Cognitive distortions: overcoming overgeneralization for moms and dads

Thank you for joining Stay-in-Bed Mom Blog (SIBMB) for an ongoing positive self-talk series. Self-love starts with positive self-talk. We’ll continue to discuss cognitive distortions, or unhelpful thinking styles, through the lens of parenthood. Last time we discussed all-or-nothing thinking.

A little cognitive distortion here, a little exaggeration there isn’t going to affect your mental state in the short term. However, if your negative thinking becomes chronic, then your mental health will undoubtedly suffer.

monochrome photo of girl crying
Photo by Mateus Souza on

What’s overgeneralization?

You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens just once, you think it will happen again and again. You may see an isolated, unpleasant event as part of an unending pattern of defeat.

Overgeneralization is common in people with mental illness, particularly those with depression or anxiety disorders.

What’s an example of overgeneralization?

My son has a cavity. So I suck at teaching him self-care skills. He’ll grow up to have a poor self-care regiment because of me.

What does overgeneralization look like in your mom or dad life?

You apply one past experience to all future experiences. One negative incident becomes a part of an inevitable pattern. You make a rule based on a single event or a series of coincidences. For example, your son’s debacle at the dentist’s office makes you think he’ll never have a cavity-free mouth again. You start singing “This Is the Way We Brush Our Teeth” in between sobs on the way home.

How can overgeneralization be harmful?

Overgeneralization worsens your thoughts, convinces you you’re not good enough, and makes you avoid people and situations out of fear of failure. It can make you feel like no one likes you. Perhaps most harmful of all: overgeneralization limits your potential.

Am I thinking in overgeneralized terms in my daily life?

You may be if…

You catch yourself using words like “always” or “never” or phrases like:

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I could never do that.

What can I do to overcome overgeneralization?

Do…use the 3 Cs!

  1. Categorize the negative, self defeating thought. Identify the unwanted thought or thinking pattern (e.g. all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, etc.). Write it in a thought journal.
  2. Challenge the thought. Look at what you wrote down. Review your thought journal and look for signs of overgeneralization. Reframe the undesired thought. Ask yourself how someone else would view your thought. Is this really true?
  3. Change the thought. Replace your thought with a positive or an optimistically realistic one. Believe you can create a different outcome in the future. A single negative event doesn’t hold true forever.

Remember the 3 Cs of cognitive restructuring, and you will notice a shift in the way you view the world. Through practice, you will think in a healthier and more positive way. Everyone needs a daily dose of vitamin C and the 3 Cs – Categorize –> Challenge –> Change. Both will do a body and mind good!


A Final Thought – From the Pillow

I’m not good enough. Scratch that thought! I AM mom (or dad) enough.

So keep talking back to your brain.

What strategies have worked for you for overcoming overgeneralization?

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