Take Back Control and Reach for the Stars
How to locate your self-control and why it matters
Posted Aug 19, 2016
Where does your locus of control lie? Why does this matter? As a child our ‘locus of control’ is clearly external. In other words we believe that we have little control of events and outcomes and, indeed, when we are very little, not much control of our emotions. When we are children, day-to-day events are decided by our carers or those in ‘loco parentis.’ Gradually, however, an aware parent or carer starts to hand over control to their child and a wise parent will let the child face the consequence of those choices.
You might let your child decide what to take in their packed lunch. They choose candy and chocolate. After a couple of days they start to feel a bit sick and tired. You gently point out that this could have something to do with their lunch choices. Maybe you discuss how food can affect your mood and performance. Maybe you inform them about athletes and their diet choices. Alternatively, your child loses their birthday money – you commiserate but you don’t offer to replace it. The result is a child who will make much better choices for themselves and whose ‘locus of control’ starts to become internal. This means that the child believes that his actions, beliefs and decisions are affecting what happens to him or her.
Ideally, as adults, our ‘locus of control’ is mostly internal. We know that our behavior and responses are directly under our control and that these affect what happens to us. However, some children do not get the guidance and nurturing they need in order to make wise decisions about how their behavior will affect themselves and others. When this happens you end up with an adult who has an ‘external locus of control’. This is where the person blames outside forces for everything – they have never been shown how they influence their own lives, which causes them to have ceded their power to others or external forces.
These people are likely to use language such as “He made me feel awful.” This statement does not recognize that absolutely no one controls your emotions and feelings but you. You can choose how to respond. However, I know from my work as a therapist that to some people this is a completely novel idea. “Of course he made me feel awful,” they will say, “look how he behaved.” My response is to point out that they could have chosen to laugh or ignore it or challenge it, or in extremis, to leave a destructive relationship. We then do role play where I enact the different responses. Many people are astonished by the number of different reactions I can display to the same scenario! The point obviously isn’t my dubious acting skills but to recognize that, as adults, we can choose to change how we respond and in turn get a different response or outcome.
Once someone has started to recognize where their ‘locus of control’ is external (and we all have some blaming behaviors – “my luck, the wind, that flat tire, the train schedule….”) and where these occur most; at work, at home, your close relationships, then they can start to behave in ways that “make sense” for them. There are no right or wrong responses to situations, just remember to ask yourself “Does this make sense for me?” and, to a lesser extent, depending on the circumstances “Does this make sense for others around me?”
We can’t help the up-bringing we received but as adults, we can take responsibility for our actions, beliefs and emotions and recognize how these affect us and others connected to us, both at home and at work. The more we practice reviewing our part in outcomes: No homework = poor grades. No cleaning = unhygienic house and maybe stomach upsets. Aggressive behavior = altercations and possibly police involvement, then the more likely we are to be able to take back control. We will be “in control” accepting the consequences of our actions. We won’t need controlling behaviors, where we try to make others behave in certain ways or do certain things because our responsible actions will bring us the sort of responses we want and if they don’t, we will be adult enough to realize that it is we who need to change not the other person. We will not be being controlled, either, because our responses and actions will make it clear that this is unacceptable to us. When your ‘locus of control’ is firmly in your hands then you are in control and anything is possible if you make it so.