Wrong Thought Pattern #4--Overgeneralization--Always, Never

Being a writer, it's easy to start thinking, "I'll never get a book contract. I've been rejected every time. No publisher is interested. This is a waste of effort. I might as well give up."

Having health problems, it might look more like, "I'll never stabilize. I'm always trying to hard and it's never enough. This isn't fair."

If you say that with an Eeeyore tone, it's even more impressively bland.


When we get discouraged or angry or frustrated or sad, one of the easiest patterns to fall into is overgeneralizing the problem and its meaning. Author Brenda Poinselt gives the illustration that, "Twice Carol dropped bites of her salad while attending important dinners--once at a church banquet and once at a company dinner. Carol stopped eating salad at important occasions. 'Every time I eat salad in public I drop some of it on me. I'm so clumsy.'"

I can think of two particular settings when overgeneralizing will get us into real trouble (there are more of course, feel free to add your own).

1. Using overgeneralization in arguments. From all the marriage books I've read, apparently this is a big problem with spouse arguments. "You never help with the housework." "You always nag me about the housework." "That's because every time I bring it up you go read the newspaper!" "All I ever hear from you is criticism! You never give me a break!"

You get the point. Not only is it just not true, which means you're lying, but it also shows that you're not actually wanting to deal with a genuine problem as much as venting your anger and pushing someone into feeling or responding a certain way (which doesn't seem likely to work--do you ever want to respond well when someone's throwing "always" and "never" at you?). Not to mention people don't like having past mistakes thrown in their face. If all you can do it remind them of their bad habits and weaknesses, why should they bother even trying to do better? You've already shoved them into the overgeneralized box.

2. Using overgeneralization as an excuse to give it to our feelings. "I'll always get rejected so I'm just going to quit." "He never shows up on time--I'm just never going to trust him to keep his word about anything." "She always gets catty, so I have the right to put in a little dig of my own now and then."

When we overgeneralize, we're deciding not only that something has always been thus, but also that it will never change. That might be good, if we were accepting a negative trait about someone with the Lord's grace toward them, but usually that's not the case. Instead of deciding it's a lost cause, however, we can extend grace as God works on them, which can remind us of the hope that God is still working on us, too.

So next time you feel an overgeneralization coming on, if it's about others, think through the reality of the fact that rarely is anyone always or never anything. If it's about you and how you feel, don't let a few negative things stop you from pursuing the dreams the Lord has given you. You won't always win, but you won't always lose either.

Give a little grace today--to others, and to yourself!--by swallowing those always and nevers before they're said.


  1. Just found your blog through a friend on Facebook. I can relate as a caregiver to some of your postings -- my Beloved Husband is a Type II diabetic with a heart stent (and history), allergies, psoriasis and was diagnosed with Myesthenia Gravis last August. Take this pill to offset that pill that helps problem one but triggers problem three. As an aside, about adrenal, has anyone mentioned Cushings? I met a lady that spent years with symptoms before an endocrinologist removed the adrenal tumor others felt wasn't impactive. It helped her.

  2. Hello and thanks for visiting the blog. Wow, your husband has a rough set of health problems. So sorry!--for him and for you. Sometimes it's just as hard or harder being the one to care for the sick person. And I know what you mean about the medication! I'm trying a new one right now and dealing with that.
    Thanks for mentioning the Cushings--that's the opposite of what I have. My adrenals don't produce the cortisol I need rather than too much. I have to take pills to supply it, and they did check for tumors on the adrenals and my pituitary. Looks like I've just got it for life. Lord knows!
    Grace and Peace to you today,


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