This is one of "22 virus definitions" (thought-mistakes that cause ineffectiveness and unnecessary negative emotions).

When you use the antivirus for the mind, you usually don’t need to know all the possible thought-mistakes. You can just be reasonable and really look at your statements, and even if you don’t know exactly what’s wrong, you can tell when something isn’t right about your explanations.

But it’s worth reading through this list of thought-mistakes and their descriptions. If nothing else, it will give you a clear general idea of what thought-mistakes are.

Oversimplifying is a very broad mistake, and it can show up in many different ways. One way is labeling others. If you meet someone and he seems kind of awkward, you may think to yourself, “He’s a nerd.”

He may be kind to strangers, take care of his mother, have a fascinating hobby, have a rich and varied emotional and intellectual life, but you have made the mistake of oversimplifying by giving him a single label to sum up a single facet of his complex personality. It’s not fair and it’s not correct and if you make this mistake under certain conditions it can cause depression, anxiety, or anger — unnecessarily.

Al Seibert, the author of The Survivor Personality, says labeling is turning people into nouns, which is “a child’s way of thinking. It limits understanding. It strips away what is unique about an individual and restricts the mind of the beholder to inaccurate generalizations.”

Seibert is concerned with what makes a good survivor. And he has found: “A more effective way to view people, and one that allows better understanding, is to assume that every person is more complex, unpredictable, and unique than any label.”

Another way to oversimplify is to tell someone else their motivation. For example, John bought flowers for Jeanne partly because he felt guilty for staying so late at the office, partly because he just loves her and knows she likes flowers, and partly because he enjoys how her mood perks up when she has flowers in a vase sitting on the table. But she gets the flowers and says, “You’re just giving me these because you feel guilty.”

Jeanne’s statement is an oversimplification, and so to that degree, it is inaccurate. But the emotions she feels will be in response to the oversimplification rather than to the real (more complex) situation.

It may be simpler and easier in some ways to oversimplify, but often it makes for bad feelings that are totally unnecessary and unsuitable to the real situation.

See the complete list of definitions: The 22 Virus Definitions.

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