Psychologist Julian Rotter introduced and coined the term locus of control in the 1950’s. To put it simply, your locus of control is what you deem to have power over regarding the successes and failures in your life.
Do you believe that you have control over your life? Or instead do other forces such as God, authority figures, or those who appear to be more powerful have control over your life?
Controlling the Events in Your Life
Another term for locus of control is the Attribution Theory, a theory that describes how a person explains the events in his or her life. If, for example, you did poorly on your chemistry exam and you can admit that you did not study all the concepts covered in class or that you were distracted during your studying, you are exhibiting an internal locus of control and taking responsibility for your grade.
However, if you feel that your low grade is because the teacher does not like you or because the concepts are too hard or because you had an argument the morning of the exam, you are handing over a sense of power to external sources.
Having an internal center of control means that you believe in your ability to have control over the events in your life, to the degree that it is possible. This sense of internal power is considered to be the most psychologically healthy.
It is living life with a feeling of having command over the things that you are able to have command over. However, an external center of control leads to relinquishing self-control and self-determination to a power outside of you.
This is too often true for those who are in the cycle of addiction. Addiction is rooted in powerlessness. Ultimately, the addict hands over his or her power to the substance or behavior he or she is addicted to. Just as an individual might dismiss his power when he says that he failed the exam because of the teacher’s dislike of him, the addict is often completely ignorant of his or her power.
Substance Abuse Treatment
For those in substance abuse treatment, particularly drug addiction therapy, shifting from an external to an internal locus of control can play a pivotal role in healing. In fact, at the root of addiction is the attempt to gain something externally (through alcohol, drugs, work, sex, food, or another source) that one can only acquire from within.
Furthermore, men and women who are addicted to alcohol or drugs will tend to blame their addiction on an external source, such as a horrible childhood or an abusive relationship or the events of the past. An addict, in almost all cases, will believe that his or her addiction and problems are out of his or her control.
This is a critical point to apply to drug addiction therapy. It is crucial to note that in order for men and women to recover from an addiction, one’s locus of control must shift from external to internal.
If someone is blaming others for their addiction or finding cause for addiction on the outside, reclaiming a sense of power will be hard to do. However, taking responsibility and reclaiming that inner power is essential for recovery.
One of the most effective ways to make this external to internal shift is to return to the events prior to the addiction that may have stimulated a sense of powerlessness. Uncovering those events and circumstances can help reclaim internal power.
It’s important to make a distinction here: an event in the past is not the cause for an addiction and so it is not to be blamed; rather it is the effect of that experience that needs transforming.
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