The next cognitive distortion is “overgeneralizing.” One bad thing, or a series of bad things, can contribute to an internal narrative where we start to believe bad things will always happen. One example might be if someone thought, “I always fail at sports,” when in reality they just missed one shot at the end of a basketball game. Even if that shot was important, it doesn’t necessarily reflect their overall athletic ability.
When someone starts using phrases like “I never,” “I always,” “You never,” or “You always,” they could be falling into this cognitive distortion. Very few things in life “never” happen or “always” happen—most things only happen sometimes. But when bad things happen, or when we make a mistake, it can cloud out the fact that there are also a lot of good things that are happening in our lives as well. It becomes harder for our brains to see or remember the full story.
Just because we can’t remember good things doesn’t mean they aren’t happening, that they haven’t happened, or that they won’t happen again.
There’s a line in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, where the Apostle Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It almost sounds like he’s saying that we should act like everything that happens is good. But what he’s actually saying is that as human beings, we have to train our minds to be able to remember and focus on what’s positive—and that God wants us to be able to do this.
Scientific studies have shown that writing down things that we’re grateful for each day can have a positive impact on our mental health. And unless we take time to purposefully remember these things, we may be more likely to fall into this pattern of “overgeneralizing,” and building stories about our lives that only focus on the negative things that happen.