Where is your locus of control?

Locus of Control LoC – Is basically the psychological term that describes how much a person believes they can control the events of their life. If you have an External Locus of Control then it is likely that you feel that many things are out of your control and believe that chance, fate, luck, God or more powerful ‘other’ people will play a big role in how your life unfolds. For those people who have formed an Internal Locus of Control, they believe that they are responsible for their own life and the outcomes that they experience.

What I have observed as a therapist

I witness the effects of LoC every day in my role as a therapist, I either test each client to see what score they get on the Locus of Control scale or I ask pertinent questions that allow me to understand the strategies my client is using to take responsibility for their life.

To me, it is a fundamental requirement to know if they have learned to use an interior or exterior source of reference of what they can and can’t control in life, and this information plays a big part in the therapeutic strategies that I subsequently deliver.

Those individuals with a higher external locus of control seem to be more susceptible to anxiety, depression, poor health and weight gain, whilst those with lower more internal scores, are often, calmer, more positive, more resilient and seem to bounce back more quickly after unfortunate events in their life and tend to have a more healthy outlook regarding their body.

I will go into more detail later in this post, however, the good news is that once a clients can see that they may be abdicating or deferring some of their control to external sources many things can change in their lives, (if that is what they want).

In my experience helping a client move their external locus of control more towards an internal LoC and helping them to take more responsibility for all aspects of their life is a key aspect of recovering from depression, raising self-esteem and bolstering confidence.

Locus of control vs. Desire for control

I work with many clients who become paralysed and immobilised by depression or anxiety disorders that invoke fearful thoughts and emotions. Often these individuals used to have a wonderful natural perception, they would be able to walk into a room and pick up peoples moods, like a sixth sense, however, as they became more depressed and anxious, never knowing what their emotions would do next, their ability to believe and trust their own feelings lessened, leaving them (unknowingly) feeling vulnerable.

To counter balance these vulnerable feelings, they begin to, (unconsciously) look for external validation to help them feel more secure about their decisions and actions in life. This is a good example of a persons Locus of Control moving from Internal to External through the ‘numbing’ of their emotions due to prolonged periods of stress, trauma or depression.

When this happens the anxiety or depression or ME or OCD or agoraphobic sufferer (tick your box) begins to unconsciously become far more controlling about the small things in their life that they feel they can control and so they focus all their attention on these. Any carer or partner of a sufferer doing this will know how frustrating and annoying it is having to ‘put up with’ all the new rules about what is and isn’t acceptable around the house or what to eat or where to go, what to wear etc.

Often the sufferer can’t see that they are controlling the tiny things and can’t even think about facing the big decisions, this becomes the beginning of obsessional behaviour that they feel gives them at least some control, even though it is mistaken, debilitating and holding them back.

It takes time, however, once the sufferer can see that they are controlling the petty things and abducting responsibility for the real issues in their life, things can change. Of course, they will still need to set goals, change the way they are thinking and start planning for the future – but that’s a whole other issue, they need to pull themselves out of the depressive state, one realisation at a time.

This is important

So, a person who is controlling and has a high external locus of control, will feel uncomfortable, vulnerable and powerless, and a person who is controlling, but with an internal locus of control, will be active, more positive and feel more in control of their life, thus happier. Finding the right balance is the name of the game.

Internal Locus of Control vs. External Locus of Control

It is hard to put into words how the two types differ, because there are always so many degrees of separation. Listed below are some generic indicators.

External Locus of Control:

  • Are likely to feel a little uncomfortable in social situations
  • Feel powerless and will often refer to ‘professionals’ for help, Doctors, specialist etc.
  • May be more likely to believe that medication will help them to recover
  • Tend to view things negatively – glass half empty
  • Tend to struggle to get back on track after trauma, bereavement or trouble in their life
  • Tend to focus on worries and negative ‘what if’ scenarios
  • Seem to get ill easily, catch colds and any bug that is doing the rounds, get tired easily
  • Tend to lean on others for support and advice
  • Tend to put on weight easily or comfort eat
  • May tend to put faith in horoscopes, clairvoyants or other paranormal concepts
  • May struggle to get to sleep as thoughts in their mind race around
  • May be religious or have a ‘faith’ that God will sort it out for them – in the end
  • Are likely to have developed a kind of learned helplessness
  • May (unknowingly) get lots of attention from others due to their suffering
  • Tend to control the small (irritating to others) things that tend to pin themselves down i.e. Won’t go to a restaurant
  • Tend to blame other elements if things go wrong
  • So, you can see that many of these strategies are looking external to themselves for help, advice or guidance, they are in many instances a victim to what others do and say.

Internal Locus of Control:

  • Are likely to feel comfortable in social situations or at least can fake it well
  • May listen to Doctors and specialists, but feel they know themselves better
  • May try to avoid medication and use positive thinking and healthy living to recover
  • Tend to view things positively – glass half full, interesting opportunity etc.
  • Seem to bounce back quickly after trauma, bereavement or trouble in their life
  • Tend to focus on what they can do, what they will do and when they will do it
  • Have a great immune system, rarely get ill, have lots of energy
  • Seem to be very independent, rarely ask for help
  • Tend to be the right weight for their age and height, eat healthily and exercise
  • Do not believe in the paranormal or horoscopes etc.
  • Tend to sleep well most of the time, can get by on less sleep if busy
  • May not be religious or gain independent strength from their beliefs
  • Take responsibility for mistakes or mishaps, they learn from them
  • Here, you can see that the individual feels that they have the power within them-self to do what ever they feel is right, without deferring to external sources.
  • How an Internal Locus of Control may benefit you
  • As you recognise your current position and begin to let go of old out dated beliefs – people normally find the following happens:
  • It would make you more active now, not having to wait for motivation to appear
  • You would set goals around the things you would like to achieve
  • You would be excited about learning and trying new ways of being in the world
  • You would learn from your past behaviours, then move on
  • If things went wrong in the future you would take responsibility and not dwell on it
  • You would become more social and have more fun
  • Self-awareness and flexibility of emotions is the key

People with an internal locus of control are generally more successful, for very obvious reason, however, I feel that we all need to be flexible in our thoughts and our behaviours. Sometimes it is appropriate to be internal and controlling and other times it is right to stand back and be more caring or relaxed.

By understanding where you locus of control is at anytime in your life you can become aware of the strategies that you are using – then take back control. Interestingly, as people get older their locus of control generally becomes more internal, because they have had lots of experience of life and realise that the majority of what happens to them, is a direct result of what they think, what they say and what they do.

Some tips to take more control

  • Realise that by not making a decision, is, in fact, already a choice. The choice to let others (or life) decide for you.
  • Pay close attention to your own internal dialogue if you hear yourself saying “I can’t do that” or “There is nothing I can do about it” recognise that you have just made a decision and ask yourself if it is the only option? What would a person with an Internal LoC do?
  • Plan your future, set goals, take time to visualise a big bright future that you feel compelled to step into.
  • Explore your values, what values would really focus you? Integrity, honesty, compassion, humility, commitment……
  • Don’t be afraid to have fun, to talk to people, to let your guard down occasionally
  • Don’t fear failure, fear not even trying
  • Learn new things