Sense of Agency: Being in Control of Our Lives

Sense of Agency: Being in Control of Our Lives

Last update: 22 September, 2018

To refer to the feeling of being in control of our lives, we use the term “sense of agency”. Being agents of our lives means knowing where we are, what’s happening to us, and having the ability to model circumstances.

Physical agencies like travel agencies, for example, are in charge of offering services that help satisfy certain people’s needs, which is why they turn to them. In this sense, only our agency can meet certain types of internal needs. This explains why it’s so important to have a good sense of agency.

Agency starts with interoception

Interoception is the perception each person has regarding the internal state of their body. It’s information that helps keeps our bodies balanced (homeostasis). The body, the mind, and the brain are intimately related, meaning that interoception isn’t only physiological, but it’s also associated with subjective sensations like emotions.


The greater our interoceptional knowledge, the more capacity and potential we’ll have to control our lives. Keep in mind that, if we’re conscious of the changes that occur in our internal and external environments, we’ll be able to adapt in a better way. 

The effects of the loss of agency

A wonderful book called The Body Keeps the Score written by Bessel van der Kolk states that many war veterans go through a loss of agency. A lot of them stay attached to an environment where they learned to function based on certain norms that only work in a context of conflict.

Additionally, for different reasons, people may feel insecure within their own bodies. An example of this is constantly reliving the past, which shows internal discomfort. Humans are creatures of habit, and many people learn to ignore their instincts and numb their conscience. That being said, it’s important to remember that ignoring what goes on inside of us makes us lose control. 

Many health problems such as chronic pain, fatigue, headaches, and migraines are examples of internal cries for help. All of these problems might be the result of ignoring our inner signals. We pay a high price when we’re not agents of our lives. This leads us to ignore or not detect what really harms us or, on the contrary, what’s secure and beneficial for us.

How can we be agents of our lives?

The medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) is in charge of supervising our bodily sensations. We’re currently aware of the fact that conscious meditation and yoga can help us regulate ourselves. However, they also help us be more conscious of our bodily sensations, making us feel stronger and take control of our lives.

woman practicing meditation

The effect of somatic or corporal work on the release of energy has been proven, especially in those people who feel blocked, like war veterans trapped in terror. Working on your introception through physical exercise is a good training to help you better comprehend the messages that your body sends regarding your needs.

In conclusion, agency is trusting and knowing our feelings and our bodies and understanding what they’re trying to tell us. Agency doesn’t claim that taking control of our lives (and fighting against other strong forces) is easy. This whole process starts by knowing and accepting ourselves in order to create a life plan. Some questions might help us reflect on our capacity for agency. What do you expect from life? What are your dreams and aspirations? Who or what can help you start making small changes in your life?

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.