Loci, not Loki

I’ve been reading a lot lately about a psychological phenomenon called locus of control. Locus of control is a term that indicates where you, consciously or unconsciously, think the control over your life originates. This simple characteristic can have profound effects on a person’s behavior.

Someone with an external locus of control might not get a breast exam because they figure they’ll get cancer if they’re meant to, because their lives are controlled by destiny, fate, genetics, or God. This allows them to abdicate responsibility for their decisions, to just throw their hands in the air and mutter rather than doing things to help themselves. Meanwhile the untreated cancer grows to the point of being incurable, rather than being detected and treated early, and the person is left to ask “Why me, God?”

Someone with an internal locus of control might feel guilty for things going wrong, even if the cause was genuinely outside of their control – someone else’s bad behavior, the weather, an unavoidable accident, etc.. A lot of people in the extreme end of this locus end up being chronic victims, martyrs who flog themselves for every bit of wrong in the world, as if they are personally responsible for the state of North Korea or the Middle East.

At the extremes, both of these loci have their own benefits and pitfalls, though the external locus of control tends to end in more serious consequences. Most people, I think, fall somewhere in between. The trick, I guess, is to maintain balance. Few events in life are completely outside our control, but some absolutely are. 
In fiction, few things frustrate a reader than feeling that the protagonist is abdicating control of his or her life to fate, chance, or luck. Still, without an element of divine (or antagonistic) intervention, you end up with the infallible Mary Sue. Like most things in life, locus of control requires a deft hand and a fine sense of balance.

Who controls your life? Who do your characters tend to think controls theirs? How do you maintain balance?

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