External vs. Internal Loci of Control

What is it?

       Loci of Control is the place where an individual believes that their behavior and behavior of others is controlled.  Someone with an Internal Locus of Control will see behavior as coming from themselves.  They are the ones responsible and cause of behavior.  This can be positive, as someone  with this can take initiative to solve their own problems (when it is their own fault), however this can be dangerous when, like in the case of many divorces, the young teen places the blame on themselves for their parents split.  Overly internalized locus of control makes one neurotic. 
       External Locus of Control is the opposite.  It has the individual placing the blame on others for their behavior and the behavior of others.  External loci of control see their lives and everything they do as the object of fate, luck or other objects such as teachers, police, employers.   For instance, a bad grade is because the teacher hates them, and not because the student was out all night and never studied for the class.  Or your Senior Pastor is mad at you because he doesn’t get youth, not because you held an all-nighter on Saturday night and left the church with popcorn shards strewn throughout the sanctuary leaving the custodian a mess he couldn’t clean before church started. 

How am I managing it?

      The most important thing about this concept is placing events into the correct categories and having those around you who are aware enough to help you determine how to manage loci of control.  With proper identification of loci of control, one can effectively manage their (and other) behavior.

In Myself?

     In yourself, as a youth pastor, you need to be able to determine when you need to take ownership of your own actions, and recognize when you need to own your actions.  Having an internal loci of control that is healthy recognizes that you may not be able to change some things (a parents predisposition), but will help you understand that predisposition and create ways to handle that parent in a way that soothes their anxiety.
     Demonstrating an external loci of control may be healthy as well (at times).  It recognizes attendance swings in your youth program may be seasonal, and sometimes caused by big events in the community, not because you are a horrible leader.  However, an excessive locus of control that puts the responsibility on others when it really is yours is not good.  If you leave a kid somewhere, you need to take ownership for that, placing blame on other things won’t get you off the hook.  Likewise, you will get respect from Pastors if you own your mistakes early and take action to fix the problem with their guidance. 

With Others?

    When dealing with someone with an internal locus of control that’s healthy, it is easier to lead them along the lines of Matthew 18 accountability.   If someone is having an excessive internalized loci of control often have a neurotic obsession with controlling all variables.  Learning to trust in others, and the Holy Spirit can help push this person back to a more centralized locus of control.  There are occasions where taking their belief they are at fault for things to an extreme can help this person recognize the absurdity of their beliefs.   
    If someone has a strong external locus of control, they fail to see how their behavior affect others and cause consequences.  This often is more prevalent the younger the individual.  What I have found that helps this individual ascertain a better internal locus of control, is to list on a piece of paper, A – antecedents (settings) things that went on before the event (needing to study for the test), B- behaviors – (them taking a test with or without studying) and C- consequences- what happened as a result of the behaviors (B) given what they needed to do (A).  Having the individual put this down on paper, for themselves with a mentor can help them see that it may not be the teachers fault, and may be their own.  It may also help them realize they had nothing to do with the poor outcome. 

I found on this website a tool that helps see how strongly  you are wired internally or externally. 

2 Responses to External vs. Internal Loci of Control

  1. Brandon says:

    I like this internal vs. external discussion. Where would you place a student who blames ADD or some problem (weight, addictions) that lies within themselves but believes the solution is out of their control?

    How one processes culpability can lead to anger and depression, or joy and peace. I appreciate hearing thoughts from a fellow youth minister/social worker.

  2. Matt Murphy says:

    I would do the A _ B _ C chart mentioned above. you take them to the point of their behavior, and how that leads to poor consequences. Generally I state, behavior X isn't working for you right now, so what could you do instead… Or asking, when you are able to do (desired behavior) what does it look like? (encourage them to do more of the same) and what doesn't work (stop doing it, try something different, normally radically different).

    Demonstrating an understanding of the struggle and naming it rather than the individual as cause of misbehavior helps minimize the guilt trip. I also emphasize that I still think they're cool, etc, but we need to find ways to help this kid, not get into trouble…

    My example revolves around a kid who was misbehaving abnormally poorly. I took the time to get the background that the parents finally signed the divorce papers, being able to name what was causing the behaviors with the kid (The A in the chart), helped shed light (and empathy) on the B – behavior, and enabled me to meet the C-consequence in a manner where the kid knew I had his back, yet his behavior wasn't kosher.

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