Tanya Younce, M.Ed., LPCC


Who’s in the Driver’s Seat of Your Life?

So are you a Danica Patrick or a Miss Daisy kind of person? 

This is the topic I’d like to discuss today, not only because the Daytona 500 Race was this week, but because I believe many of us have gotten stuck in the rut of faulting  our crappy situations on outside sources — feeling powerless and like someone or some thing else is obviously in charge and has control: the economy, our boss, our kids, the weather, our health, the government, lack of time, the list goes on…

Ok, so here’s a little Psychology lesson for you.  In 1954, an American psychologist named Julian Rotter developed this concept called a “locus of control,” out of his social learning theory of personality.  He said that one’s “locus” (Latin for “place” or “location“) can either be Internal — meaning the person believes that they have the control of their life, or External — when they believe that their environment, a higher power, or other people have the control of their life.
I’ve found myself asking a lot of my clients lately, “Who’s in the driver’s seat of this situation?” and, depending on their answer, I can tell whether they feel internally or externally controlled.
If they have more of an external locus of control, people have what I call the classic ‘BAD’ way of responding to their negative situations — they want to Blame, Accuse, and Defend.  That tells me they have an (often unconscious) belief that outside sources are more responsible for their current consequences or situations than they are, and that they have little to no power to get back on track.  As a therapist, it makes me wonder if somewhere along the course of this person’s life, they were given the message that the world was a hurtful and dangerous place and that they have little to no power to change it.
On the other handthose who have a more internal locus of control, will respond in what I call an ‘ACT’ way — they’ll Accept, Correct, and Take charge.  They’ll see themselves in the driver’s seat and recognize opportunities to control their surroundings, believing they are entitled to a better situation.  Somewhere along their line, they were given the message that the world is their oyster and that they have the scuba equipment  (so to speak) to go after it, full throttle.
In relationships, it’s really important to know wherein each of your controls lie. If you are a Danica Patrick kind of person, you are motivated to grow, move, compete, experience, stretch, and problem solve.  But if you’re in relationship with a backseat rider, they could weigh you down, bum you out, burst your bubbles, find your faults, and argue that your idea(s) won’t work.  The backseaters will also put you in the position of being their cheerleader.  When they complain that they’ll never lose weight, for example, you’ll find yourself saying “Aww….c’mon, babe!  You can do it!  Get motivated!  Stay positive!  Just set small goals!  Get to that gym!”  You’ll brainstorm ideas to make more money, or to get a bigger house, or even get a more rewarding job — but the externally controlled partner will almost always push against it, refusing to believe they have any power to get behind the wheel and take charge of their lives.  OR….they’ll just ride your coattails without lifting a finger, and you just can’t respect that.
If you’re BOTH externally focused, life will kind of be like riding on a raft in the ocean.  You’ll have ups and downs and maybe you’ll tip over sometimes, but it’s the ocean that ultimately rules the flow of things.  Your only real power is to hold on as best you can and stick together.  You weather the storms and you can bask in the sun when it’s out, but you have no oars or headlights to see what might be coming up next.  You could live paycheck-to-paycheck, or you could win the lottery.  These are people who may have strong beliefs in a Higher Power, trusting that whatever happens to them is what’s supposed to happen — be it good, bad, or indifferent.  The up side to this is that no real effort is required, but the down side is that if life hands you lemons…honey, you just get lemons.
Finally, if you are BOTH internally focused (think Danica Patrick with Jeff Gordan), believing you each have control over your destiny, you each have a toolbox full of skills to circumvent many of life’s obstacles,each of you hungry to achieve.  But this relationship could go one of two ways — either you fight for that power, pushing each other out of the way so that you can grab the wheel, OR…you see each others’ strengths and cheer each other on toward a plethora of goals.  You brainstorm together, solution-focused, when something goes awry or when one of you has an inspiration for a great idea.  You energize each other and you feel safer in knowing that both of you are capable of holding the other up, if needs be.  The operative word being CAPABLE (i.e. able to hold or contain).

If you find that you are a backseat rider (Miss Daisy), it doesn’t mean you have to go to the opposite end and become a Control Freak.  It just means that you may consider tempering your normal reactions with thoughts that are more empowering for you and your partner, because believe me when I tell you…it means a lot to have a partner who can take the bull by the horns during stressful times, when solutions and dreams need to be developed and realized.

In the end — a combination of Danica and Daisy may be the safest bet for us, but I would advise it being a 70/30 load.  Think about it and let me know your thoughts.


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