You generalize the specific when you come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. You use words such as ‘always’ and ‘never’, ‘nobody’ and ‘everyone’ to make an all-embracing rule out of a specific situation. If you make a mistake, you tell yourself that you are hopeless. If you get rejected, you tell yourself that you are unloveable.“Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” by Christine Wilding and Aileen Milne
I think over-generalizing is the most common way that I sabotage myself. (Or at least, it is presently the way that most strongly stands out in my mind.)
I remember when I was a kid, I had a sleepover with some friends. But then later in the night, they were all on one side of the room making fun of me while I was on the other side crying to myself. From this and other similar incidents, I told myself that people don’t like me. So then even when someone accidentally sprayed me with paint in high school, I assumed that they did it maliciously. And when I walked through the hallways, I took jokes and empty words all too personally.
When I met my first group of gay friends, they talked a lot about their hook ups and little about relationships. Then I realized that gay people care only about bodies and sex, and little about people, relationships, or commitment. When I first signed up for a dating app and laid it out clearly in my profile that I wasn’t interested in hook ups, many people went out of their way to message me to tell me they were calling my bluff–people say they won’t hook up, but in the end, that’s the only thing people are really looking for on the apps. And my belief was validated. Despite the fact that I’ve had great relationships with people in the past, my mind continues to haunt me with this generalization.
I have a lot of these generalizations that I know I’ve made, and probably so many more that I’m not yet aware are generalizations. But just knowing that they’re generalizations doesn’t make it any easier for me to let go of them.
It also doesn’t help that I like to define everything as black and white.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the world is all shades of grey. And this is true to a point where every situation or moment is different from all others.
But by nature, we like predictability, consistency, and control. So we look for similarities and draw arbitrary boundaries around things. I like this, I don’t like that. I want this under these conditions, but I want that under those conditions. That’s how he is, and that’s how she is.
But because those boundaries are arbitrary, you can also change your perspective on anything in grayscale to black and white just by changing the definition of the boundary.
But I’m so risk averse, I often draw those boundaries in a way that cuts false negatives in order to also avoid false positives. Because to protect myself, I’d rather miss out on an opportunity than to be bit by something that I wrongly thought was an opportunity.
And thus, I often look for and hold on to many of these generalizations.
To protect myself.
How’s that for self-sabotage?