The New Johari Window #3: Locus of Control

The New Johari Window #3: Locus of Control

At the other extreme, we find humanists and existentialists. They also are inclined toward an internal locus of control, and focus on the isolated and courageous human beings who must acknowledge and live with the consequences of their individual actions and free will. An internal locus for these philosophers, novelists and psychologists translates into something much more profound than that offered by corporate tycoons. Humanists and existentialists honor the dignity and responsibility that accompany free will and relate this engagement of free will to the fundamental processes of thought. Rollo May, for instance, indicates that:

I have had the conviction for a number of years . . . that something more complex and significant is going on in human experience in the realm of will and decision that we have yet taken into our studies. . . . . Cognition, or knowing and conation, or willing . . . go together. We could not have one without the other. . . . If I do not will something, I could never know it; and if I do not know something, I would never have any content for my willing. In this sense, it can be said directly that man makes his own meaning.

Humanists, such as Rollo May, see human beings as constructivists, who create their own meaning and purpose in life. In parallel fashion, they identify an internal locus of control as an opportunity (and challenge) to act in an ethical manner. We are architects of our own fate and soul. We can’t assign blame to anyone else in the world—past or present. We stand convicted of our own actions and the consequences of our actions. One of the books that Rollo May edited (Existence) contains a powerful case study regarding a young woman, Ellen West, who struggled with the issue of internal control throughout her life. Living in a world that was dominated by men (early 20th Century Europe), Ellen looked in vain for meaning and purpose in her life and felt that other people were controlling her destiny. It was only through the (destructive) control of her own body (and, in particular, her weight and dietary habits) that Ellen found control and a strange sense of purpose (a “fixed idea”). For Ellen, the ultimate act of internal control resided in the decision to take her own life. Much has been written about the disturbing life of Ellen West. Her struggles seem to touch on the truth to be found in the life each of us lives and in the existential ways we seek out purpose, meaning—and control.

There are many critics of the internal locus of control, both within and outside American society. An all-consuming arrogance and self-obsession is often associated with the internal locus. Many readers of the Ellen West case react negatively to Ellen, wishing she had simply taken control of her life rather than obsessing about the absence of control. They wanted her to be courageous in life rather than in death. The arrogance and self-obsession is evident not only in the indifference of many corporate executives to those who work for and with them, but also in disdain for the environment that is evident among many Americans (and non-Americans).

An internal locus of control requires that we have access to information from inside ourselves—especially with regard to personal values and life purposes. People who assume full responsibility for their actions need time for reflection. However, depending on our personal preferences and styles, we may not choose to take time for this reflection. People with an internal locus often are inclined to “power” ahead in an unreflective manner, assuming that they are in control. They run over other people, other species, and the natural world in which they live. Those of us with an internal locus are inclined to be defiant: we know we are right and force others in the world to come around to our point of view. It’s “man against nature” or “man over nature.” It’s “every man for himself.” Many of our global problems can be attributed in part to rampant individualism and an attendant assumption that we have the right to control or change anything in our world.


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About the Author

William Bergquist

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant, professor in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 45 books, and president of a graduate school of psychology. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations. His graduate school (The Professional School of Psychology: offers Master and Doctoral degrees in both clinical and organizational psychology to mature, accomplished adults.

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