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Locus of control, defence mechanisms and mental well-being

Locus of control, defence mechanisms and mental well-being
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Many a time, we wonder why we often fail at personal development, personal branding, social relationships (family, work romantic or friendship) etc. It could be as a result of unhealthy use of cognitive heuristics (Jay & Darwyn 1979) which is often an unintentional behavioural pattern. When we get to identify these behavioural patterns, we become mindful and respond in a healthier way to stress-inducing stimuli that may prompt us to resort to them (maladaptive cognitive processes) as a means of coping mechanisms. Being mindful and responding in healthy manners help our psychological and social functioning become more optimal and our growth becomes inevitably progressive. All of the great people we admire today have at some point read about these concepts in books or learned in particular seminars, so they have learned to do away with them or simply intentionally reduce their use of them. Set of constructive behaviours build a better and happier life for us.

Below is an explanation of how our personal growth and mental well-being is inhibited by the unhealthy use of locus of control and defence mechanisms.

Locus of control

Locus of Control is a construct that is said to be part of our personality (Rotter, 1966). It is a continuum which runs from a strong external locus of control at one end of the continuum to a strong internal locus of control at the other end (Drew, 2018). The basic idea of locus of control is that it describes the extent an individual feels in control of what happens to them and the extent to which they, as an individual, can influence changes in their own life. For instance, their ability to alter maladaptive thought process, decision making, their current financial position, their grades in school etc.

A strong external locus of control describes when someone believes what happens to them is luck or fate and that they are not in control of their life; it is all due to external forces in their environment (for example other people) (Drew, 2018). Some people believe that whatever comes their way is majorly influenced by external factors. For example, a person who often fails exams might attribute the failure to the lecturer’s sadistic attitude, a person who faces intense financial struggle might attribute the struggle to the government or to the fate determined by a Supreme power. The latter may truly exist but to believe that such power is directly responsible for our personal choices may reduce our ability to be proactive in causing significant changes in our personal lives. Strong external locus of control usually aggravates marital, financial and social problems. The psychological implication is that a person may develop low self-esteem because even if good things happen to them, they attribute it to external influences. However, this may reduce overwhelming feelings of anxiety and depression because it makes people feel whatever happens is not influenced by them. With strong external locus of control, a person who notices say, anti-social behaviours in his or her child may ignore the fact that a psychologist or mental health professional needs to be seen because usually these professionals often talk people into actions meanwhile many of these people believe personal problems are caused by external factors. Therefore they may prefer to see a priest who would confirm their belief that the problems are triggered by external forces.

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External locus of control as a method of perceiving the world reduces our power and ability to control the controllable situations in our lives. It renders us helpless and insecured. It causes a person to be excited easily by external influences; people who have anger problems often adopt external locus of control. Another instance is a business owner who only needs to gather some marketing skills to boost his or her business, will rather focus on altering external factors perceived to be causing the hindrance, e.g, he or she may seek ways to sabotage his or her competitors or collecting some diabolical items to keep in the business arena.  A society where they suffer from socio-economic problems tends to constitute many individuals that use more of this locus of control. They take everything as it comes believing that they are only passively existing and that things they experience have nothing to do with their personal decisions, choices, perception etc. This may also affect conflicts, for instance, within a family context. When something goes wrong, every person believes it’s the fault of someone else; therefore, they take no responsibility for the situation.

Meanwhile, if each person takes the responsibility, issues get resolved easily and progressives changes are conspicuous.  A boss or colleague at work who often points fingers is demonstrating external locus of control. Obviously, this external locus of control is logical enough to provide justifications for many problems in the society attributable to aggregate of behavioral problems. The truth of the matter is that the more we realize we in a way influence how our lives evolve as we exist, the more control we have over situations in our lives and the more progressive our personal growth is  To live a more harmonious and successful life, a person must understand when blame is to be shared, when others truly need to be truly scolded and when we are meant to take a blame and ensure we play active roles  in alleviating the circumstance.

