How to Change Your Thinking: Overgeneralizations

Change the Way You Think

“My friends – even my therapist – say I’m doing so much better. Baloney! All I know is I’m anxious and depressed as heck. And that’s just the way it is.”

Well, hold the phone, Ms. All-Or-Nothing! Aren’t you being kind of hard on yourself (much less totally unrealistic)?

You offered up a cognitive distortion known as an overgeneralization. And the only way you’re going to knock it off – and feel better – is to first learn about what you’re doing.

Cognitive Distortions

I ran a piece not long ago about cognitive distortions, featuring 13 classics. One of them was overgeneralization, and I want to give it more press.

Here’s a link to the original article.

In review, within the context of cognitive (referencing how we think) theory and therapy, a cognitive distortion is an exaggerated and often irrational automatic thought. And it’s mighty, having the power to generate chronic depression and anxiety.

How many rule your life?


Overgeneralization is making a knee-jerk – well – generalization based upon ultra-poor quality (if any) evidence. And when it comes to cognitive work, the rules of evidence are everything.

Hey, within the context of survival, and the basics of human nature, overgeneralizing makes perfect sense.

Why? Because we rely upon our past experiences to make judgments, and protect ourselves, in the present.

It’s one of the purposes of memory.

But then along come the realities of life, and we learn that we can’t judge all situations based upon a particular set of past circumstances.

So we have to call upon ourselves to think – believe – beyond primitive generalizations.

Disqualifying the Positive

Let’s learn more about overgeneralization by discussing a common one – disqualifying the positive.

It’s classic all-or-nothing thinking.

And just as the name implies, any positives of a set of circumstances are left behind in its presence. The sole focus is upon the negative.

Take a look at the opening statement from Ms. All-Or-Nothing…

Notice how quickly and smoothly the positive was tossed aside. And do you see how the negative was reinforced?

And not only did she have no rational evidence upon which to base her assessment and statement, she had strong evidence to the contrary!

In her current mode of thought creation and maintenance, do you think there’s a chance of reasoning with her?

I’ll tell you what I think. No way! Because she’s always going to explain away the positive.

Without intervention, it’s always going to be, “Life is a pain, so why not keep on hurting?”

Tossing Overgeneralizations Aside

Using something known as cognitive restructuring is weapon #1 in destroying overgeneralization – any cognitive distortion, for that matter.

It isn’t rocket science, I assure you. It’s simply learning to spot, reverse, and remove the distortion. Then it’s on to replacing the maladaptive thought with the factual and beneficial – grounded in evidence.

Here’s a link to a piece on cognitive restructuring I wrote in follow-up to the cognitive distortions article.

But never forget this! I say it time and again, relief and healing don’t come until we learn something isn’t right. Okay, yes I know something isn’t right with your mood and feelings of anxiety. But I want you to go deeper…

Something isn’t right with your thinking! And it’s there that the work needs to be done.

Once you’ve gained the insight into – frankly – what you’re doing wrong, you’re ready to fix it. And then it’s on to learning how to cognitively restructure – and practice, practice, practice in the lab of life.

Let’s Tie a Bow on It

You spend so much in personal resources on your mood or anxiety situation, don’t you?

Aren’t there people, places, and things you’d rather spend them on – including you?

You know, there’s nothing wrong with good old fashioned hard work. But I’d like to see you work smart, as well.

Come on, dump the overgeneralizations. Cognitive work will help you get the job done.

Here’s a list of all chipur Feel Better articles. Looking for articles on the biology of depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder? Here ya’ go.