How to Internalize a Locus of Control

 

How to Internalize a Locus of Control, a Locus of Authority and a Locus of Security

A Follow-Up Essay

 

“Among my patients from many countries, all of them educated persons, there is a considerable number who came to see me not because they were suffering from a neurosis but because they could find no meaning in their lives or were torturing themselves with questions which neither our philosophy nor our religion could answer.”               Jung (1932)[1]

 

            This essay is the result of a query that came to me via e-mail from a reader of the earlier 4-part essay posted to this blog site, “Components of Individuation.”[2] That essay is archived on the site and I encourage you to read the original essay if you haven’t already done so.

            The question that was posed to me was how to go about internalizing the loci of control, authority and security. At the time I got the e-mail I sent back a reply off-the-cuff. But I knew the subject warranted a more thoughtful response. Here it is. We’ll take up the three loci in turn and focus on practical actions, rather than concepts or theories.

 

How to Internalize a Locus of Control

 

            The first step in internalizing a locus of control is so basic that it might seem obvious: Determine if this is, indeed, your situation. Do you externalize your locus of control? There are several ways you can find out.

            If you are familiar with your natal chart and can handle astrological symbols, or if you have access to a psychologically-trained astrologer, you can spot predilections toward externalizing a locus of control in hard aspects (conjunctions, squares and oppositions) involving Uranus or Neptune to the Sun or Mars.[3] If you have such an aspect (and especially if you have more than one), you have a clue that the task of internalizing a locus of control is something your soul chose to take on. It represents a major growth path for you in this lifetime.

            Another way to determine if you externalize a locus of control is by reflecting on certain questions, e.g. “Do I feel powerless in dealing with the major elements of life—my job, family issues, relationships, decision-making?” “Am I open to change, or willing to reconfigure some of the major parts of my life?”  Many people who externalize a locus of control have little or no sense of their own power (and our culture encourages this sense of powerlessness). They externalize their locus of control because they feel powerless. Or they fear change and know intuitively that internalizing a locus of control would require major shifts in their relationships, work life, goals and ambitions.

            A third way to determine if you externalize a locus of control is by observing  patterns in your life. You can spot these patterns by asking yourself: “Do I often feel stuck in my life, because of the presence or actions of someone else?” “Do I often feel frustrated, and think that life would be much better if such-and-such person were not doing thus-and-so?” “Do I often recognize that something is not working in my life, but I feel like I can’t do anything about it?” “Do I have the habit of blaming others when things don’t go right for me?” “Did my parent/s (one or both) externalize a locus of control?” (i.e. did they have the habit of blaming others for what happened to them?). The key here is a pattern. Almost everyone can spot a time or two in life when he or she felt stuck, powerless, frustrated or accusing of parents, but it doesn’t become a habit. It’s not a pattern that goes on for years on end. Those who have a problem with externalizing a locus of control have patterns of behavior that have become habitual.

            If your observations, reflections and natal chart suggest you do externalize a locus of control, what might you do to internalize it? First (and most crucial) you have to want to change. As noted above, shifting from externalizing to internalizing a locus of control will entail some major reconfigurations, in your relationships, in your attitudes, in your work life, and in your sense of yourself. You must be open to making these shifts, even though you will not be able to be sure just how the whole shift will play out. (This is one reason the growth path is only for heroes: there’s no certain outcome).

            Second, you have to believe you can change. This can be hard if you come out of a dysfunctional family, with parents who were weak, negligent, or dependent (on you, others, the booze or the pill bottle). Such parents give you no positive model to grow toward. But neither do they have to seem an indelible stain forever thwarting your achieving fulfillment. You can choose how you perceive your parents and your past, which brings up a third point.

            Perception is a choice, and you can choose to see your personal history in positive ways or in ways that keep you stuck. You can choose to see people in your life as the cause of your problems and wait for them to change so you can improve your situation. Or you can choose to see yourself as the active agent creating the reality you live in and then choose to make the changes necessary to improve things.