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A strong internal locus of control describes someone who believes they are in control of what happens to them (Drew, 2018). As an example, imagine ‘Temy’ does not do well in an examination, she may say that it is because she didn’t work hard enough, and should have revised more, this would mean she has an internal locus of control because she sees herself as to blame for the failure. Conversely, she could say that it was because the teacher couldn’t teach and the exam was not fair. This would suggest that she has an external locus of control and sees external reasons for the failure.

Internal locus of control causes a person to feel utterly feel responsible for both fair and unfair situations in their lives. This has more advantage because people who utilize this locus of control may easily be prompted to take proactive measures to improve their lives. Another psychological implication is that, it causes a person to feel overly overwhelmed by unfavourable situations so this may trigger symptoms of depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), other personality disorders etc.For instance, a person may always criticize themselves for almost everything that goes wrong in their lives. They may give little chance for others to take responsibility for situations, this could result into interpersonal deficiency, meaning that they may avoid relationships because they believe they are not enough. They rarely get satisfied about things, they internalise every issue. This is usually toxic for mental and physical health. Also, this locus of control might reflect ostentatious behaviors in that a person may attribute their success to their personal efforts. They exaggerate their abilities, and this may offend others.

To stay healthy is to use both external and internal locus of control moderately. Pay attention to every situation and understand when personal factors have influenced a situation or when to internalize the issues, and when the external factors need to be altered to suit our well-being. However, it is vital to understand that our internal characteristics (attitudes, personality etc.)  have major influence on our perceptions of and reactions to events. Therefore, for optimal functioning, we must focus on our personal growth and improve our cognitions.

Defense mechanisms

In addition to providing an explanation for how our maladaptive behaviors cause life problems that impede our growth, Freud proposed several defense mechanisms that have been observed to be used by humans to alleviate anxiety triggered by conflicts between inner forces (supergo that represents moral principles and id that represents impulsive drives). All these defense mechanisms will be explained in detail in my subsequent posts. The inner conflicts and anxiety are not major causes of psychological disorders, but they may do so when a particular defense mechanism is relied on too heavily (Robin & Stephen, 2011).  Defense mechanisms are cognitive strategies frequently employed by the ego which work to transform the conflicts in a way that prevents unacceptable thoughts and feelings from reaching consciousness. If successful, defense mechanisms can immediately decrease anxiety.

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For instance, someone may ascribe anxiety inducing thoughts onto others. This is known as projection, e.g, instead of admitting that you don’t like to work with others, you convince yourself and others that particular persons don’t like to work with others. This projection may explain misconceptions and other interpersonal problems. It causes trust issues in a relationship (e.g., romantic, work, friendship etc.).  Adopting this excessively may also lead to paranoia or anxiety disorder which have adverse effects on our well-being.

It is important to pay attention to our thoughts and ensure we confirm our assumptions by engaging in prompt communication that gives room for free sincere expressions and why another defense mechanism that is often adopted is denial. This is the failure to acknowledge the anxiety inducing thoughts. For example, a person who exhibits intense mood swings and shows other symptoms of bipolar disorder may refuse to accept that his or her behavioral are maladaptive. This would prevent insight into the problem and seeking or accepting intervention does not happen.

Understand areas of your lives you will like to improve on, you may be experiencing problem in those areas of your life because of particular unhealthy behaviours you exhibit. Then you need to identify some of your behaviors that are not productive nor healthy, then pay attention to replacing such unproductive behaviors with healthy and productive ones. For instance, if you find yourself getting overly emotional; angry or sad, and you also don’t seem to perform well socially, spiritually and or academically. You may firstly need to gain insight into psychological factors such as your perception, emotional regulation etc. When you focus on alleviating your maladaptive psychological constructs (cognitions, emotions, attitudes etc.) your behaviours become more constructive and productive. You will then begin to experience conspicuous positive changes in your life.


Drew, H., (2018). Locus of Control.Tutor2U Psychology. Retrieved from:

Jay, B., & Darwin E., (1979). Psychology Today; An Introduction. United States of America.

Robin, S., & Stephen M., (2011). Abnormal Psychology. New York

Rukayyah Abdulrahman

Rukayyah Abdulrahman

I am motivated by activities that involve solving problems that relate to human functioning, I love to learn, I am open minded and I love to explore.View Author posts

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