What your handwriting says about you: receiving feedback in RO DBT skills class

Last fall, I was lucky and privileged enough to participate in an RO-DBT skills class. When I think about the class, a lot of memories come to mind.

However, the first one that pops up involves my instructors leading us through one of the exercises from the RO-DBT skills training manual. That day, we were going over the Flexible Mind ADOPTS skill, which stands for:

Acknowledge that feedback is occurring.

Describe emotions, bodily sensations, and thoughts.

Open to the feedback.

Pinpoint specifically what the feedback is suggesting and determine whether you should accept or decline the feedback.

Try out the new behaviour.

Self-soothe and reward yourself for being open and trying something new.

Our skills class met weekly via Zoom, so we all had to go get a piece of paper and writing instrument, then write down the sentence our class instructor read aloud to us. After that, we were paired up and asked to give each other feedback.

The people pleaser in me wanted to be liked, so I gave lots of “positive” feedback to my partner. I said something along the lines of, “The color is nice.” I didn’t have many suggestions, and I certainly wasn’t going to criticize someone else’s handwriting, since mine made me feel so self-conscious.

So far, everything was going just fine, except I didn’t quite get the point of the exercise.

However, when it was my turn to show my partner, who happened to be my skills class instructor, my piece of paper, she suggested a few things. They were along the lines of, “What if you had used a blank, white page of paper and not one with lines?” and “I wonder if it would be worth it to experiment with a different ink colour?” Finally, “My suggestion is that you could rewrite the sentence but use the space on the page differently.”

Ouch. Yes, painful feedback was taking place, I could most definitely acknowledge that. And no, I was not open to it. In fact, I noticed myself pushing back immediately, although I kept that to myself, and it took all the self-control in the world not to react. I forced myself to remain neutral, but inside, I was talking back at her and raising my voice (I realize now that I am outing myself, a year later).

How could my skills class instructor criticize my fine handwriting, and dare question my choice of stationery?! I was almost offended. Of course, cursive was more elegant than printing. And obviously, writing with deep purple ink was better than writing in black ink.

When I look back and remember this exercise, I laugh because it seems so silly to me, that I had such a big reaction to a silly matter like someone suggesting I write with a different colored pen. But in RO-DBT, they like to say that sometimes, it’s small instances like these that can teach you the most about yourself, and this rings true to me.

After all, I’ve always been self-conscious of my handwriting, comparing it to my friends’, and somehow associating it with the quality of my work. In the past, I had thoughts such as, “If I choose to write in print, then my university professor will think I’m immature, just like a child.” And “If my handwriting is so messy, then it will communicate to my teachers that I’m not taking this assignment seriously.”

None of that is accurate, but I still find myself judging my handwriting, although it is rarer nowadays, which is why I love the core mindfulness, RO “How” skill of being mindful with awareness of harsh judgments.

It’s so easy to be judgmental without realizing it. For example, I think that my best friend has lovely handwriting, and I’m envious because she was taught a different method of writing growing up. So, my therapist and I talked about being aware of our judgments, and this was enlightening to me.

The truth is that as humans we continually change, and our handwriting also does. My handwriting shifts depending on my mood, the texture of the paper, the type of pen, and so on. Right now, my (imperfect) handwriting is a mix of print and cursive, and I am learning to be OK with that.

My last thought surrounding handwriting is that I think that we, OC individuals, can all agree that one of the most irritating instances takes place whenever we are faced with the task of signing an electronic document – and must use our track pad!!

It often takes me a dozen tries before I’m satisfied with the result (cue in hyper perfectionism). I know I’m not alone in this, so cheers to everyone.

Full disclosure: this was my FIRST attempt at my signature, and I can’t believe I’m about to share it with the rest of the world.  🙂

About the Author: Daphnée

Daphnée studies English literature at The University of British Columbia. She works as a Youth Peer Support Worker, enjoys volunteering with inner-city kids, and tries not to take life too seriously.