Managing Stress with Locus of Control (L.O.C)

Businessman trying to stop domino effect

Locus of control is an individual’s belief system regarding the cause of his or her experiences, Managing stress with Locus of Control (L.O.C)

An important factor contributing to the psychological distress in our lives is our perception of the amount of control we have over the circumstances and events that occur in our lives. Much of what happens in our lives is out of our control: from the traffic on the road, to the loss of a dear one – life is full of uncertainty and unpredictability. There are, of course, many things well within our control such as an approach to life we pursue and the way we treat those around us.

The constant means of control that is available to us is our OPINION/CHOICE to react to a particular situation regardless of how terrible the circumstances are.

The need for control could be a survival skill that has evolved in us from our evolutionary history. The more our primitive ancestors could control their environment, the more likely they were to survive. However, in modern society, most of our basic needs are taken care of and there is no threat to our basic survival. But still, the desire to control all aspects of our lives is deeply embedded in our psyche.

Whether or not this desire for control causes us stress, depends on where this need is centered. The psychological concept of LOCUS OF CONTROL is helpful to understand this.

Locus of control is an individual’s belief system regarding the cause of his or her experiences and also the factors to which that person attributes success or failure.

Do we have control over what happens to us? To what extent can we influence the events that occur in our lives? The term locus of control seeks to differentiate two ways of thinking—the belief that some people are able to control the end results of their lives versus the belief that outside factors have the greatest effect and individuals cannot determine the situation. An internal and external locus of control is at play amongst the mankind.

Internal Locus of Control

Internal locus of control is from the construct that one has control over their life. Their actions are the influence of both good and bad outcomes. For instance, someone with a strong internal locus of control would claim that their career progression is due to hard work.

A High internal locus of control is optimal, as it is related to increased success and motivation. People with a high internal locus of control are least bothered by the opinions of others. They accept responsibility for their successes and failures even in the case of unfavorable outcomes.

Internal Locus of Control : Personality Characteristics:

  • Hard- working— Always trying to achieve goals and putting all possible efforts.
  • Confident— Using the skills and knowledge required to face challenges.
  • Responsible— Holding themselves answerable for successes and their mistakes or failures.
  • Positive— Feeling happy, peaceful, and relaxed in the long run because the more you feel in control of the situation, the minimal amount of stress is there to handle.
  • Independent— Not dependent on others for success.
  • Studious— Enhancing knowledge, skills & attitude as it contributes to reducing obstacles.
  • High self-esteem— Respectful of oneself and being confident of your abilities.


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External Locus of Control

External locus of control is from the construct that the outcomes of life are beyond personal control. Whether good or bad, uncontrollable factors within the environment dictate events. It is often compared to our destiny. For instance, someone with external locus of control would assume they didn’t have career progression because they did not have adequate connections or that they failed their last test because the questions were from the material, the teacher didn’t assign.

Operating under a high external locus of control is usually not perceived as productive. People with an external locus of control blame someone or some external factors for their failures, yet attribute success to mere chance. Thus they do not deeply analyze situations and this creates an inclination to refrain from action.

External Locus of Control : Personality Characteristics

  • Insecure— Confidence level is low, doubt their own abilities to achieve difficult goals.
  • Dependent— Reliance on others for tasks, though they’re capable of doing it without any assistance.
  • Hopeless— Experiencing emotions like “what’s the point” or feeling that any response to a life event is futile.
  • Passive— Resigning effort to surmount challenges because their actions won’t make a difference in the outcome.
  • Indecisive— Events don’t seem to be analyzed to the fullest, causing difficulty in making concrete decisions.

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Correlation between Stress & Control

When undergoing stress, I can ask myself: what are the choices that I can make right now? Can I conquer my fear of stage before making a presentation? or Can I get my dream job? Can I embark on day trips to new places and rejuvenate emotionally?

While none of the above actions resolve conflict, they do emanate control.

When experiencing stress, we don’t always have total control — we can’t control every situation and we certainly cannot control people. And although the need to control is significant, we can still exert control over how we react to stressors, and we can still utilize choice in other aspects of our lives.

The figure below helps to clarify this point:

Business concept vector illustration of a businessman trying to stop domino effect

Hence, the more control an Individual has over the environment with the stressor, the less likely his/her response to it will be negative and take the shape of ‘distress.’

To summarize, this theory argues that subjective perception plays a big role in determining the type of stress that will result from an environmental stressor, as well as a person’s emotional response to it.

Here, the more control an individual has over the environment in which the stressor is located, the less likely that his response to it will be negative (and take the shape of ‘distress’, alongside the physical symptoms that characterize that type of stress response).

Those with a higher internal locus of control tend to feel happier, free and less stressed. They also enjoy better health (as they experience less of the damaging chronic stress that can come from being powerless) and are more satisfied with life in general.

However not surprisingly, it is also seen that those with an extremely high external locus of control are more vulnerable to depression, as well as other health problems as they tend to stay in situations where they feel powerless in case of their inability to vary the circumstances, which adds to their stress load.

So, in a nutshell locus of control is an important personality variable in relation to coping with stressful life events. Hence an understanding of stress reactions requires knowledge about how an individual conceptualizes his/her ability to control events and also the Importance of accepting one’s inability to control each and every external factor that exist in the given situation.

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