Stop Overgeneralisation: A Guide With Examples

Written by: Janine Mack – B Sc

Last updated date : March 30, 2022
Table of Contents

Stop Overgeneralisation: A Guide With Examples
  1. Why Is It Important to Stop Overgeneralisation?
  2. In Conclusion

Overgeneralisation is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as “a cognitive distortion in which an individual views a single event as an invariable rule.” It is a thinking trap that creates an unhelpful negative mindset for those experiencing it. When we engage in this type of cognitive distortion we allow our past experiences to influence how we see the future. An example of overgeneralisation is thinking you’ll surely be rejected by the next set of jobs you apply for because it happened the last time as well. It’s important to stop overgeneralisation because it can warp how we view events that occur in our lives and be disadvantageous to us.

Child journaling on a big book about different times during the day, using thought blocking exercises

Chapter 1:

Why Is It Important to Stop Overgeneralisation?

Negative thoughts and emotions can have strong effects on both ourselves and others. They’re able to impact and influence our lives for the worse. Constant exposure to negativity makes us used to it and harder to move ourselves away from it. It shapes our perspectives which can even determine the course of our lives. Take the overgeneralisation example mentioned earlier: The thinking trap makes you discouraged from applying for other jobs. You believe you’ll be turned down and you’re scared to face that rejection. Ultimately, you don’t apply because your thoughts prevent you from it. But you forget your thoughts aren’t reality; you could’ve actually gotten the job. Instead you missed an opportunity. This cognitive distortion can make us assume the worst. When you become used to overgeneralisation it becomes one of the main ways you think and it’s hard to stop. You assume things will have the same outcome it did in the past or that everyone is the same. For instance, you cook something and it doesn’t turn out right so you think you’ll probably never master how to do it and there will be faults the next time as well. Or, you don’t get along with some of your partners friends and assume that will be the case with the rest of their friends too. These ways of thinking can even affect our mood. As a result, we may experience negative feelings namely sadness, anger, irritation and hopelessness. This can have harmful effects on other areas of our life. If we don’t address our thinking traps and attempt to stop our overgeneralisation we can develop mental health issues like depression and stress, have problems in our relationships and perform our duties poorly due to our negative moods and thoughts.
How to address this thinking trap

If you’re someone who faces difficulties because of this problem, know that it’s possible to stop your overgeneralisation habit. Here are a few tips on how to go about it:

Notice your thoughts

Whenever something happens be aware of whether you’re moving towards thoughts that overgeneralise the situation. One way to spot them is if they include the words ‘always’ or ‘never’. When you spot them, stop them. Being aware of your thoughts will prevent them taking over your mind and controlling your mood.

Remember that no one knows the future

So don’t waste your opportunities and emotions believing that your thoughts do. Life is unpredictable and anything can happen. Often we try to assume things to avoid hurt and prepare ourselves for the future. But this can end up backfiring and doing more bad than good. Reminding yourself that you don’t know what the future holds is another way to avoid such thoughts consuming you and help gradually stop overgeneralisation.

Replace problem thoughts

When you notice such thoughts and manage to stop them continuing, switch them with something more helpful. A feature of thinking traps are how they disrupt people’s lives. For example, overgeneralisation can often impair our ability to view things realistically. If you think you’re always going to be without a driving license because you keep failing your tests, or you’re never going to find love because your relationships constantly end, think of a more realistic alternative. This might be difficult sometimes because it might make us hopeful again. But it’s important to remember that we can change the course of our own futures and alter the outcomes of things, we just have to keep trying and doing our best.

If we decide to believe that future events will be like ones in the past, we’d be missing out on the possibility of a different outcome. Don’t let your thoughts take charge of your life, you do it.

Reason out with yourself

Another way to stop the overgeneralisation is to remind yourself of the facts; it’s easy to be carried away by thoughts and overlook all the reasons proving they’re false. Whenever you notice this happening reason out with your thoughts. Look for substantial evidence. Don’t base things on your feelings and the opinions you mistake to be facts

Imagine you were talking to a friend

It’s all too common to speak to ourselves in a different way than we would with our friends. Our self talk usually tends to be negative and critical over the same things we would approach with understanding and kindness if talking to someone we cared about. We may feel we have more liberty and reason to be harsh on ourselves. The reality is that it won’t really do any good and in fact might be counterproductive.

If someone you care about goes through something bad, chances are that you’re not going to tell them it’s what they should expect to happen again in the future as well. This might be because you don’t want to upset them further by making them feel dejected and hopeless by your words. You might even try to make sure they don’t feel demotivated and reluctant to try again. Just like you felt they didn’t need or deserve to hear that, you don’t either!

The next time you notice yourself about to overgeneralise a situation, approach it as you would with a friend. This might be able to remove you from your place at the center of the situation and put you in a better position to view and judge what happened in a more helpful manner.

Give therapy a go

Choosing to seek professional help in order to get assistance with your problems can prove an effective way of addressing them. Therapy is able to equip people with useful tools to manage their issues and allow them to lead better lives. For example, in the case of overgeneralisation, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)- whose main focus includes how people think- will be able to provide tailored exercise plans and strategies to help people stop this thinking trap. The goal of therapy is to enable individuals to make changes to their thoughts or behaviours by themselves, without needing someone else’s help. So the target will be working towards ultimately achieving this.


Chapter 2:

In Conclusion

It is important to realise how the ways in which we think can impact various aspects of our lives. Doing this brings a sense of awareness to want to stop and change these. And this can for example be done with overgeneralisation. Changing what we’re used to isn’t easy; the silver lining however is that it’s possible. The ways mentioned above hope to provide useful starting points in addressing this thinking trap. With practice, effort and perseverance this will be achievable!