Recent allegations involving Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi remind us that there can be important discrepancies between public image and private truth. Because I'm fascinated by handwriting and what it tells us about the writer who produced it, I think about this discrepancy in graphic terms. Can handwriting help us understand the instinct for privacy, explaining why it fuels healthy boundaries in some instances, while cascading into secretiveness in others?
According to graphology, or handwriting analysis, people routinely express their core intrinsic patterns when they do virtually anything . . . even penning a simple message. A sample of handwriting, then, can be examined by a trained observer to get hints about the writer's personality. As a case in point, take the signature of the late Margaret Thatcher.
Signature of Margaret Thatcher, Former Prime Minister of Britain
Note how Thatcher forms the T at the start of her last name: a single line topped by an arcade, a parasol shape that is familiar from architecture. Arcades take the shape of a hat, as in the expression, "keep it under your hat." Arcade writers are understood to be formal, private and discreet. In architecture, arcades relate to structure and aesthetics. Similarly, graphologists see arcade writers as organized and disciplined, dignified and poised.
Thatcher's arcade tops a single line, the stem of the t. Writers who break letters into separate lines show themselves to be analytical (preferring to break concepts into their component parts, just as they deconstruct letters into their component lines), direct (think, "straightforward," like the line itself) and independent (like the number one that she effectively pens with that singular line). Thatcher covers her singular I, her independent self, with a protective canopy. The other arcades in the signature reiterate the value of privacy for this writer.
Signature of Tiger Woods, Professional Golfer
In contrast, Tiger Woods' signature sports an arcade above the W that seems superfluous. Look closer, though, and we see that Woods' arcade provides a secretive structure which hides a letter with erotic overtones! That 'W' looks like female body parts! He penned this sample years before his extramarital affairs came to light, so maybe there is something to that expression, "crime always announces itself!"
Signature of Karla Homolka, Convicted Killer
The signature of Karla Homolka also shows an extraneous arcade at the beginning of her signature, again indicating a need for privacy. As well, we note sexualized innuendo in the first letter of the last name, a letter which looks like a female body part and has been uncomfortably penetrated by a sharp and unnecessary line. Such symbolism is sometimes found embedded in the handwriting of perpetrators, victims or those with sadomasochistic fantasies.
Signature of Bill Cosby, Comedian
The signature of Bill Cosby also sports a dominant arcade. The first letter of his surname has been distorted and made into an overarching awning which protects the surname, representing the public self or the professional self. In fact, some of the letters of the last name are tucked away, hidden beneath that dominant arcade, as if tucked away from public view. What do we know about Bill Cosby's private life? Very little because he is very, very private, especially protective of his professional reputation.
Signature of Oprah Winfrey, Former TV Show Host
Oprah may look like the most open woman in the world, yet her signature has its share of concealments. Her first name - the name denoting her private and personal self - is enveloped protectively, indicating a protective psychological defense that is pervasive amongst survivors of sexual abuse. Note the other careful enclosures. The first lower loop in her last name is carefully sealed and the end stroke of the signature loops back to create a very carefully enclosed little space between the two lower loops of her last name. All those enclosures reveal a strong need for privacy.
It makes sense that we have a protective faculty within that helps us calibrate our behaviours and disclosures, promoting poise, dignity and decorum, in the best case; Or it functions to discretely cover up misdemeanours, in the worst case. I'd argue that only in a culture that views the inner domain as sacred, rich and necessarily private, will that faculty function at its best. When a society places all emphasis on the visual world of appearances, the hidden interior zone of life deteriorates, and then all bedlam breaks out. . . behind closed doors, of course.
We can shame and punish perpetrators of bad behaviour but the chronic societal flaw that fuels that behaviour remains unaddressed. How can we reinstate the status of the inner dimension and the importance of privacy as a virtue? In the age of Facebook and Twitter, is there any hope?
Signature of Lily Tomlin, Actor
We can learn from Lily Tomlin's signature. Note that it is large, which psychologically indicates a desire to be at the center of attention, a born performer. But note how the lower zones of the top line intersect with the upper loops of the two l's in her signature. In so doing, she creates a private interior, a sacred space within which dwells the top line of her T crossing. The extension of the y of Lily is a little door which permits or denies access to that sacred space.
She penned this sample, by the way, while standing, holding the book she was autographing in the air. So if this little symbol is unconsciously generated, it's also quite deliberately penned. Imagine creating this symbol so precisely without a table surface to write on! It's a sign of health when somebody who has a large public persona deliberately designates space for the inner domain of life.
Surely she would agree with Lau-tzu who wrote: "Without going outside, you may know the whole world. Without looking through the window, you may see the ways of heaven." If you had access to the secrets of the universe within, you, too, would conscientiously guard your sacred interior.
And guess what?
Now it's your turn . . .
This column introduces the clinical application of the psychology of handwriting, a European technique mostly unfamiliar in North America. Readers can bear in mind that graphology is appropriately used alongside other assessment methods, never used in isolation, and is properly used in the context of psychotherapy or counseling.. This method is discussed fully in Clinical Graphology: An Interpretive Manual for Mental Health Practitioners, recently published by Charles C. Thomas Publishers.
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