            Fourth, spotting the “blame game” is a big part of stopping it. The “blame game” shows up when we find ourselves thinking things like: “I could do a lot with my life, if only my father hadn’t been a drop-dead drunk.” or “I could keep the kids fed and the rent paid if Joe didn’t spend most of his paycheck at the local bar.” What happened to you as a child is not your fault. But what you allow to continue, when it is no longer serving your growth and welfare, is your fault. The “blame game” is not a game for grown-ups.

            Internalizing a locus of control is part of the process of growing up, recognizing your power and moving into it. Our culture is very confused and immature about the nature and stages of power. Our society regards power as a “zero-sum thing.”[4] That is, if I have power, then you don’t. If you have it, then I don’t. But in reality power is like love: the more we share it and empower others, the more power there is in the world.[5]

Power also has stages.[6] At the lowest level of consciousness is the stage of powerlessness, the level of the small child completely dependent on adults for his/her survival, without any measure of control over his/her environment. If a person gets to the age of majority still living at this stage, he or she surely has an externalized locus of control. The second level of power is “power by association.”[7] At this stage a person feels powerful through some close association to someone else who clearly is powerful. The wife of the CEO of a huge corporation, the aide to the President, the Pope’s secretary—these people have power through their personal relationship to a person of power. The third level of power is “power by symbols.”[8] The “symbols” here are things like the corner office, the private jet, the chauffeured limousine—all perquisites our society associates with persons of power and wealth. The billionaires of Forbes magazine would be examples of people at this level of power. This is the level of power at which mainstream culture operates.

But there are 3 higher levels of power, levels that we reach only through some event or experience that shifts us out of the conventional values and norms of our culture, to allow us to re-perceive reality. For Al Gore, this event was the near-death experience of his son Albert. In the days in the hospital, unsure if his son would live or die, Gore realized that life was more than campaign victories, fame and fortune.[9] In my own life, the event was a series of dreams that led me to give up everything in my life and find a new, more authentic path.[10] Such events lead to a redefining of what “power” means, and this brings us to the fourth level, “power by reflection.”[11] In this reflecting process, we come to realize that true power is not something “out there,” in relationships with powerful people, or a myriad of status symbols. It is all about “in here,” who I am, what I stand for, what my values are, who and what are dear to me. Beyond “power by reflection” is “power by purpose,”[12] a level that derives from a clear attunement to one’s mission in life, one’s purpose for being alive. At this stage, we know what we are meant to do; we have clarity of vision and concrete goals that give a compelling sense of direction and energy to our daily lives. We live authentically who we are and we work tirelessly to empower others. The final stage is what Janet Hagberg calls “power by gestalt,”[13] the level of power of the sage or avatar. Few people are at this level: Christ, Buddha, perhaps Sai Baba or Mother Meera.

Those who externalize a locus of control live at either stage 1 or stage 2 power. These are immature stages, stages not appropriate to an adult. This is in part what we mean when we describe internalizing a locus of control as part of the process of growing up.

 Another step in internalizing a locus of control is coming to accept that life is what it is. Jung wrote about this in a quote that I used in the earlier essay:

There are a whole lot of facts in your letter which you’ll just have to face up to instead of tracing them back to the faulty behavior of other people…. There are countless people with an inferior extraversion or with too much introversion or with too little money who in God’s name must plod along through life under such conditions. These conditions are not diseases but normal difficulties of life. If you blame me for your psychological difficulties it won’t help you at all, for it is not my fault you have them. It’s nobody’s fault. I can’t take these difficulties away from you, but have merely tried to make you aware of what you need in order to cope with them. If you could stop blaming other people and external circumstances for your own inner difficulties you would have gained an infinite amount. But if you go on making others responsible, no one will have any desire to stand by you with advice.[14]

None of us has had a perfect past. None of us has a perfect life now. Adults face up to the reality they live in and deal with it. This is a choice. The young woman to whom Jung wrote was clearly playing the “blame game,” and he called her on it, because he knew she would get nowhere in terms of personal growth if she kept it up.

