There are two questions I want to answer in this blog…
- How and why are we conditioned to become judgmental?
- How can overgeneralization be harmful? And how can it be overcome?
To understand how stereotypes and overgeneralizations are formed, let’s consider this example: Imagine you’re a naïve innocent child and you see a cute dog. The child goes up to the dog and attempts to pet it. The dog doesn’t know the child, gets skittish, and bites their hand. It hurts them, and they cry. From this event, you may develop two, deep-seeded, core beliefs:
- All dog encounters end in being bitten.
- All dogs are evil.
Considering the circumstances, these beliefs make sense. They are cognitive defense mechanisms; they protect you from getting bit again. This defense mechanism works – at least for a while…
Let’s move forward about 10 years with the above example: You are no longer a young child, but rather a young adult in your first serious relationship. You really like them and you want to move forward but there’s a hitch, your crush is a dog lover.
What once was a protective factor that has kept you safe is now a self-limiting belief that causes more harm than good. Still, we are reluctant to let go of these overgeneralized beliefs. Even when we realize they are outdated and still cause distress, we cling to them because they worked to protect us in the past.
Judgment is a naturally occurring defense mechanism. We all think judgmental thoughts. It doesn’t make us bad; it makes us human. However, recognizing these two thought traps can help us begin to recondition our automatic thoughts, improve our worldview, and grow in our character.