We’ve all heard it said, “It’s not the situation; it’s how you deal with the situation that determines your stress.” Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Change your mind about something and you change your experience of it. Attitude is everything, isn’t it?
Yes and no.
Psychologists have long held that individuals with an internal locus of control, who believe they have a significant degree of self-determination in the course of their lives, fare better than those with an external locus of control.
By contrast, an external locus of control is a belief that life is basically a random stream of events and that luck, the Fates, and other people are really in charge of your future. It’s all a matter of how you interpret events.
Sue lands a job that she loves and determines that this is her reward for years of hard study and a strong work ethic. John lands his dream job and believes he happened to be in the right place at the right time. Both are probably valid perspectives and neither interpretation will have much bearing on their psychological health since the situation in question is a happy one.
But what happens when life falls apart?
Let’s say Sue gets into a car accident shortly after accepting the new job offer and within the week finds out her husband has to undergo a biopsy for a suspicious tumor. Having a predisposition toward an internal locus of control is likely to result in Sue being proactive with these stressors. She is unlikely to generalize these events and judge her life in general as falling apart.
Although she may be overwhelmed, Sue won’t be prone to catastrophizing. She will likely devote her time to making plans to meet the new demands, believing that she will find a way to get through these stressors and come out on top. She has an inherent belief in herself that will allow her to weather the storm.
John on the other hand, faced with an accident and an ill spouse, might be more inclined to feel helpless and overwhelmed, waiting for the other shoe to drop. He might go so far as to wonder whether these circumstances are signs that he has made wrong choices in other areas of his life and he may begin to question seemingly unrelated issues like his acceptance of the new job offer.