Locus of control

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Things happen in our day to day lives, some of them good and some of them bad. The same event can happen to two people yet their interpretation of the event, and subsequently how they deal with it, can differ. This is not about whether someone is thinking positively or negatively, although that does impact how someone will view and respond to a situation. I’m talking about whether a person believes they are responsible for and in control of what happened or whether they believe it was fate or chance, due to someone or something external, that they have no control over it. This is known as locus of control.

According to Wikipedia, the locus of control is “the degree to which individuals believe that they have control over the outcome of events in their lives, as opposed to external forces beyond their control.”

Someone is said to have an internal locus of control (ILOC) if they believe that they can control their own life. They tend to be quite autonomous and take responsibility for their success as well as their problems. This means that when things go wrong, they are more inclined to blame themselves but when things go well, they credit themselves and recognise the role they played in bringing it about.

Someone is said to have an external locus of control (ELOC) if they believe that their life is controlled by outside factors which they are unable to influence. They tend to be quite dependent and do not take responsibility for their own successes or problems. When something bad happens, they are more inclined to blame other people and when things go well, they credit others or say it was just luck.

When I had chronic back pain, for the first few years, my locus of control was external. I felt like I had no control over my pain, it had control over me. I put the responsibility on to my doctor’s to discover the problem, carry out tests, provide medication and other treatment options in order to get rid of my pain. I did nothing to help my pain because I believed that there was nothing I could do, only the doctors could fix me! Whilst attending a pain management course, my locus of control changed. I couldn’t tell you at what point that happened or how it occurred, I just know it did (although I didn’t know it was called that at the time). I realised that there were things that I could do to help reduce my pain in addition to that which I was receiving from the doctors. I took responsibility for my condition and started to make changes. I increased my activity levels, started socialising more, doing things that I enjoyed, and practising relaxation techniques and self-hypnosis. My mood improved which had a positive effect on my perception of the pain and I started to feel more hopeful and positive. Having an external locus of control prolonged my pain and discomfort and when the shift to an internal locus of control occurred, things got better fast.

When people come to see me with persistent pain, anxiety or depression, for example, they often feel that they do not have control of what goes on around them and therefore they remain stuck.

The therapy process, like the pain management programme I went on, can help to shift the locus of control from external to internal so that you feel empowered, take responsibility for improving your mental health and start to reap the benefits.