In today’s video, we’re going to cover a very common cognitive distortion called overgeneralization.

Read or watch below to learn more about overgeneralization.

Zachary Stockill: Welcome to part two of my new series on retroactive jealousy and cognitive distortions. Today we’re going to cover a very, very common cognitive distortion called overgeneralization. 

Just to remind you, the term cognitive distortions refers to unhelpful, negative, and often irrational thought patterns. And our goal in this series is to start identifying our irrational negative thought patterns as quickly as possible so we can start replacing them with something more realistic, more grounded in something. That will help serve us to achieve our goals and be happier people. 

The term retroactive jealousy refers to unwanted intrusive thoughts, and often obsessive curiosity, about a partner’s past relationships and or sexual history. So, when we put those two things together, it’s clear that…

A big part of our struggle with retroactive jealousy involves falling victim to cognitive distortions. 

Overgeneralization refers to taking one event and applying it to every other event, even if it’s not necessarily related, even if it’s completely irrational and unrealistic.

For example, let’s take a musical example. Let’s say you’re a singer, you’re singing a song, and you hit one wrong note. You may start telling yourself “I’m a terrible singer, I can’t sing,” even though you hit one bad note in a group of maybe hundreds of notes in one piece of music. 

Overgeneralization is very common among people struggling with various anxiety disorders and depression. So if either of those applies to you, it’s very important to start getting a handle on your overgeneralization tactics, and your overgeneralization habits as quickly as possible. 

Common signs of overgeneralization involve assuming the worst about a person, place, an event, and negative self-talk.


And, thinking that you just can’t do anything right. Or maybe someone else can’t do anything right. And using words like everybody, nobody, always, or never are all common signs of overgeneralization. 

So what are some examples of overgeneralization as they apply to retroactive jealousy? Let’s take one of the common examples. Let’s say there was an episode or a period in your partner’s life where your partner was relatively promiscuous. They had a little more sex you’re comfortable with. 

And this was a defined period in their life. It wasn’t 10 years, it was maybe a month or maybe six months. So, overgeneralizing would involve saying things like my partner is always promiscuous. Or, they were never ever in a stable relationship. “I can’t trust them because of this period from their past. She was promiscuous once, she’ll be promiscuous again,” that kind of thing. 

Another example could involve you telling yourself “I will never be okay with my partner’s past because I’m struggling with it right now…”


“I’ll never be able to move past this. I will always struggle with my partner’s past. I will always feel this way. Just because I’m feeling that way right now…”

So, moving forward if you’re a retroactive jealousy sufferer is to think about where in your life where you could be overgeneralizing as it relates to retroactive jealousyWhere are you making statements or falling victim to thoughts that are really an example of a cognitive distortion we call over-generalization?

And crucially, what are some better ways of thinking that you could apply to this particular thought or this particular situation? One of the things that I tell coaching clients all the time is: what is an example of a better story you could be telling yourself?

This is a big topic. But hopefully, this gives you some food for thought. Hopefully, this will help you get started. 

Be sure you are subscribed to my free 4-part video minicourse for more info on getting started overcoming retroactive jealousy.

Zachary Stockill
Zachary Stockill

Hi! I'm a Canadian author and educator whose work has been featured in BBC News, BBC Radio 4, The Huffington Post, and many other publications. I'm the founder of, the author of Overcoming Retroactive Jealousy and The Overcoming Jealousy Workbook, and the host of Humans in Love podcast.