            Sometimes we fall into the “blame game” and hesitate to break out of family patterns from unconscious loyalty to or identification with one or both of our parents. It is often difficult to gain sufficient objectivity to see this for ourselves. This is where it is useful to work closely with our dreams (which can reveal this over time) or with an analyst, who is likely to spot this as the analysis goes on. If you achieve the insight that this is true for you, you need to understand that it is not being “disloyal” to be or live differently from your parents. You need not continue to identify with a parent if doing so brings you frustration, unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. Sometimes all that is needed in this case is to become conscious of this reality and give oneself permission to change.

            Another component of internalizing a locus of control is letting go of the fear of alienating or being criticized by family. “If I make this shift, they will no longer accept me.” This is a valid fear and one that must be faced, because it is an inextricable part of the spiritual path, as Jesus recognized.[15] Growing up sometimes means growing away, and this is especially true if the family matrix was pathological. To take this step, it is very helpful to have others—therapist, counselor, understanding friends, teachers—to provide support and encouragement. As Larry Wilson said, “You have to do it yourself, but you can’t do it alone.”[16] Linking up with like-minded people who are also into personal growth and development can be essential if you must grow away from your family of origin.

            Finally, in this whole process it is important and very helpful to recognize the presence and power of the Self. We all have within a spark of the Divine. Jung called this “the Self.”[17] It is that part of us that wants us to grow into the fullness of our being, the part of us that will help us internalize a locus of control if we (i.e. the ego mind) are open to its help. How can we be so open?

            By watching our dreams, intuitions and synchronicities in daily life. Let go of fretting over the “how” and “when.” Set the intention to take back your power. Pay attention to realities inner (dreams) and outer (synchronicities and flashes of intuition). Be open to any and all opportunities to expand your life, to move into a wider world, to become more independent, to live your own life, on your own terms. Know that the form and timetable are in the hands of your inner wisdom. Your task is not the “how” or “when” but the “what:” getting clear about what you want in life, what work has purchase on your soul, what you are meant to do, what lifestyle you want to live. These things are not dependent on others and what they might or might not do. Let’s say your marriage leaves a lot to be desired and you want it to be better. You might see the whole situation as your spouse’s problem, telling yourself, “If only he didn’t…” “If only she wouldn’t…” What are you doing here? You are perceiving the situation as something “out there,” and the change as depending on the other person changing. This is a classic example of externalizing a locus of control. The other person has control here—over you, over your marriage, over your happiness. You internalize control by recognizing the great truth that you are the only person you can change. You can’t change anyone else. You can’t change situations in life by wishing they were something else. You can’t change others by ragging on them, criticizing them, demanding that they change, or wishing they would. If you want a better marriage, a more pleasing job situation, a happier relationship with a child, the only thing you can change is you.

            Just how you might change will depend on the situation. In a marriage that’s not working you might stand up for yourself, get clear just what you don’t like and how you can make changes to improve things, talk things out with your spouse, go into counseling (either singly or jointly), get professional feedback on what’s going on (for more objectivity), or throw your spouse out and file for divorce. Other situations, like those at work or with a child, would call for different responses. But the key is your taking up the responsibility for making changes.

            For any situation Jung recognized that the most effective, profound and long-term solution is staying on the path of personal growth:

In the meantime, I had learned that all the greatest and most important problems in life are fundamentally insoluble. They must be so, for they express the necessary polarity inherent in every self-regulating system. They can never be solved, but only out-grown.[18]

Really significant problematic situations in life are not things you are likely to solve: they are things you outgrow. In the case of bad marriages, this growth often leads to the dissolution of the marriage, as one partner outgrows the other.

            To recap the core question of this section—how to internalize a locus of control—we can say that people who internalize a locus of control:

take up responsibility for their lives

take back the power they unconsciously gave to others

feel in control of their lives and their future

recognize the true nature of power

know they are co-creators with the Universe of the reality they live in.

            Internalizing a locus of control is the first, and the most basic, of the 3 loci, because upon it depend the other two. Without a belief that you can control your life, authority figures will run your life, because you feel powerless, and your security will always be lodged outside, in relationships with others or in situations where you feel powerless. There are no true feelings of security when we feel powerless.

