Overgeneralization is a common way of thinking which is rarely referred to by its real name but is done by almost everyone. Most of us do it at least a little. But some of us allow ourselves to dive so deep into overgeneralizing almost everything that our mental health is at stake. We do this every time we jump to the conclusion that one bad thing equals only bad things in future.
Overgeneralization is a kind of cognitive distortion. If you overgeneralize, this means you tend to assume one event is representative of something in its entirety. It is similar to catastrophizing.
Examples of Overgeneralization
For example, if a person once sees a dog being loud and aggressive, they might assume that all dogs are equally as dangerous and decides to avoid them all. In this scenario, the person is overgeneralizing what dogs are really like. This is how most fears are developed – from overgeneralizing after one difficult experience.
Dating and your romantic life are often victims of your overgeneralizing thoughts. If you go on one date with a man and he turns out to be an awful and rude person, you might overgeneralize and conclude that all men are just as terrible. As a result, you will struggle to let anyone close to you again.
By jumping so such huge, dramatic conclusions, you could be damaging all your future prospects in a whole variety of ways, from romance to your career, friends and even your family. If you convince yourself that “all” of something is bad or wrong, you’ll be cutting off huge chunks of your life.
Overgeneralization can be simple in day to day life and not too disruptive though. For example, when you assume that because you once disliked a mushroom-based meal, you’ll never like anything mushroom related at all.
These sorts of things aren’t too problematic and tend to create the simple biases we have which dictate our likes and dislikes. However, certain situations can’t afford to be overgeneralized. That’s because they have such a profound effect on your mental health, especially anxiety and depression.
If you suffer from low self-esteem, you’re probably upsettingly familiar with overgeneralization. Many of us have moments where we assume far too quickly and let small occurrences affect our overall perceptions. But some people struggle with overgeneralization on a far more personal level and with much more serious consequences on our wellbeing.
By jumping to conclusions about ourselves, we tend to limit our potential. Wed reduce our chances of a full, happy life. Overgeneralizing impairs your judgment and your view of the world around you. Is it familiar to you to hear these words from your inner critic? “I always fail” or “I’ll never be able to do that”. If it is, you’re probably suffering from the effects of low self-esteem as a result of overgeneralization.
If you’ve tried at something and failed, you’re more likely to be worried about trying again. But there’s a difference between being worried and being certain you simply can’t do it.
Failure is normal and even necessary in the pursuit of a dream. But by overgeneralizing, you might allow yourself to think that you’re always going to fail at anything you try in future.
This kind of impaired judgment isn’t fair on yourself. And you owe it to yourself to work on stopping this way of thinking. One failure means nothing in the grand scheme of things. One rejection, one slip-up, even many of them, they don’t mean a thing!
How to Stop Overgeneralization
As you have seen, overgeneralizing can be so damaging to your mental health and your life as a whole. So it’s clearly very important that we work out how to stop this and get ahead of it before it harms your future too much.
Remember that nothing is absolute
The single most important thing you can do for yourself when you struggle with overgeneralization is to constantly remind yourself that every experience is unique, and nothing is guaranteed by the past.
Even J.K Rowling was rejected numerous times before Harry Potter was finally accepted and published. She knew that “some” didn’t mean “all” – and we all know how well that worked out for her. Just because you did one thing wrong, or even a number of things wrong, there’s no reason to believe things will always be that way. You can learn, you can grow, your luck can change.
Watch how you talk to yourself
To stop overgeneralizing, you also ought to take more notice of the words you use towards yourself. When using negative self-talk, we tend to make huge sweeping statements which are never true. We say things like “I’ll never be good at this”, “I’ll always be a loser”, “Everybody thinks I’m a loser”. And none of those would be true on a small scale, and definitely aren’t true on a large scale.
Consider the phrase “Nobody will ever love me”. Most of us have said this line in our darker moments. But this statement excludes the friends and family we have, who do love us. This happens because we’re hyper-focused on what romantic love we don’t have. These sweeping statements are incorrect and take one small thought and apply it to our entire life.
This is terrible for our mental health and should be stopped. Try to avoid using words like never, always, everyone and nobody. These words allow you to apply a giant overgeneralization to a small experience. And this will inevitably impair your judgment of yourself and the world around you.
Nothing is that widespread and nothing is that final. When you give yourself a chance to see life that way, you’ll feel much better in yourself.
Optimism is key
Be open to the idea that not everything is all bad. Overgeneralization tends to be used for negative thoughts, allowing yourself to make those bad feelings even worse. Be optimistic that things can and will change and that the past does not dictate your future.
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