We are sliding downhill to Christmas with our journey through the landscape of thinking errors and cognitive distortions that often underlie our unhelpful emotional reactions to daily situations. We will have reached the end before Christmas, so I will need to find a new seam to exploit for the New Year.
Today we arrive at Global Judgements, also known as “labeling” and “awfulising”. This thinking bias is characterised by labelling a person or situation in an emotive and negative way, based on a single incident or attribute. It is closely related to – and often confused with – our previously discussed thinking errors of Minimisation/maximisation and Over-generalisation.
Imagine you are undertaking a simple task around the house and for some reason it goes wrong. A normal reaction would be to feel a bit disappointed or frustrated with the outcome. However, with Global judgements, you end up castigating yourself as a completely useless, worthless and incompetent person, neither use nor ornament to anyone. Is this a reasonable reaction?
Similarly, your local builder Steve forgets to clean up some of the mess he has left behind. You describe him as a completely useless person, totally thoughtless and incompetent, even though he has actually done a pretty good job with re-pointing your bay window. Again, is this a reasonable reaction?
With global judgments, you are using a single attribute to label the whole person or situation. Thus Steve is completely useless, ignoring the fact that he did a good job with the re-pointing. There are similarities with minimisation/maximisation (giving more prominence to negatives and less prominence to positives), but a global judgement takes it to the next level – in a sense, it is a meta-cognition, a thought about a thought.
So, Steve is completely useless in the same way as you are completely useless. Now, hang on a minute. Surely there must be things you can do successfully? Maybe there are many times in the past when you completed this task in a satisfactory way, it just went a bit wrong today? And what if every time you try to put up a shelf it ends up less than horizontal? This means you are not a very good putter up of shelves, not that you are a useless person.
The key to challenging this thinking error, once identified as such, is to try to get a sense of perspective. Try to think in terms of a line stretching from “Specific” to “Global” and asking yourself whereabouts along this line you should rate the current situation. Am I labeling myself as a failure because I have failed at a specific task, or because every single thing I do is a failure?
If you were to conclude from your experience with Steve that all builders are incompetent and useless, that would be an over-generalisation. You might also conclude that all Steves are useless! The differences can be quite subtle, but are important because correct identification leads to more effective thought-challenging within the cognitive-behavioural model.