 

How to Internalize a Locus of Authority

           

            When we internalize a locus of authority we run our own lives: We make the major decisions in life for ourselves (gathering information and expert opinion at times), and take responsibility for our choices. Doing otherwise—looking to others to do this for us, turning over decision-making to “experts”—is abdicating responsibility. It is infantilizing and precludes our becoming aware of and trusting in our inner wisdom.

            Our culture does not want us to become aware of and develop trust in our inner wisdom. Ours is a patriarchal culture. The very word “patriarchal” comes from Greek roots that mean “rule by the fathers,”[19] and our culture still retains legacies of the time when fathers literally had life-and-death power over members of the family. In some societies (and some ethnic groups in America) fathers still have levels of control over the lives of children and wives that most Americans find startling.[20] Some ethnic and religious groups also still encourage women and children to be subservient or docile in the face of male authority.[21] In addition there are certain institutions in Western society—the military, the police, ecclesiastical hierarchies—that are authoritarian and expect docility and obedience from people. As children we are taught to honor and respect the authority figures of our society, i.e. we are encouraged as we grow up to externalize a locus of authority.

            How to overcome this? First, recognize the cultural strictures that exist. These are real and, depending on the ethnic, geographic and familial circumstances you grew up in and now live within, you may feel these strictures more or less strongly.

            Secondly, face up to the reality that “authorizing your own life”[22] is likely to entail suffering, because you are setting yourself against the mainstream culture and some people are likely to criticize you, others may see you as a threat, others may be secretly envious that you are breaking free in a way that they cannot. You need to expect that most people won’t “get it,” won’t understand what you are doing because, as Jung reminds us

 

… mankind is, in essentials, psychologically still in a state of childhood—a stage that cannot be skipped. The vast majority needs authority, guidance, law. This fact cannot be overlooked. The Pauline overcoming of the law falls only to the man who knows how to put his soul in the place of conscience. Very few are capable of this (“Many are called, but few are chosen”). And these few tread this path only from inner necessity, not to say suffering, for it is sharp as the edge of a razor.[23]

 

Most of the people you deal with are “still in a state of childhood,” and thus reluctant, or fearful of authorizing their own lives.

            Third, you need to develop a close relationship with your soul, as Jung noted in the quote above. In place of conscience (all those laws, rules of etiquette, social niceties etc. that your parents and teachers pounded into you) you put your soul. This works only if you are on good speaking terms with that soul. Hence, authorizing a locus of authority means you have to care for your soul and act on its directions.

            This means you have to value your own experiences, dreams, intuitions and perceptions. No one is as much of an expert about your own life, history and body as you are. Therefore no expert has the right to supercede your own decision-making. Medical doctors may have more training and understanding of physiology and anatomy, but their interactions with you may be more focused on disease care, or on maintaining the health of their pocketbook than on maintaining the health of your body. Lawyers might give you good advice and knowledge of legal procedures etc., but they are only “counselors,” not the masters of your life. You are in charge of your life, your body, your future by the information you gather, the decisions you make and the actions you take.

            Thanks to historical events like the Gulf of Tonkin incident, Watergate, Contragate, and the recent release of the top-secret papers about the Afghan war, many Americans have become disaffected (if not outright disillusioned) about authority. Government officials lie; the Roman Catholic Church covers up sex abuse by priests systematically and globally; police get caught “on the take;” politicians try to sell political offices to the highest bidder. The authorities in our culture have feet of clay! I have come to conclude from the last 40 years of such scandals that the Universe is trying to encourage us to take back our authority.

            Many Americans have done so, perhaps more so than in other countries. Of the 3 loci, the locus of authority is the one I have found most Americans understand and have mastered. Such mastery may be easier for those who type strongly J (for whom decision-making is easy) than for those who are strongly P. Strong P’s often have trouble choosing, and so are more likely to look outside, to others, to help them decide. Seeking input is fine; looking to others to decide for one is to externalize a locus of authority.

