What is my locus of control?
The term Locus of Control (LoC) is a psychological description used to categorise how much a person believes they can influence and control their own life. A person who has an External Locus of Control (meaning that which controls what happens to me is external from me) will feel they can’t control their lives or relationships, they will be more susceptible to believing in external factors such as; fate, luck, superstition, God and will be easily dominated or influenced by other people.
People who have an Internal Locus of Control tend to be more confident and believe that they have the ability to choose what they want to do in any given moment and they can influence their lives in many profound ways.
So really, your locus of control is a point of view or a learned set of beliefs you have about yourself (and life) which will have a huge impact on how you live your life and your happiness. Many people experiencing anxiety disorders and depression tend to be living from a external locus of control perspective – the anxiety is happening to them, the depression is trapping them, the social gatherings make them anxious. The good news is…. once you are aware of this paradigm (and if you want to change) it is possible (with a little work) to turn things around and take back more control of what you do, how you feel and what you get from life.
Anxiety feeds off an external locus of control
One of the most important facets of recovering from anxiety and depression is taking control of your emotions and managing how you behave in certain situations – why is it that when something goes wrong one person says ‘It will be fine’ and another says ‘This always happens to me it’s not fair‘?
Of course, the are at differing ends of the locus of control spectrum, one of them took the event personally and had a big emotional reaction – for the other it wasn’t personal, that thing just happened and they can see that beating themselves up serves no purpose. You can see from this why those with a higher external locus of control are often far 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.
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 and should be high on the anxious persons to do list. The trouble is it is hard work because you need to challenge the very foundation of who you think you are.
Is it easier to control ourselves rather than others?
It seems a logical statement to say “I don’t like it when they do that to me, so I am going to stop them from doing it to me” – basically what that statement means is they have to change for me to feel better, however, most people don’t like being changed, so it is logical, but not necessarily easy or effective, and either way, it takes a lot of energy to make someone else change so we feel better.
We see this with young people in love where one says to the other ‘If you loved me you wouldn’t look at that other person’ – which roughly translated means, I feel bad when you look at them, so I need to control you so you don’t look at them and then I’ll feel better and I will hide my insecurity under the heading of love, rather than fear of pain!
In the example above it is quite clear that for that person to move to a more internal locus of control they would need to work on their own self beliefs, emotional reactions and insecurities, that way, if their partner looked at another person they wouldn’t get an emotional reaction and there would be no need to control them. Of course, if they were looking too much or being overly disrespectful it maybe useful to be able to end that relationship which will be easier for a person with an internal LoC ‘I am not putting up with this abuse‘ as opposed to an external LoC ‘I can’t leave them because I need them.’
Often anxious people with an external locus of control don’t feel that they can control the big things in life and so they may tend to control all the little things like tidiness, time-keeping, how they look, how work is done etc. Basically, they are trying to get some form of self-worth through controlling what they can although it is usually quite annoying to their families.
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.
What are external locus of control behaviours?
It is hard to be specific about issues like this so we will list the common behaviours and though process that seem to be specific to those individuals with a more external locus of control.
- They often feel powerless and defer to ‘professionals’ like Doctors for advice on what to doThey may
- They may find it hard to bounce back after setbacks or bereavements
- They often view things in a negative manner – glass half empty
- Social situations can make them feel a little uncomfortable
- They are more likely to believe that medication will help them (something outside of me will help me)
- They seem to get ill easily, catch colds and any bug that is doing the rounds, get tired easily
- They tend to put on weight easily or comfort eat
- They may put faith in horoscopes, clairvoyants or other paranormal concepts
- They often lean on others for support and advice
- They may be religious or have a ‘faith’ that God will sort it out for them – in the end
- Sometimes they have developed a kind of learned helplessness
- Sometimes they tend to blame other elements if things go wrong
- May (unknowingly) get lots of attention from others due to their suffering
- Tend to focus on worries and negative ‘what if’ scenarios
- May struggle to get to sleep
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.
What are internal locus of control behaviours?
- 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 – therefore, they feel more in control and calmer.
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.
As you work through the Calmness In Mind Anxiety & OCD Recovery Program we will teach you how to recognise where you are and how to take back more control of how you think and how you take responsibility for what happens in your life, of course, you can’t control everything, however, who said that you need to? Emotional flexibility comes from knowing that whatever happens (good or bad) you can face it and move on, rather than having to worry, avoid, plan or control.
Perhaps you can start today by making a decision to do something about it?