Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Locus of Control

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“People who believe they have the power to exercise some measure of control over their lives are healthier, more effective, and more successful than those who lack faith in their ability to effect changes in their lives.”
-Albert Banduras

The terminology for what Banduras is talking about is internal and external locus of control. If you have an external locus of control, it means that you believe the power to effect change lies outside of you, that your destiny is not in your hands. If you have an internal locus of control, it means that you believe the power to effect change lies inside of you, that your destiny is in your hands.

You are likely to feel the greatest sense of well-being if you fall somewhere in the middle, that is, if you believe you have power to change yourself and your environment but are also consciously aware of the very real limitations to this power, limitations that all of us face as sentient organisms interacting in a complex world where many events, both natural and human made, are completely outside of our control.

We can rage all we want against the seeming unfairness of a situation where we can’t stop some things from happening, but this raging changes nothing about the situation and can lead to unconscious feelings of impotence when confronted with life events that we wish hadn’t occurred yet had no power over.

At the same time, attributing everything that happens to forces outside of your sphere of influence is a form of alienation where you take your own human powers and project them onto someone or something else in order to escape responsibility. If you can say and believe ‘It’s in God’s hands’, then you are not responsible for activating, not responsible for consequences, don’t have to make any difficult choices on your own, and therefore gain a powerful shield against existential anxiety.

This is why balance is important and why Banduras says ‘some measure of control’ instead of ‘complete control’. To deny the role that outside forces play, charging blindly forward with the mentality that you are the captain of your own ship, is a naive belief that might make you feel powerful but actually steals your power since it implies that the choices you make are not made with conscious awareness of actual limitations. It also means that you attribute power to yourself in situations where you probably had very little to do with things.

But if you feel very little ability to effect any change on yourself or your environment, one thing you can do is channel some of your energy into an artistic project, like photography, poetry, a musical piece, or a drawing. Creativity channeled into art is an act of power that cannot be denied since you are left with physical proof that that the world can indeed be changed in some ways by you, however small or seemingly insignificant this change might be. You will have created something where before there was nothing.

We can’t control everything that happens to us or around us, but we always retain the ability to respond to our situations as we see fit, and we always have choices about the path to take to lead to further self-actualization, creating through the process of becoming, proving that all of us do have some level of internal control as sentient human beings capable of thinking, planning, and acting.