 

How to Internalize a Locus of Security

 

            If most Americans now internalize a locus of authority, the same cannot be said for the locus of security. This is because materialism is so rampant, and Extraversion so prevalent, in American culture. Rather than put a premium on intangibles, materialism encourages us to get stuff and to regard this stuff (especially money) as security. Rather than put a premium on the inner life, the extraverted bias of our society encourages us to look without, to get caught up in fads and fashions and “keeping up with the Joneses.” So very, very few Americans internalize a locus of security, or can even comprehend what the term means. Instead, we see our security in all sorts of externals—parents, spouses, roles, jobs, savings, pensions, titles, ranks, fame, gurus—all of these vulnerable to being lost in one way or another.

            Our culture encourages us to externalize our locus of security for more reasons than just our materialism and extraversion. When people feel insecure, they are an easier “sell.” The whole business of advertising is built on this fact. Your bad breath, pot belly, sweaty underarms, crabgrass lawn—all are fodder for the ad campaigns based on your insecurity. Feeling insecure also makes people easier to hoodwink and control. Because greed runs our culture, we confuse needs and wants. Your kid comes home and insists, “Ma, I need a cell phone!” In reality, he wants a cell phone (mostly because the other kids have them). He doesn’t need a cell phone, any more than he needs a bicycle, video game, or iPod.

            What does it take to internalize a locus of security? First, as with the other loci, it requires courage and independence of mind to stand against the powerful forces of our culture (and the insistent voices of our children). It is not easy to refuse the label “consumer” in a society that regards consumption as something akin to a civic duty!

            Secondly, it is important to recognize that those organizations that we might expect to encourage internalizing a locus of security, i.e. religious groups, have succumbed to the materialism and extraversion of Western society. Jung was explicit about this:

There are many well-educated patients who flatly refuse to consult a clergyman….They do not believe that he can really help them….the great majority of patients are necessarily alienated from a spiritual standpoint…they could find no meaning in their lives or were torturing themselves with questions which neither our philosophy nor our religion could answer.[24]

Jung understood that very, very few clerics in his day (and even fewer nowadays) have had personal experience of the Self, nor are they likely to encourage this in others, when they have had no knowledge of it themselves.

            Internalizing a locus of security requires looking in. It implies redirecting attention away from all the distractions and allurements of the world, toward inner realities. It means spending time recalling, writing down, working with and “actualizing”[25] your dreams, noticing intuitions and acting on them, valuing and relying on inner guidance.

            And this means time. Building trust—coming to the point where you can rely on inner guidance because you have a track record of doing so and you know it is reliable—such trust is not built in a day. You need time to work at testing your inner guidance in different situations and contexts. You need multiple experiences to know how your intuition works (it manifests uniquely in each person). You need focused attention and conscious effort over years to learn your dream language (dreams being one of the best sources of guidance and one of the best ways to become acquainted with your soul). In short, coming to know your soul and how it engages with your ego mind is like developing any other relationship: it needs time and effort.

            Not that your ego is going to be keen on this. As Jung reminds us, the ego feels defeated whenever it is confronted with the Self.[26] It will require repeated experiences of this confrontation for the ego to recognize that the Self is a wiser, better director of life. To get these years of repeated experience takes long-term commitment and determination. How appealing it seems to give up, to go along to get along, to follow the crowd and see “security” as something “out there”!

            In my experience (having lived through those years of trial and repeated ego defeats in confrontation with the Self) this is the hardest of the 3 loci to internalize. It is the one that will elicit the most incomprehending stares from friends, family, even fellow travelers along the spiritual path. It is the one I find hardest to explain to my students at the Jungian Center (never mind my more “mainstream” students at the local college where I teach!).

            Yet, as I noted in the earlier essay, none of the 3 loci is more important to internalize now than this locus of security, as we look toward a time of massive, discontinuous and disruptive change. Nothing else will get us through the coming years, as so many of the institutions of our society will crumble, so many of the verities we came unconsciously to assume would always be there begin to disappear, so many of the givens of life start to evaporate. At a time when the “currency of the future will be leveraged creativity,”[27] we will have to be able to find within ourselves the inspiration, strength, guidance and grit to survive. Knowing we can turn within, request guidance, and trust what comes, will make it possible for us not only to survive but thrive.

 

Bibliography

 

Gore, Albert (1992), Earth in the Balance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Greene, Liz (1976), Saturn: A New Look at an Old Devil. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser.

