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Locus of Control

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

Let’s start with a brief description of the locus of control. Locus of control is a personality orientation characterized either by the belief that one can control events by one's own efforts (internal locus of control) or that the future is determined by forces outside one's control (external locus of control). The concept of the locus of control was developed by psychologist Julian Rotter, who devised the Internal-External Locus of Control Scale (I-E) to assess this dimension of personality. There is also research that shows a correlation of the locus of control and self-efficacy, but more on self-efficacy with another blog post.

Locus of control can be developed through our life experiences, childhood and beyond. We are conditioned based on our interactions with the world. Think classical conditioning and Ivan Pavlov’s research with salivation and dogs. Pairing a neutral stimulus with a natural response conditioned the dog to respond to the neutral stimuli. How does this relate to locus of control?

· Internal locus of control means that we have been conditioned to see connections between our internal emotional responses and the things that happen to us are in our own control. Our own emotions and processes tell us we had something to do with the good thing that happened, or the bad thing that happened or going to happen. It is like being accountable. Being accountable that we are responsible for our part in our experiences, gives us more ability to make positive or sustainable changes. Being able to see our experiences this way means we have an internal locus of control.

· External locus of control means that we are conditioned to see connections to how we feel with external factors making us feel that way. Our emotional processes are controlled by what is happening around us, or outside of us. If something good or bad happens or is going to happen, it is because of external factors. This can show a lack of accountability. We don’t take accountability for our actions and blame outside factors. It is possible to feel somewhat helpless when we believe or see that our environment (people, places, things) dictate our happiness and or success in or with life.

One area that we can look at with the locus of control is emotional regulation. Emotional regulation is part of our executive functioning. There are several conditions or experiences that can affect our executive functioning. Conditions such as anxiety, depression, trauma, attention barriers, brain injury, attachment barriers and chronic pain all show potential difficultly with emotional regulation. When working with emotional regulation, we don’t need to focus on what or if a condition is connected to the difficulty. One can work on their own personal experiences currently or from their past to better their emotional regulation by first identifying our locus of control. This can aid in progression to what experiences we are striving to reach.

Something that comes to mind for me when I think about the locus of control is our need to have meaningful interactions and sustainable happiness. I think of this in connection to the locus of control because having an internal locus of control means that we are more aware of ourselves and what influence we have in our lives. Having an external locus of control means that we allow our environment to determine our internal experiences.

If we are at peace with ourselves, we project that outward. If we are not at peace, it is more possible for these outside factors to be internalized into negative feelings, which gets projected outward. Regardless of what locus of control you identify with, you can use it to make changes that would make you feel sustained and to reach you goals.

Here are some self-assessments that can give you an idea of your locus of control:

Resources used for this blog:


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