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Overgeneralising Thinking Errors

Overgeneralising is what we do when we come to a ‘global’ conclusion about something from one or a small number of events and can often be characterised by the language that goes with this problem.

If you find yourself using words such as ‘always‘, ‘never‘ or ‘typical‘ then you are probably overgeneralising!

Many clients come into the clinic and tell me ‘I’m afraid of everything’ when I ask them to describe their problem.

Surely a person can’t really be afraid of everything and on further questioning it turns out that what they really mean is that they are afraid of ‘failure’ or some such other very specific thing.

Overgeneralising overstates reality and leads to a loss of perspective, the ability to make an objective evaluation of events or situations.

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Examples of Overgeneralising

See if you recognise any of these thinking errors:

You’ve got up a bit late this morning and are slightly anxious about getting into work on time. You put your key in the ignition and your car won’t start. You immediately think to yourself ‘things like this are ALWAYS happening to me, it’s so typical!’

You have a tendency to self-blame and shout at your child for asking you a question whilst you’re trying to watch your favourite TV programme. You quickly decide that you are a terrible parent for losing your temper.

In reality, very few situations are so clear-cut or extreme that we can extract general truths out of them abut the world or ourselves so when you do find yourself overgeneralising try the following things out:

Managing Overgeneralisations

Get Some Perspective

How true is it that things never go your way? How many times has your car ACTUALLY broken down in the past year? You’ll probably find that in truth, life goes pretty well for you and your car is pretty damn reliable. It’s easy to lose perspective and when you do, it can easily lead to unwarranted negative emotions.

Be Specific

Does losing your temper with your child make everything about your parenting ‘terrible’ or are you actually a pretty good parent? Surely this one-off incident does not cancel out all of the great things you do for you child. Whilst your child may get upset about your loss of temper, it’s hardly likely to damage that child irrepairably.

Shouting at your child no more makes you a terrible parent than having your car let you down once mean you are always experiencing mechanical failings that ruin your life. So try to be more specific, regain perspective and try to avoid creating ‘global’ conclusions about one-off events.

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