Celebrating the Survivor
When we think of child abuse, we often think of child victims but there is an estimated 40 million adult survivors of child abuse in the United States today. Yet, as an underreported crime, we know this estimate is low.
This handwriting sample is from a survivor in her 50s. “Mary” experienced unimaginable abuse by those closest to her, some of which continued into her 30s. She has had extensive medical issues as a result, and yet is one of the most positive, playful, and creative people I have ever met. Always encouraging, her eyes sparkle at the possibility of an adventure. That enthusiasm often finds expression through her large brightly colored paintings.
You may notice how Mary’s writing appears carefully written, the strokes of some letters being meticulously retraced by following the exact path of a previous line or stroke. Note this especially in the small (lowercase) letters m and n. You see this same retracing in the tall stem of the lowercase letter d. Her writing overall has a compressed appearance, as if it were squeezed together on both sides. This extreme retracing and compression is a result of repeatedly having to squeeze out those hopes, dreams, and opinions that are all her own. She is trying, although painfully, to continue to follow the rules set for her.
There is very little about Mary that is spontaneous but she does have her moments. In situations more innocent and non-threatening the excitement will bubble up and burst out of her with childlike abandon, yet it can quickly disappear as she regains that life-saving composure. Mary has learned to be on guard, always vigilant and prepared. Unfortunately, she has also learned to do what others expect no matter how unreasonable. This behavior may be difficult for some to comprehend but not when you understand the dynamic in an abusive environment. Instead of feeling protected and nurtured, Mary learned to anticipate what others wanted or felt in an effort to protect her self. If she could figure out their mood, then she could know how to respond and somehow that might keep her safe. It didn’t work but it gave her some sense of control, even though she had absolutely no control over what was happening to her. As a victim of sexual, physical, emotional, and ritual abuse Mary did what she had to do to survive—that’s a testament to her strength and creativity.
In handwriting analysis, there are no good or bad traits. It’s how they are used that determines whether their effects will be positive or negative. Mary’s writing also reveals imagination, precision, and dignity—qualities that were likely instrumental in her survival. In time, these same traits can be redirected from a protective role to one that is more life enhancing.
We’ll never know what Mary’s life would have been like had she gotten the help and support she needed much sooner, or if, instead, she had been cherished from the very beginning. Mary truly is a remarkable and worthwhile person.
Like the wave of colors she brushes across a canvas, I wish her joy, in abundance, to wash over every day of her life.