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Article on Psychologies.com

“Left-Handed: Between Luck and Difficulty”

Interview with Joëlle Morice Mugnier by Elyane Vignau

They have long been “frustrated” by being told not to use their dominant hand. Today, left-handers are better accepted and generally better supported over the course of their education. But does this really mean an end to their difficulties? Not necessarily, replies specialist Joëlle Morice Mugnier, who has conceived solutions to help them deal with a society designed by, and for, right-handers, but also to allow them to make the most of their potential and their specificities.

Elyane Vignau

Contents

• What does it mean to be left-handed?
• Left-handers are better accepted
• An easier everyday life
• Against the tide of a right-handed society
• Persistant difficulties at school
• Left-handedness or dyslexia?
• Psychological difficulties
• Embracing one’s laterality
• A method to feel better
• Left-handers are more creative

“The Devil’s hand”... For centuries in France, and still today in some Middle East countries, the left hand was almost cursed. As were all left-handers. Fortunately, over the past few decades, mindsets have evolved and they are progressively better accepted. To the point that today they claim their laterality as a true sense of identity. And with great pride!

What Does it Mean to be Left-Handed?

Read also on this topic: Left-handers’ testimonials (http://www.psychologies.com/Moi/Se-... – article in French)

Is being left-handed only a matter of using or writing with your left hand? “It’s not that simple”, warns Joëlle Morice Mugnier, a psychotherapist and Vittoz Method practitioner, author of Gauchers en difficulté (published by Pierre Téqui, 2011). “One can be left-handed, but also left-eyed or left-footed. Fewer than half of left-handers are fully or homogeneously left-dominant, i.e. all three at once.”
The others may therefore be partly left-dominant, and partly right-dominant. This explains why some say they are “half-lefted”, without quite understanding why they feel “ill-lateralised”. This feeling is also found amongst people who, although they write with their right hand, feel just as awkward with regards to their laterality.

So when can it be said that someone is left-dominant, then? In the specialist’s view, “We can describe as left-dominant those with a left manual dominance (left-handed), those with a left visual-spatial dominance (left-eyed) and those with both”. But here is a confusing definition: some right-handers could prove to be left-eyed without knowing it!

Left-handers are Better Accepted

Why do we become left-handed or right-handed?

It is still difficult today to know what leads each of us to be either left-handed or right-handed. But this choice seems to be greatly linked to the dominant social model. Some children, by mimetism, will conform to it, while others will reject it. Now that we no longer try to correct left-handers, specialists do expect the numbers to get closer and closer to 50% of the population. Unless the right dominance has become engrained in our genes over the centuries. For now, the mystery remains...

Today, left-handers make about 13% of the French population, a figure that has increased considerably in the past 40 years. Before that, whether at home or at school, a child who started to use their left hand suffered the angry reproach of the people around them: to hold a spoon or to write, it is the right hand, and the right hand only, that they were often made to use. Amongst those “frustrated” left-handers, some mention very harsh methods: hand tied behind their back, hand holding the bars of the chair so as not to be tempted to use it, criticism and humiliations of all sorts...

On our forum, Kalinka remembers: “When I was little, I was initially forced to write with my right hand, then to cut, eat and sew with it. Because I was constantly watched over, I didn’t even feel like writing or painting anymore. So when one of my sons, a left-hander, first went to primary school, I immediatly told the teacher not to contradict him in that respect ever. She laughed and told me that, precisely, she carried out tests to avoid making left-handers use their right hand.”

An Easier Everyday Life

If mindsets regarding left-handers have changed, their everyday life is also becoming simpler. “They now have access to tools purposely designed for them”, explains Joëlle Morice Mugnier. Tin openers, scissors, specific keyboards... All these objects enable them to experience their left dominance to the full.”

On our forum (http://forum.psychologies.com/psych... – forum in French), Nanaclo observes with amusement these changes that are far from trivial. “I have been left-handed for 46 years. When little, at school, I was struggling with writing. Today still, I don’t like it, I tire quickly and it hurts my wrist. So thank goodness for the computer! My mouse is place on the left and I have a left-handers’ keyboard, with the digits on the left. It’s very handy but right-handers hate using it! They find it too complicated for them... What should we say, as we endlessly have to adapt to a world designed by right-handers?”

Against the Tide of a Right-Handed Society

“This is precisely the reason why left-handers are frustrated”, comments Joëlle Morice Mugnier. Even if you let them write with their left hand, they are still frustrated to have to adapt to a right-handed system where everything is designed to, again, be written, read and even thought from left to right.”

A system in which left-handers function “backwards” since their opening sense of direction is naturally from right to left. Hence this confusing feeling, common amongst left-handers, of thinking against the tide, as described by Macha on the forum: “My father is a frustrated left-hander. I call myself “half left-handed” because I also use my right hand a lot. I’ve noticed that my father struggles to understand certain things ou often understands them “sideways”. It is the same for me. Is this due to being left-handed? Yes, I do think that we function differently. My mother, who has taught me various manual tasks, would always tell me that I was doing everything the wrong way round.”

As for BrestBreizh, she remembers: “I have got used to living in a world of right-handers who exert, in their own way, a somewhat underhand but definite dominance. But as a child, I would turn the key in a lock in the opposite direction: I would lock to unlock and unlock to lock. The same goes for zips, buttons, tube tickets to feed through the machine... The list goes on!”

Persistant Difficulties at School

These issues become much more of a concern when we look at cognitive areas. “School is often where the left-hander’s main difficulties come to light”, says the psychotherapist. “The most common and most visible is writing, with the issue of the wrist twisted into a swan’s neck in particular. Illegible hand-writing, slowness, cramps... This has many consequences for their schooling.” Not to mention that, as early as nursery school, it is not uncommon to see left-handed children spontaneously write from right to left.

