What comes to your mind when you hear the word control? Is it positive or negative? Do you think about the control (or lack of) that you feel you have in your life? Do you think about people you would consider to be controlling? Control can be positive or negative, depending on how we use it. In fact, we need to feel we have some level of control over our lives in order to take responsibility and have motivation.

When I first learned about the idea of locus of control (the degree to which we perceive we have control over events), I learned about it in two extremes. On the one extreme was feeling that we had control over results and situations in our lives (internal locus of control). The other extreme was feeling that fate or others determine the results (external locus of control).

Recently I read we now know that locus of control actually happens in a spectrum rather than just two extremes – which seems more accurate and healthy. If we rigidly held to one extreme or the other we’d be believing what’s called a control fallacy – either seeing ourselves as helpless to others and/or fate, or seeing everything that happens as a result of something we did. The reality is there are some things we can control and some things we can’t control. One thing we can always control (even when we’re in a situation that we can’t control) is our response. One thing that we cannot control is other people.

Next time you’re in a situation that is affecting you negatively, try to become aware of your perspective – are you thinking you have control or don’t have control – then examine how accurate your original thought is. Sift through what aspects you have control of and what aspects you don’t. Remember that you always have control over your response. Sometimes that might mean finding another way to meet your need or address hurt when the other person in the situation won’t change. Remember that healthy control doesn’t need to take control from someone else. My next article will give some practical examples of when we step into controlling others (often unintentionally) and what we can do differently in those situations.


By: Adrienne Kather, LPC