an excess risk of mental health problems, physical illness and conditions like addiction. Following this the text demonstrates that whilst there is an incontrovertible link between poverty and vulnerability, finding a universal definition of poverty that does not rely solely on measures of economic wealth has proved deeply problematic. The chapter then returns to the phenomenon of victim-blaming. It asks why we tend to blame the poor for their own predicament and answers this by looking at some of the psychological mechanisms that may be at play. The content then moves to examine poverty as a heritable condition and shows how the quality of an individual’s environment can amplify or attenuate negative, inherited dispositions. The chapter then concludes by returning to theme of stress to describe the body’s core physiological responses to stress and to explain how chronic stress creates physical vulnerability.