Tattoo Therapy? Oh Yeah- It’s a Thing.
I guess you can’t have a blog called “Cultivate Your Inner Badass” without having at least one post on the healing power of tattoos. I was in yoga the other day and noticed that nearly everyone in the class had some kind of body art. As I pressed up into my up-dog, I felt this overwhelming sense of connection to those of us that have gone through pain and come out the other side with love- AND INK.
Visiting my cousin at one of her longer tattoo appointments and she having had not-so-great experiences with mental health counselors in the past, greeted me with a knowing smile and a “Welcome to my therapy, cousin.” Many people use tattoos as a way to heal. Even the process of getting the tattoo requires one to figure out how to cope with the pain. Despite the forms one must sign to get a tattoo, some might use pot or alcohol to numb the pain, some might breathe through the pain and reach a meditative space with it. Others might grit their teeth and “just get through it for beauty’s sake” and still others might have a strong emotional reaction, screaming or crying through the process. What a beautiful window to how we might deal with our emotional pain in other areas of our life. For some, it might be easier to cope with the physical pain rather than sit with the emotional pain and the art that is left is their symbol of their own process. The process of getting a tattoo also calls on our body’s immune system and some studies suggest that people with many tattoos actually have a strengthened immune system from the process of having to heal.
Tattoos often have deep meanings for people. They can represent spiritual growth, recovery from addiction and dedication to that, or they can memorialize the loss of a loved one. Sure, for some they are only about the art itself, but even thinking about the body as a canvas feels inspiring. I myself have tattoos that speak to notions of identity, grief, resiliency, connection, love, and aspirations. In almost every ancient culture, there is some form of tattooing. There are tattoos that mark development, accomplishment or rank. Some tattoos are thought to have medicinal purposes, tattooing on acupuncture points, or even using medicinal substances within the ink. A recent trend involves mixing a loved one’s ashes into the ink so they literally become part of your system.
There are many paths to healing, but tattoos often mark our journey towards that. They frequently mark a period of intense growth, which often, if not always involves discomfort and moving through pain. Just as moving through the physical pain of a tattoo leaves us with (hopefully) a beautiful piece of art, moving through our emotional pain leaves us with the beauty of our artistic and authentic selves.