In therapy, we have an idea called the locus of control.
Locus means “position, point, or place,” and your locus of control is basically the place where your emotional control comes from. Your locus of control can be internal or external, but everyone has one.
Having an external locus of control means that whatever is controlling your emotions is outside of your own self. An external locus of control makes statements like “You make me so angry!” or “I get sad when you don’t listen to me.” Do either of these sound familiar? An external locus of control relies on others to feel okay.
An internal locus of control means that you are the one in charge of your emotions no matter what happens around you. You are able to respond appropriately to events, but you are able to choose how you feel. If the two statements above were reworked to have an internal locus of control, they would acknowledge the same emotion with a different reaction.
The first statement “You make me so angry!” could turn into a direct request- “When you come home late, please text me so I know you’re okay,” or “Please clean your room the first time I ask. If you can’t clean it by lunch, we’ll donate the toys you can’t find a home for.” The statement “You make me so angry!” doesn’t tell the other person what needs to be different. It’s also inaccurate. You are the only one with control over yourself and your emotions. Nobody else has the power to make you angry, only you can do that. In addition, nothing gets solved. An internal locus of control acknowledges that you’re feeling anger in response to the situation, whether it’s because your partner is late or your child isn’t cleaning their room, but instead of reacting in anger you’re able to proactively ask for change that can resolve the situation.
The second statement is one I hear a lot from parents. They’re trying to emotionally manipulate their children or partners into behaving the way they want. The problem is, we can’t control others and most people resent being manipulated. “I get sad when you don’t listen to me” doesn’t teach your child or partner to listen to you, it only teaches them that they can easily control your emotions with their actions. An internal locus of control sees the sad feelings that come up when others seem not to hear you, but it doesn’t blame others for your sadness. Instead, an internal locus of control would say something like “This is really important to me and I’d like to talk to you without the TV on” or “When we need to leave the park, I’d appreciate it if you would come and help me pack up the toys when I ask you, especially when I’ve given you a five minute warning.”
During the process of therapy, I teach people how to move their locus of control from external to internal. This is especially important for people who are sensitive to the emotions of others or who tend to overreact to situations.
Say to yourself, “I am in charge of how I feel.” Try to notice when you make statements that give others control of your emotions. With your observations, pay attention to who has control of your feelings if it’s not you. Many times, we have a certain person we give control to. It’s usually a parent, partner, or child- someone close to us who knows how to push our buttons.
Carefully consider how you are going to take back control of your emotions. When you are feeling calm and separated from the situation, look back and try to figure out what you really want and come up with a way to ask for what you need without giving up control of your emotions. Whether you need better communication, firmer boundaries, or just some peace and quiet, you are the only one in charge of your emotions and you are the one responsible for making sure you get your needs met.
Just like you can’t control others, they can’t really control you- it just seems like they can sometimes. Others can’t read your mind to know what you want out of a situation, you need to ask for what you want in a way that doesn’t blame them for what you’re feeling.