Perhaps the deepest need people have is for a sense of control. From an evolutionary standpoint, if we are in control of our environment, then we have a far better chance of survival. We strive to control our basic Maslowian physiological needs for food, health and shelter. Being ill or the threat of homelessness often evokes a terrible sense of being out of control.
The need for control is for a sense or feeling of control, not just simply for control. When we feel out of control, we (actually, our egos) experience a powerful and uncomfortable tension between the need for control and the inadequate evidence of control. This tension is about holding and working the opposites of chaos and rigidity. When we want to gain some control we become more rigid. And, when we allow more chaos or uncertainty, we give away some of the control.
Besides the need for control over basic conditions, we also desire control over a sense of certainty, the completion of outstanding things (so we don’t have to worry about them), an understanding of how things work, being able to predict what will happen, and feeling that people and situations are consistent.
We tend to attribute control in our lives either internally (“I have control.”) or externally (“Others control my life.”). People with an internal locus of control are more proactive and self-motivated. They believe that they have some sense of control over and are responsibility for what happens in their lives, leading to a feeling of self-efficacy and inner authority.
The sense of control is closely related to power. Having power means having a sense of control, having choices and having the ability to influence our environment and others. It is important to respectfully assert our power in order to get our wants and needs met.
However, this sense of control can take an omnipotent form in that we may feel responsible for everything and everybody. We may feel that everyone depends upon us and that we are responsible for other’s happiness. We may feel guilty if any neglect on our part may cause others any distress.
People with an external locus of control actively seek parent or authority figures (e.g., partners, employers, friends, experts) who will provide a sense of control in one or more areas of their lives. This leads to passivity, helplessness, powerlessness, even victimization, and a belief in fate or luck. With this perception comes frustration with life, a fear of change, an inability to move forward, and difficulty in making decisions. Are we still blaming our parents, bosses or others for our situation?
Internalizing a locus of control is part of the process of growing up and is achieved by recognizing and embracing our inner authority. One step in internalizing is accepting that life ‘is-what-it-is’ through the act of surrendering.