________ (1978), Relating: An Astrological Guide to Living with Others on a Small Planet. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser.

________ (1980), Star Signs for Lovers. New York: Stein & Day.

________ (1983), The Outer Planets and Their Cycles. Reno NV: CRCS Publications.

________ (1984), The Astrology of Fate. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser.

________ (1996), Barriers and Boundaries: The Horoscope and the Defences of the Personality. London: Centre for Psychological Astrology Press.

________ (2003), The Dark of the Soul: Psychopathology in the Horoscope. London: Centre for Psychological Astrology Press.

________ and Stephen Arroyo (1984), The Jupiter/Saturn Conference Lectures. Reno NV: CRCS Publications.

________ & Howard Sasportas (1987), The Development of the Personality. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser.

________ (1988), Dynamics of the Unconscious. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser.

________ (1992), The Luminaries: The Psychology of the Sun and Moon in the Horoscope. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser.

________ (1993), The Inner Planets: Building Blocks of Personal Reality. York Beach ME: Samuel Weiser.

Hagberg, Janet (1984), Real Power: Stages of Personal Power in Organizations. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Jung, Carl Gustav  (1966), “Two Essays on Analytical Psychology,” CW 7. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1969), “Psychology and Religion: West and East,” CW 11. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1967), “Alchemical Studies,” CW 13. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1963), “Mysterium Coniunctionis,” CW 14. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

________ (1973), Letters, ed. Gerhard Adler & Aniela Jaffé. 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Keen, Sam (1992), “Dying Gods and Borning Spirits,” Noetic Sciences Review.

Mehrtens, Susan (1996), Dreaming to Wake to Life. Waterbury VT: Potlatch Press.

Reed, Henry (1985), Getting Help from Your Dreams. Virginia Beach VA: Inner Vision Publishing Co.

Schaef, Anne Wilson (1985), Women’s Reality. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

 

 



[1] Jung, Collected Works, 11,¶ 514. As has been the convention throughout these blog essays, CW will hereafter be the abbreviation for Jung’s Collected Works.

[2] Many thanks to this reader. I always welcome comments, questions and feedback from readers.

[3] Certified Jungian analyst and astrologer Liz Greene has written extensively on this and other psychological insights that can be gleaned from the natal chart; see Greene (1976)(1978) (1980) (1983) (1984) (1996) (2003); Greene & Sasportas (1987) (1988) (1992) (1993); Greene & Arroyo (1984).

 

[4] Schaef (1985), 124. This definition of power is based on the scarcity model. Schaef compares it to the emerging model of love-like power that she feels is part of “women’s reality.”

[5] Ibid., 125.

[6] These are fully described in Hagberg (1984). My discussion of the stages of power is based on this book.

[7]Ibid., 19-44.

[8] Ibid., 45-72.

[9] Gore (1992), 13-14.

[10] Mehrtens (1996) fully describes this experience.

[11] Hagberg (1984), 73-102.

[12] Ibid., 103-128.

[13] Ibid., 129-147.

[14] Letters, I, 292.

[15] Matt. 10:34-39. In verses 35-36 Jesus is quoting Micah 7:6.

[16] I heard this from Larry when I attended a conference he hosted at his Pecos River Learning Center in May 1988.

[17] Cf. CW 7, ¶99, CW 11¶959 and CW 14¶176.

[18] CW 13, ¶18.

[19] Greek “pater” + “archon”

[20] I experienced this surprise first-hand some years ago when I volunteered with the Vermont Refugee Resettlement program and worked with some Mesketian Turks. The father had total control, choosing spouses for his children, telling them when they would be married etc.

[21] E.g. Italian, Latin American, Muslim and Mormon cultures, to name just a few.

[22] Keen (1992).

[23] CW 7, ¶401.

[24] CW 11, ¶500,506,507,514.

[25] This term comes from Edgar Cayce and refers to the process of applying dream guidance in outer life; see Reed (1985), 130-143.

[26] CW 14, ¶778.

[27] I was given this phrase in one of the predictive “voice-over dreams” I have had for the last 26 years. This dream occurred on August 10, 2007.