What if we stopped mistaking habits for defects?

Your beliefs become your thoughts, Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.

--Mahatma Gandhi

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, "Mental disorders are common in the United States, and in a given year approximately one quarter of adults are diagnosable for one or more disorders." A little digging reveals that this percentage came from a 2005 journal article, which based its survey questions on criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders. I like to imagine what the findings might be if someone asked the "9,282 English speaking respondents aged 18 years and older" who took this survey between 2001 and 2003, "What if your disorders are patterned behavior rooted in a false core belief?" To spur reflection, I might even give them the above quote and a list of such beliefs. The following is one list I found in Charlotte Kasl's writing (which comes from other work about the nine Enneagram personality types):

1. There must be something wrong with me.

2. I am worthless.

3. I have an inability to do...

4. I'm inadequate.

5. I don't exist.

6. I'm alone.

7. I'm incomplete, there is something missing.

8. I am powerless.

9. There is no love--it's a loveless world.

Moving from a distant thought experiment about over 9,000 anonymous survey respondents in a study conducted 10 years ago toward an inquiry into the possible connections between our own patterned actions and one or more of the abovementioned false beliefs is harder, scarier, and more vulnerable. However, to borrow from Madeleine L'Engle, "To be alive is to be vulnerable." So here goes...

My personal favorite is false core belief #4. When I have not been able to pause and replace that belief with one grounded in connection, love, and belonging, it has become a destiny in the following ways :

I'm not enough.

Internally: "I should be better than I am." "I'm not going to be able to realize my life goals."  "I can't trust myself to make wise decisions." "I'm a bad person." "I'm not loveable."

To the world: "I don't know what I'm doing." "I'm so sorry I can't do anything right!" "This is all my fault." "I'm a failure." "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

I try to make up for my insufficiency by striving, doing, fixing, managing, controlling. I shoulder responsibility for situations to which I contributed but for which I am not entirely responsible. I keep apologizing and making repairs long after most of the people implicated in my supposed "misstep" have forgotten about it. I add more to my overflowing plate. I withdraw.

I value sadness (i.e. melancholy). Solitude (i.e. isolation). Busyness (i.e. workaholism). Self-soothing (i.e. drinking alcohol).

I am depleted, depressed, lonely, overwhelmed, exhausted.

What's the point in taking a journey down that gloomy road? For one, I can trace back to the core belief and more quickly unhook from it because I know that what feels real and manifests in my life in real ways is often not true.* I also understand that my reality is interpreted, which means I can reinterpret and create a new reality rooted in different beliefs, thoughts, words, actions, and values.

Beliefs in connectedness, belonging, and love can seem abstract and sentimental when we have not had much experience generating a destiny from them. For those of us not surrounded and filled up with those beliefs in our childhoods and other cultural contexts where we have spent the bulk of our time, how do we bring them to life?

I recently read Andrew Solomon's chapter on transgender children in Far from the Tree. A mother in there, Carol, illustrated an acceptance, appreciation, and love for her child that I believe we can learn to offer to ourselves, as adults, in the service of generating more wholehearted destinies. So far as I can tell, replacing a false core belief with a life-giving one requires paying the kind of attention to ourselves that Carol paid to her daughter Kim:

[Solomon] said, "Do you wish that Paul had just been happy to be Paul and had stayed that way?" Carol said, "Well, of course I do. It would have been easier for Paul, and for the rest of us. But the key phrase in there is 'happy to be Paul.' He wasn't, and I am just so glad that he had the courage to do something about it. No, if he had been happy to be Paul, anybody would wish for that, but since he wasn't--I can't imagine the courage that it took. I had somebody say this weekend, 'Carol, Paul died, and I haven't finished mourning that.' I don't feel that. Kim is much more present to people than Paul ever was. Paul was never rude, he just wasn't totally present. We didn't quite have his attention." She laughed, then said with adoring emphasis, "And look what we got! Kim!" And grace seemed to be both the cause and consequence of her happiness in that emphatic declaration.

* As Tara Brach said, "We pay attention so that we can begin to loosen that thick cluster that really can define our lives."