We all know that how we think can have profound influence on our moods. It can also change our perception of reality because in a way the world is a reflection of our thinking. Our mental lens can colour how we see the world. When events in life don’t go your way, we can become self-critical with negative inner chatter to the point of creating negative beliefs about ourselves. Here are some examples of this internal chatter:
“I’m a failure”: This statement assumes a permanent state of failure-hood through attaching a permanent label of failure to self. One that is constant and cannot change. It also discounts any success in life, so that the person can’t take pride in any achievement. It also projects failure into the future. Fear of failure can keep a person from trying new things. Rather than focusing on failure or success, a better focus might be to enjoy activities for their own pleasure. A reexamination of perfectionist standards may also prove valuable. Carefully consider the labels you put on yourself.
“I can never do things right”: Never means at an given point past and future. This statement sounds like fortune-telling, which is appropriate for psychic hotlines but isn’t best for life. Try not to generalize and avoid trying to predict the future based on some negative experiences.
“Nothing works out for me”: A few setbacks isn’t enough evidence to make this kind of broad statement. Don’t let those challenges keep you from trying. Life has its ups and downs.
If these thoughts aren’t checked, they can lead to depression. Recognizing the inherent defects in these thoughts, in part then allows us to overcome depression. Cognitive therapy tries to stop the flow of these negative thoughts by recognizing the distortion in thinking that goes with these statements. In that way, we will also recognize that these statements aren’t true. They are merely the result of certain patterns of thinking. Once we change the thoughts, then we can in time overcome our depression. Here are the common Cognitive Distortions connected with Overgeneralization:
1. Over-generalization: You take a negative event as a pattern of your life. We naturally relate new experiences to our old ones. So we commonly generalize based on our past experience. Over-generalizations also make up many of our stereotypes of other people. It’s like taking something that happened before and thinking that it will always happen again i.e. “I always screw up.” You need to recognize that the past does not create the future. If you examine more closely your over-generalization, you will recognize that it’s based on a simplification when reality is far too complex for over-generalizations. Some words to be cautious of in this category would be “always,” “every” or “never.” In the example above, you need to recognize isolated mistakes or failures do not indicate that you will always fail. Here are some subcategories of over-generalization:
a. All-or-nothing thinking: Everything is black and white. If your performance isn’t “perfect” in any area of your life or according to your standards, then you see yourself as a failure. This type of thinking is based on unrealistic expectations and it lacks flexibility. To overcome it, you need to recognize the continuum between the two extremes. Life doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. An example would be that you didn’t get the highest marks in your class, and therefore you consider yourself a total failure:
“What the point! I can never succeed because I’m only third in this class. I’m not first. So I’m a complete failure.”
b. Mental filter: Focusing on the negative or upsetting side of something and ignoring the positive. It displays as a obsessiveness with something seen as imperfect. An example would be to have interacted with 90 percent pleasant customers but you remember the 10 percent who were rude. After you obsess over the unpleasant interactions and exclude the pleasant ones from your thinking, you conclude: “My customers are awful. They don’t appreciate me.”
c. Magnification or Minimization: This involves exaggerating the negatives and understating the positives. It like making “a mountain out of a molehill.” So instead of looking at your positive accomplishments, which you minimize, you magnify your perceived failures. An example would be if someone offers you a compliment, you vehemently deny the positive and focus on the negative.
d. Disqualifying the Positive: Here you only look at the negative even if someone tells you differently, you continue to deny it. Here’s a possible conversation between two people showing this distortion:
John: “I’m no good at sports.”
Sam: “What about the time you scored the winning touchdown?”
John: “Oh that was just luck”
Sam: “But even the coach said you displayed skill.”
John: “He was just being nice”
So be careful of the labels you attach to yourself or to others, since people are always growing. You can’t put a permanent label on yourself as a “failure,” “unlucky” or whatever because you aren’t a static object but a dynamic person with great potential and possibilities. Recognize that you and other people are complex and over-generalization misses that complexity.
If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, professional help can allow you to treat your depression with both counselling and appropriate drug therapy for you. Self-help in terms of taking ownership and gaining understanding is important, still at times when things are overwhelming seeking help is the right step to regain your mental health.