top of page
  • Writer's pictureElfreda Manahan-Vaughan

Who's in charge?

If you have been following some of my recent posts about attachment you will have notice a suite of posts about locus of control. Locus of Control Theory was originally developed by Julian Rotter in the 1950s. I came across it in many years ago in the work of Brian R. Little and his work on personality. Locus of control is the degree to which you believe you have control over the events of your life. It is extremely important in the field of attachment as it can tell you a lot about the type of attachment pattern you are using and why you may be feeling overwhelmed or like a victim.

Your attachment pattern and locus of control are intrinsically linked.

There are two different loci of control. An internal locus of control and an external locus of control. An individual with an internal locus of control believes that his/her behaviour is guided by his/her personal decisions and efforts. An individual with an external locus of control believes that his/her behaviour is guided by fate, luck, or other external circumstances. Rotter believed that a person's locus of control developed through ongoing feedback from their experiences and reappraisal of rewards and punishments for their behaviour after events. How is the relevant to attachment theory you may ask? It is important because your attachment pattern influences your locus of control and can negatively affect your capacity to develop, or re-organise towards, secure attachment, if you do not recognise it.

For those you may not know this, according to the Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation (DMM) there are three main attachment patterns. Avoidant, Balanced and Coercive. Balanced is what would traditionally be called a secure pattern and Avoidant and Coercive are insecure. These patterns are further divided into sub-categories or attachment strategies. Balanced has five attachment strategies and Avoidant and Coercive have eight. Disorganised is not included, for those of you who know the first generation attachment theory work of John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth. This is because Patricia Crittenden, who developed the DMM, believes that Disorganised Attachment is simply a blending of the two insecure patterns with a default of either Avoidant or Coercive when not faced with stress or threat. She has also relabelled Disorganised as unresolved trauma, which much of the recent literature in attachment has also adopted.

Avoidant Attachment is characterised by inhibiting affect, which in layperson's terms means suppressing emotions, especially negative emotions, focusing on the needs of others above their own and a strong need to feel in control in relationships. Coercive Attachment is characterised by a dominance of overwhelming emotion, feelings of helpless and a poor ability to mentalise the lived experience of others, thus causing them to often feel like victims. Any of this sound familiar in the context of locus of control? I'm sure you guessed this by now, an Avoidant Attachment pattern displays and internal locus of control and a Coercive Attachment pattern displays and external locus of control.

If at this stage, locus of control is starting to make sense, then I bet you are wondering why have an internal locus of control is a bad thing? The truth is, it's not. In fact having an internal locus of control is a greater predictor of resilience in the face of stress or trauma and can be a predictor of greater success in life. Unfortunately, looking at it this way is also a little simplistic. Rotter highlights that having an internal locus of control must also be backed-up by competence and skill otherwise an individual can become neurotic, depressed and anxious when they are unable to achieve what they believe they should. It also can lead to burnout, an inability to ask for help and feeling overly-responsible for other people and their needs. This is why it is important for you to understand locus of control in the context of your attachment.

Ultimately, the goal for each of us is to earn Balanced Attachment. Balanced Attachment is the balance between cognition and emotion, whilst Avoidant is cognition dominant and Coercive is emotion dominant. The process of moving from Avoidant or Coercive to Balanced uses self-awareness, self-reflection, mentalisation, and balanced communication and behaviours in our relationships. Attachment is adaptive which means it evolves and grows with our relationships and sometimes it is still important to use avoidant or coercive strategies if a relationship is unsafe. However, it is also important, especially if you work as practitioner or teacher that you can use more balanced strategies when dealing with others to create greater levels of trust and security in your relationships.

Knowing your locus of control is not only helpful in recognising your attachment pattern but also as a tool for earning your Balanced Attachment. Coercive Attachment has an external locus of control. As long as an individual feels helpless and like everyone else is in charge of what happens to them they will struggle to develop balance. To expand your locus of control to a more internal one you can start by making decisions without asking for another person's opinion. Make plans for solo activities and make choices without deferring to others, such as where you might eat or what time to meet at.

For those with Avoidant Attachment it is necessary to start to let others make decisions, to let go of feeling responsible for everything and refusing to ask for help. You can do this by asking someone to do something for you without overseeing it or having a 'right way' for it to be completed. This could be something as simple as cleaning the kitchen or even filling the dishwasher. You can also acknowledge when other people have a greater skill level than you at certain tasks and delegate those tasks. Learning to trust others to do a good enough job is part of the challenge, but is also the path to feeling less overwhelmed and avoiding the dreaded burnout.

What's the takeaway? You can't know how to develop Balanced Attachment without knowing your dominant attachment pattern. Locus of control can help you to figure out what that is and give you ways of developing more balanced states of being. For someone with Coercive Attachment start to work on building a more internal locus of control, learning to trust your self and your own decisions is key. For someone with Avoidant Attachment start to let go control a little, instead of believing you are responsible for everything maybe delegate some of your long to do list. If you are curious to know more about the DMM you can subscribe to my mailing list here and get a free PDF all about the DMM. If you want to keep up to date with my latest blog posts you can always subscribe.

10 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page