Have you ever found yourself trapped in a cycle of negative thoughts with one particular unfortunate event defining your entire life? Maybe you were lied to by a significant other, and think “I can never trust anyone again” or you are applying for a new job and got rejected and think “I always fail, and I’ll never get anywhere in my career.” This destructive thinking pattern you may be experiencing is a cognitive distortion known as overgeneralizing

Understanding Overgeneralizing

Overgeneralizing is viewing a single negative event as a never ending pattern of defeat. It’s like taking a snapshot of one moment and projecting it onto the entirety of your life. This distorted thinking leads to having a profound impact on your self-esteem and increases self-doubt that can in turn lead to negative behaviors such as avoidance of people or situations. When it is not addressed it can often play a role in depression, anxiety disorders, and anger management problems which can cause unnecessary emotional pain and suffering. 

In our daily life, we all make assumptions that can be based on incomplete information. These assumptions can significantly shape our well-being and our perception of reality. However, when we think in absolutes like never, always, nobody, everyone, it creates a blanket statement that envelops not only the present moment or issue, but our past and future outlook on reality. When this is paired with negative thinking, it can make you feel as if the universe is out to get you, and foster extreme negative emotions where you become your own harshest critic. Ultimately decreasing your self-worth. This thought pattern can impact relationships, create social and prejudicial views, and increase avoidance behaviors.

Common examples include: 

  • Learning something new but making a mistake and giving up thinking it will always be this hard.
  • Having a bad experience with one particular person and avoiding or creating stereotypes for a larger group they are a part of such as their race, religion, age, sexual orientation.
  • Experiencing a failed relationship, and overgeneralizing that you will never find love or all relationships in the future will end badly.

Identifying overgeneralization isn’t always straightforward. It can masquerade as pessimism. However, when it is paired with worsening negative self-talk, absolute language, assuming the worst in a situation, and an unbreakable negative thought pattern it can deter you from living your life to its full potential.

Addressing Overgeneralizing

When we experience setbacks, it can create painful emotions. The stronger those emotions, the more likely our thinking has been influenced and can cause us to believe in the cognitive distortion we are creating.

When you overgeneralize an event try using these strategies to combat that negative thought pattern:

  • Identify and challenge the thought: Consider alternative perspectives and challenge those thoughts by remembering when you have succeeded instead of focusing on the failures. 
  • Practice mindfulness: recognize that our thoughts and beliefs do not always reflect reality and be mindful of those thoughts by recording them so that you can see patterns that may help you break them. 
  • Be present: pay attention to the present moment and avoid absolute thinking. 

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” 

– Albert Einstein

Overgeneralizing causes us to think in negative thought patterns that can lead to a downwards spiral. By recognizing its presence, challenging its validity, and seeking professional help when needed, you can break those thought patterns and cultivate a healthier mindset. Cognitive Behavior Therapy can help you identify and address cognitive distortions, such as overgeneralizing, so that you may embrace a more balanced and fulfilling life. If you are experiencing such distortions, try working on understanding your negative thoughts and emotions with a therapist here at Pacific CBT.

About the Author: Ashley Carreon currently works as a Behavior Therapist in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis.  She received a Bachelor’s degree in Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior and a minor in Psychology from University of California, Davis. Ashley is interested in understanding intersectionality in mental health, and is planning to pursue a Master’s degree.

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