Left-Handedness or Dyslexia?

Another great difficulty: reading. “For a right-hander, no problem: they read and write in their left-to-right opening direction”, states Joëlle Morice Mugnier. “However, for a left-hander, this is problematic. For a left-eyed person, for instance, the eye is irresistibly drawn to the left. The result being that reading proves difficult, broken up, sometimes with comprehension issues. I have therefore noticed, in the context of my work, that many dyslexics are actually left-eyed.”

Mathematics, too, can be a source of problems, because for left-handers, an operation or equation written from left to right may look backwards. For example, it is impossible for some to conceive that the result can be on the right when they naturally see the solution as being... on the left.

Psychological Difficulties

More suprising still, being left-handed can cause some to experience real mental unease. Even for those who were not “corrected” when little. “Our laterality has an impact on our space-time representation”, explains the specialist. “When we think about our future, about the week ahead for example, we visualise the past to the left and the future to the right. Yet, I have noticed that some can feel blocked in their life because for them, the representation of the future is on the left! The solution is to help them to become aware of it and to use their right-to-left space. This is sometimes enough to remove the block at an emotional level.” The specialist continues with the example of a patient who felt literally blocked with regards to the one-direction left-to-right space, and who started to feel better once she started to visualise her future no longer to the right but... in front of her.

Embracing one’s laterality

Left-handed / right-handed : brains in opposition?

No, the brain of a left-hander is not the reverse of a right-hander! In reality, left-handers use their left brain hemisphere, almost in the same way as right-handers. What is less know, however, is that at a neuronal level, 57% of left-handers have two language centres. If their original brain was initially the right hemisphere indeed, they have, over the course of generations, used their left hemisphere – even though they keep a language centre on the right still.

Is this an isolated case? Clearly not! Discovering and exploring one’s laterality, finding out that one is left-handed, even late in life, and re-learning to use one’s dominant hand can prove to be a real source of well-being. Carole, 47, describes with some surprise a strange experience that goes beyond writing only: “I am a really frustrated left-hander. Four years ago, influenced by my new partner, also left-handed, I started to read testimonials by people who had tried to reclaim their left laterality. What was confusing (and which I found excessive) was the fact that some seemed to say that their life had changed. So I gave it a go. I re-learnt to write with my left hand, several minutes a day, covering pages and pages of writing, figures and letters. So I can now write with my left hand fluently. The strangest thing is that I have noticed that I also gained in self-confidence, that I feel more self-assured.”

Joëlle Morice Mugnier confirms: “Even if writing is a mere device, some people, after discovering being left-handed, talk about their impression of having so far missed out on something vital. This does not come as a surprise. Our brains need to function within their normality, that is to say, in their opening direction. This is why, once they rediscover their sense of identity as left-handers and write with their left hand, some “frustrated” individuals quickly improve their self-esteem. For others, this may not be enough: they need to make full use of the right-to-left space, their natural opening direction.”

Are you ill-lateralised?

Joëlle Morice Mugnier clearly states that it is a tricky diagnostic to make as the symptoms can be manifold, and sometimes very well concealed! But some signs deserve to be investigated: a feeling of block, whether cognitive or mental; concentration difficulties, namely for reading and writing; or even an unexplainable lack of self-worth.

Read also: Gauchers en difficulté by Joëlle Morice Mugnier (published by Pierre Téqui, 2011)

A Method to Feel Better

This is a part of what is offered by laterapedagogy, the method created by Joëlle Morice Mugnier based on her practice as well as her personal experience: “In my case, for instance, I had to go further to solve a quest for identity and psychological balance. My solution was to write with my left hand, but in my opening direction, that is... from right to left.”

Mirror-writing is intriguing for right-handers but natural for some left-handers, and was made famous by a certain Leonardo da Vinci. “I still write with my right hand occasionally because it is true that the right hand is a good match for the western, left-to-right writing”, adds the practitioner. But to feel better, for my personal notes, I allow myself to write on tracing paper with my left hand, from right to left. This brings me an incredible feeling, and I would even call it a true pleasure for the brain.”

In reality, we all have both opening directions at our disposal, one being dominant, the other not. But in general, we only use one of them. And that’s a shame, according to the practitioner. “Even a right-hander would benefit from trying to write backwards with their left hand. This would allow them to stimulate another part of their brain. We could all aspire to be “brain-ambidextrous” or “ambicerebral”. That is to say, capable of switching between the two hemispheres and mobilise the abilities of each.”

Left-Handers are More Creative

Read also on this topic: Left-handers’ testimonials (http://www.psychologies.com/Moi/Se-... – article in French)

Besides, is it not said that left-handers are more eccentric, more creative? Is it a stereotype? “No”, replies the specialist. “Because they must use the conventional left-to-right direction to read and write, they indeed make their left brain work harder, and this for them is the more creative, imaginative and intuitive hemisphere.”

Enough to create a true feeling of identity, a shared pride. On our forum, Carole talks about her partner, who is “left-handed and very (too?) proud of it. He thinks that our minority is better skilled for certain things. Even more intelligent, more eccentric. He likes to say that we are a left-handed couple.”

Is this over the top? “No, we are still a minority”, agrees Joëlle Morice Mugnier. “We have suffered and endured much bullying. So today, indeed, we are proud to claim our left-handedness. It is a way of raising awareness about the common suffering that we all carry still and of challenging mindsets. I have been surprised to discover that today some people envy us for our creativity and even, so I’m told, a certain elegance.”

http://www.psychologies.com/Moi/Se-...


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