In my time as a therapist in Burbank and Rosemead California I have often run up against the Cognitive Behavioral Thinking error of Over Generalizing.
Symptoms of over generalizing
The basic concept to grasp with over generalizing is that we are making sweeping statements and conclusions about people places and things, which lead us to negative self-talk and subsequently negative emotions. With over generalizing we attach global labels to things. For example, there may be some truth in the generalization we use, but we can’t extrapolate that to a final judgement. For example, there is a difference between being stupid and doing something stupid.
Examples of words that we use are: All, every, Always, Every time, never, Everybody and nobody.
Examples of how we use these terms:
They always put me down.
You never give me my way.
You always flatten the credit card.
I’ll never get the job I want.
They’ll never pick me.
No one wants to be friends with me.
Everybody hates me.
When we engage in this kind of thinking pattern it tends to restrict our life. If I hate my job and am interviewing around but subsequently get turned down, we may say “I’ll Never get the job I want.” Never is a very long time. The comment is not rooted in reality but in our feelings about reality. We subsequently feel stuck, trapped and then may feel hopeless and helpless. This can lead to depression.
Another way over generalizing manifests negatively is that if we have one negative experience then we never engage in that endeavor again. For example if you got nauseous on a plane ride and then decided to never ride planes again because you “always” get sick you would be limiting yourself. We are predicting vast repercussions from half vast data. The over generalizing is often put in absolute terms. Very little in life is absolute. Death and taxes are absolutes but a spouse doesn’t always flatten a credit card. (Though it might have happened a little too often.) We aren’t always late. (Though it might be a frequent occurrence.) Overgeneralizing is distorted thinking. It’s irrational. But in our mind, and especially in our self-talk, these statements go unchecked and untested and thereby become “real.”
If you apply for a new job and get turned down, you might think “I’ll never get a new job.” This type of thinking will lead to feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, the repercussions of which can be depression and it’s fallout.
If you broke up with your sweetheart and are saddened by it all, you may think “I’ll never meet anyone again.” Here we have similar perspectives of creating a hopeless and dire situation. It’s divorced from reality, but in the solitude of our minds these dialogues seem real. They create a false narrative that leads us into sadness and despair if not checked.
Sharing these thoughts with a friend or therapist will usually lead to their perspective of sharing an alternate point of view.
You can do a pros and cons or cost benefit analysis of this way of thinking.
I have a wonderful sheet on challenging negative thinking here.
I suspect that this type of thinking comes from the child within us. The “tell” for this is that the verbiage sound like the way a child talks. One can imagine a little kid with their arms folded sulking in the corner “You never give me my way! You always choose someone else.” When we use this “voice” internally it indicates that a very immature part of us is speaking. The antidote is to reframe the statements into realistic statements and step back from that abyss of self-pity and anger.