Depression and Locus of Control

The concept of locus of control is huge and defines how we approach almost everything in life.  It is a thinking style that refers to how you perceive the cause of life's events. Do you believe that your destiny is controlled by you or by external forces such as luck, chance or fate? Locus of control is very closely tied to depression and hopelessness. Research studies in these areas have long exhibited a direct correlation between mood and these thinking patterns.

There are thought to be two types of locus of control:

  1. Internal Locus of control- This is the belief that our outcomes are contingent on what we do to make them happen- our own decisions and efforts. We tend to accept responsibility as well as credit for our actions. This orientation has been shown to generate more effort and willingness to take risk as well as be behind high motivation and perseverance. If good things happen, I deserve credit for my hard work or abilities, if something bad happens, it is due to something I did wrong or could have done better. 
  2. External Locus of Control-This is the belief that our outcomes are contingent on events outside our control- luck, chance or fate. When bad things happen or we behave in a poor fashion we tend not to take ownership of it.  "The government was late with my check, it wasn't my fault I needed money and had to rob the 7-11". On the flip side, if something good happens or we are successful at something we take no ownership of that either i.e., if we get a job we wanted we assume there were no other candidates or the employer was in a hurry to hire someone.

In general it is considered to be more psychologically healthy to possess a certain level of internal locus of control. Locus of control is largely a learned concept. It may be a response to circumstances and in the case of toxic environments it is easy to see where this may go haywire. In general people with a more internal locus of control tend to have better paying jobs, be more achievement oriented and more resilient in the face of adversity.

Perhaps you have been told by someone that you have no ability or are no good and worthless, chances are you then did not develop internal locus of control. You felt if something good happened it must be due to luck as you have no ability or innate worth. Not only parents are guilty of this message to young people but sometimes teachers and counselors as well.

If you were never held to task for actual bad behavior you may have developed an external locus of control.  You may also have developed a sense of entitlement.  Your ego may not be able to handle the thought of a mistake or failure of some sort. This usually stems from a deep seated feeling of insecurity and inferiority. Perhaps you have been given the message that your circumstances are due to other's greed, a faulty government or some other perceived unfairness.

It is actually healthy to have a bit of both thinking styles in your repertoire. If you fail and then tell yourself you are totally a loser when perhaps there were some extenuating circumstances then you are likely not to try again. If you are able to say, I did my best but it was hard due to lack of knowledge, or just some specific circumstance like weather you are more likely to believe you will experience success again in the future.

So where are you right now? Do you believe your outcomes so far in life have been a product of your own abilities, actions and ideas or have they been a set of random circumstances brought on by fate? Please take a minute and examine where you believe yourself to be. You need to be very honest here with yourself if you are examining less than ideal behaviors and kind to yourself if you have been doing nothing out of a belief that you are not able.

When something bad happens, you will be able to examine it to see where maybe you could have done better or where you made a mistake. We all make mistakes.  If something environmental was taking place it is ok to place some responsibility on that as well. I.e., it was raining and I couldn't get good footing in the race. I did not do well on my proposal because the kids were noisy and I couldn't concentrate. Then make sure next time you find a quiet place to work.  If there is something to be learned from the experience, learn it and move on. Don't beat yourself up and it's not the end of the world. Maybe you made a huge mistake and it cost you a relationship or savings account. You still have to move on and learn from it. If you lost your job because you showed up drunk, that is your fault and not due to the fact that your friends kept you up partying all night. It was your responsibility to get to work.

When something good happens, you will also be able to take credit for it. The great guy or girl is dating you because they like you not because there is no one else available. You got the job because you are qualified and obviously did well in the interview, not because there were no other applicants or the HR person was sick that day and wanted to get the process over with. You have a nice home because you worked hard to earn the money for it. Taking credit is fine. You are not bragging or being arrogant, its just the way it is. If someone or something else contributed to your success, gives them some credit too, there is enough to go around. But know that you created whatever the event was.

Once you master these two principles it simplifies life tremendously. It gives you the springboards to work from that are now clear. You will learn to remove the cognitive obstacles that keep you from living to your full potential or continuing to live in a cycle of defeatist behaviors. We waste time waiting for luck or chance if we are externally oriented. If we know we have some ability we can act now.  Once this concept is clear to you and you have examined and tweaked your locus of control many doors will open that were before closed.  Regardless of how your orientation came to be, it can now be right and you don't have to spend a lot of time on it.

Locus of control is a tool and a concept that you can master that opens up the world to you in a whole new light. I know you might think this sounds too simple but it is not. You may need to find a mentor, coach or therapist with knowledge in this area for some ongoing help as you identify your own patterns of thought and try to decide which ones stay and which ones go. Being armed with the tools to be in control of your life feels really good.  Locus of control is not a new psychological principle, it has been around for years.  Think of yourself as a student learning concepts that your parents couldn't or didn't teach you. Or maybe they did and you just didn't grasp the relevance to your life in that moment. You are not being asked to disregard or lose an important part of yourself or change your personality, you are simply adding a cognitive skill base that allows you to be happier and more productive and feel in control of yourself.

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