Non-dominant handwriting as a way to access Parts
Non-dominant handwriting technique, discovered initially, and promoted by art therapist Dr. Lucia Capacchione, is a pathway to access Parts of you that are not readily accessible. Non-dominant handwriting, as part of IFS and Parts work, can increase access to the Parts that are young and vulnerable (exiles) and those in a protector or managerial role.
Whether you are highly experienced in the IFS method, or just starting out, you will likely know or perhaps intuit that healing inner Parts begins with loving awareness and making contact with those Parts. This requires psychological flexibility.
Non-dominant handwriting uses a simple method of putting a pen in the non-dominant hand and free-writing for several minutes. This can connect and make contact with our Parts. The theory and practice suggests it increases our brain’s capacity to access, connect with, and integrate the Parts of us that are typically out of reach. These Parts contain powerful solutions for the person ready and willing to thus communicate. It’s as simple as putting the pen in the non-dominant hand, asking pertinent questions, and then exploring answers! And answers will come. Often they can be surprisingly frank.
Writing with your non-dominant hand leads you to the terrain you usually cannot access. We typically use a straightforward thought process, and most people are uncomfortable with irrational thoughts and feelings. Neuroscience helps us understand handedness: if we write with our right hand, we are right-eye dominant, using the left side of our brain. If we write with our left hand, we are left-eye dominant, using the right side of our brain. If we have unprocessed trauma memories, this technique can be helpful because unprocessed trauma memories remain unintegrated and, therefore, not accessible through linear, rational thinking, which is linked to our dominant handwriting hand. Using both hands in a writing exercise creates an opportunity for both hemispheres of our brain to more fully function.
More of us becomes available when we bring Parts together in this way. Writing through both hands makes a team effort as both the right and left hemispheres work together to process what has been “left out,” thereby giving it verbal expression. What would otherwise remain hidden from our conscious awareness can now be released. If we are inquiring into a solution to a particular problem, it is possible to ask our Parts to share freely the problem and solution.
Let me provide a real-life example. My client, Sam, came to me for help in resolving his romantic pattern dilemma. Sam would be charming, present as highly intelligent, engaged, and affectionate. However, an avoidance pattern appeared after a short period in every new relationship. Much to his bafflement, and the pain of his partners, he himself felt helpless to stop this pattern. He did not have any particular complaints about his partners, describing them as mostly “good, kind, sensitive, overall excellent partner potential.” To explore the problem and solution, Sam did a fifteen-minute-a-day non-dominant handwriting – in his case the non-dominant hand was his left hand. He connected to an inner child Part who expressed needing to approach, then withdraw, to avoid his fear of abandonment and an underlying lack of trust in others. Sam described a cathartic cry, awakening a vulnerability avoided like the plague. He showed me his awkward left-handed handwriting and some tear-stained marks on his pages. After several more sessions and many more journaling pages later, Sam felt more connected to his child Part and felt less of a need to avoid intimacy. His fear of abandonment, stemming from his young self, began to heal. It had found a new voice – through Sam’s non-dominant hand.
Benefits of non-dominant handwriting practice
- Ten minutes daily for fourteen days can lead to better non-dominant handwriting skills
- Daily practice provides a pathway to connect with Parts previously unavailable
- Relationships with Parts are fostered through writing and the effort involved (which Parts can appreciate) can reveal necessary, hidden solutions to problems, capacities, wounds, and gifts
- All attempts are promising efforts to enhance inner relationships with Parts
- Low to no risk, nor any cost
You may feel lost in life, have a sense of internal disconnect, feel you do not know yourself, or have difficulties connecting with others. You come across different self-help methods, try them, it helps briefly, and then you are back to the same feeling of disconnect. Thousands of times each day, our unconscious story habits, coming straight from our Parts, will dictate our behavior, how we understand our life, our ideas about ourselves, others, and our perception of the world. Some will be uplifting moments. Others will be our psychological habits that have become the “experts” in our lives – they act on their own accord. Psychology calls this: “repetition compulsion.” One might say that Dr. Carl Jung knew it best: what we do not bring to the light of our awareness will dominate us persistently.
In IFS terms, our young Parts: exiles, protectors, and managers, all need an inner loving parent. Through non-dominant handwriting, we can determine what our Parts need and how to shift our dynamic towards providing that parenting from within. This new dynamic can help these young and vulnerable Parts rest their burdens, learn healthy, loving ways of relating, and ultimately, it stands to bring out their best capacities.
TRY IT OUT…?
Take a current issue that is troubling you. On a sheet of paper, title it with your dilemma. It can be anything that is bothering you. With your dominant hand, write the question and direct it to: “the Part(s) of me that might have the answers to this.” Place a different color pen or pencil in your non-dominant hand, set the timer for five or ten minutes, and write away! It may feel uncomfortable, the handwriting may be hard to read, and the language might sound like a child. After reviewing the answer, place the pen in your dominant hand, and thank that Part for showing up and answering. Repeat until you have a strong sense of which Part of you came forward first, what guidance was received, and what potential action steps might be needed.
Non-dominant handwriting is beneficial because it allows us to work through what is unresolved or uncomfortable in our world without therapeutic financial costs to pay. It can shift our perspective, enabling us to live a life with Parts that with the act of writing have a method to unburden, connect with us, and create a new narrative according to which we can live better than before this contact was enabled.
This method is like writing a storybook, releasing the stories our Parts have been carrying for so long. We may have been living our life based on the unhealed burdens of our Parts – stories that they did not entirely author. With non-dominant hand-writing as a technique we can go deep into self-understanding, applying new information our Parts have shared. It could provide a fresh start.
Inner transformation occurs when our Parts feel validated in truth, love, self-acceptance, and forgiveness. Non-dominant handwriting can help our Parts express and release chaos and confusion, leading us toward our cherished core values and away from avoidance.
Non-dominant handwriting does not require any special skills, knowledge, or confidence.
Anderson MD, Frank G, Sweezy M, Schwartz RC. (2017). Internal Family Systems Skills Training Manual: Trauma-Informed Treatment for Anxiety, Depression, PTSD & Substance Abuse. PESI Publishing & Media.
Capacchione, L. (2019). Power of Your Other Hand. Red Wheel Weiser.
Philip BA, Frey SH. (2016). Increased functional connectivity between cortical hand areas and praxis network associated with training-related improvements in non-dominant hand precision drawing. Neuropsychologia. Jul 1;87:157-168. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.05.016. Epub PMID: 27212059; PMCID: PMC4903896.