Where is your power center? Is it in you or in other people or circumstances? Paradoxically, controlling people often believe that they donât have control over their lives or even themselves. Control is important to codependents. Many attempt to control what they canât â other people â rather than controlling what they can â themselves, their feelings, and their actions. Without realizing it, theyâre controlled by others, their addictions, fear, and guilt. People who control their lives and destinies are happier and more successful. Rather than feeling like a victim of others or fate, they are motivated from within and believe that their efforts generate results â for better or worse. Both belief and experience enable them to function autonomously. This article explores autonomy, locus of control, and self-efficacy as important factors in motivation and offers suggestions to help you feel a greater sense of control.
The word âautonomyâ comes from the combination of two Latin words, self and law. Construed together, it means that you govern your own life and that you endorse your actions. You may still be influenced by outside factors, but all things considered, your behavior reflects your choice. (There are philosophical and sociological debates about free will and self-determination which are beyond the scope of this article.)
Across cultures, autonomy is a fundamental human need. People who experience autonomy report higher levels of psychological health and social functioning. They have an increased sense of well-being and self-esteem. When you value yourself, youâre more able to claim your autonomy. Itâs a feeling of both separateness and wholeness that permits you to feel separate when in a relationship and complete when on your own. You feel independent and are able to say no to pressure from others. Your actions are determined by your beliefs, needs, and values, which gives you more control over thoughts and emotions. Itâs the opposite of being a rebel or people-pleaser. A rebelâs thoughts and actions arenât autonomous. Theyâre an oppositional reaction to an outside authority and thereby become controlled by it. Actually, autonomy allows you to listen to someone non-defensively and modify your views to incorporate new information.
When you lack autonomy, youâre more controlled by what others do, think, and feel, and adapt accordingly. Youâd react to and worry about someone elseâs expectations and reactions and defer to their opinion. You might have difficulty making decisions and taking action on your own. Instead, youâd be easily influenced by or seek out othersâ opinions. This tendency both stems from and reinforces low self-esteem. Lack of autonomy and self-esteem can cause many symptoms, such as stress, addiction, domestic violence, and emotional abuse, communication problems, worry and anxiety, depression, guilt, and anger. See my other articles on codependency and self-esteem.
Development of Will
Individuation, the process of becoming a separate individual psychologically and cognitively, begins in infancy and continues into adulthood. A baby must first feel safe with its mother and caretakers. Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson believed that basic trust or mistrust takes hold in the first 18 months of development and is dependent on consistent comfort and fulfillment of an infantâs basic needs. If caregivers are emotionally unavailable, rejecting, or inconsistent, the child wonât have a sense of safety in the world.
Erikson said, âDoubt is the brother of shame.â In the second stage up until the age of three, a child learns self-control, beginning with controlling its bodily elimination. Hereâs where a child begins to exercise choice by saying no and expressing its wants and preferences. This builds confidence and a sense of independence. If these natural developments arenât supported, a toddler will feel inadequate and doubt. Imagine if your choices were continually ignored or denied by an authority figure who is your entire world. Youâd start to doubt yourself and soon feel ashamed.
Because of dysfunctional parenting, codependents often lack intrinsic motivation and a sense of agency. Their connection to those inner resources hasnât been developed. Although they may be competent â and many do not feel confident or competent in a variety of areas even if they actually are â they have difficulty motivating themselves, unless there is an external deadline, reward, support, or competition. The most effective and enduring motivation comes from within, but if you grew up in an authoritarian, chaotic, neglectful, or controlled environment, itâs doubtful that you received support and encouragement to experiment and explore your innate urges and preferences to allow intrinsic motivation to naturally develop. Sometimes, parents are more permissive with toddlers and then squelch their independent strivings as adolescents.
Women and Autonomy
Women suffer more from lack of agency due to cultural, developmental, and societal influences. One reason is that girls donât have to separate from their mothers to become women. According to Carol Gilligan, femininity is defined by attachment, and feminine gender identity is threatened by separation. On the other hand, since boys must separate from their mothers and identify with their fathers to become men, their gender identity is threatened by intimacy. (In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Womenâs Development, 1993, pp. 7-8). Additionally, boys are encouraged to be more aggressive and autonomous, and girls are protected and stay more attached to their parents.
Often women complain that they do great when theyâre alone, but as soon as theyâre in a relationship or in the presence of their partner, they lose themselves. Some give up their hobbies, friends, career, and creative pursuits. They have trouble transitioning from an intimate weekend to the office, or they canât articulate opinions about things in front of their partner or an authority figure.
Locus of Control
Beliefs also affect your actions and determine whether you have a passive or active stance toward your life. If youâve learned from experience that your voice or actions donât have an impact, you develop a sense of futility â a âwhatâs the useâ attitude. You start to talk yourself out of taking action. This reflects a belief that your âlocus of controlâ is external â that youâre controlled by outside forces or fate. You feel powerless to achieve your goals and influence your life. See an online quiz here.
On the other hand, with an internal locus of control, you believe that if you prepare and work hard, you can achieve results. Youâre more self-determined and take responsibility for your actions, feelings, and meeting your needs. You donât blame others or outside circumstances for failures and success. You mobilize resources to achieve your desires and donât wait for signs, circumstances, or direction from others.
Self-efficacy is also important for motivation. Itâs a belief in your competence. The knowledge that your efforts will be effective is learned through risk-taking and experience. As you master new skills and/or experience unfamiliar environments and experiences, you gain confidence, self-efficacy, courage, and motivation to change. People who doubt that theyâre able to accomplish something generally wonât try.
Development of self-esteem is fundamental to autonomy. Discover your wants, needs, and passions. Practice self-expression, self-acceptance, and setting boundaries (being able to say no). Take risks, including interpersonal risks, to enhance your competence, autonomy, and effectiveness. This in turn raises self-esteem and provides motivation to take more risks.
People are motivated when they are ready, willing and able. Think about your intentions and goals and why theyâre important. Get support and learn whatâs required to accomplish your goals. âCodependency for Dummiesâ provides steps and exercises to become autonomous.
Â©Darlene Lancer 2012
Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and author of Codependency for Dummies and 10 Steps to Self-Esteem: The Ultimate Guide to Stop Self-Criticism. Sheâs worked with individuals and couples for over 25 years and maintains a private practice in Santa Monica, CA and coaches internationally. For helpful information, articles, blogs, and a FREE Ebook, How to Be Assertive, visit http://www.darlenelancer.com and http://www.whatiscodependency.com. You can also follow her Facebook Codependency page.