This is one of those psych jargon words that looks like it means nothing but actually describes a pretty useful concept. Locus is the Latin word for place, and “locus of control” means where a person thinks control comes from. If you have an internal locus of control, it means that you feel in control of yourself and your environment most of the time. If you have an external locus of control, it means that you feel that things outside yourself control you and that you merely react to these forces.
Belief about locus of control is generally set early in life, although it can be modified with experience. I’ll use my upbringing as an example of how locus of control is set.
My parents believed that children should be given plenty of structure so that they would grow up disciplined, orderly, and tidy and have clear, precise ways of thinking. Every aspect of my existence was micro-managed. As a baby, I was fed the same measured amount of the same foods at the same times every day and put down in my crib at the same exact times every day. No change was made unless the pediatrician initiated it.
The rigid schedule continued through pre-school and grade school. Everything was allocated a certain amount of time and was to be done in a certain way. There was no deviation from the routine. School to me was an oasis of freedom, even though school bells signaled the beginning and end of classes, recess, and lunch period. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to enjoy the freedom and often stood at the edges of things, waiting to be told what to do.
I grew up feeling like a little piece of wood bobbing on the waves of a great big mysterious ocean. I didn’t get an A, I was given an A. Why? Who knew. It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that I noticed that the things I did or didn’t do had an effect on other people and on my surroundings. But to this day, I have to remind myself that I do have control over myself – I just was trained not to believe it.
Too much structure and no freedom to make choices isn’t the only way to create a kid with an external locus of control.
If parents have no idea of structure, kids are brought up in chaos. Nothing is predictable. One day the kids get smacked for something, the next day they are hugged and called cute for exactly the same behavior. They fall asleep when they can and wake up when they are startled out of sleep. They eat when there is food around and get a bath when somebody thinks of it. They are often late for school and skip a lot of days, so they miss out on the structure of the school environment. Kids like this are every bit as run by other people as I was.
I haven’t talked about abuse of any kind, let alone ritual abuse. I wanted to remain focused on the basic process of raising a kid with no sense of self-control and not get wound up in the horrors of ritual abuse. But it’s clear to me that adding severe abuse and torture shreds the last vestige of a child’s sense of control. No wonder we are easy to re-victimize.