Healing through tattoos, By Elise Smith (Brooke)

Updated: Apr 4

The creative process has been part of human healing since the dawn of time. Songs, humor, theatre, dance, painting, and writing have the power to touch our souls, heal, re-frame and transform. Why should good tattoo art be different?

Please see my article about healing through writing https://www.mynzdreamblog.com/post/why-write-your-story

Similar to art therapy, the creative expression of a tattoo can be a tool for change. Tattoos can represent emotions or experiences that might otherwise be hidden. Getting a tattoo can be a way of processing something, like keeping a diary. People have immediate positive after-effects of getting tattooed. Tattoos can represent a way of expressing something personal and meaningful without speaking it.

The very first tattoo I chose was a cross with a dove representing freedom through the cross and Jesus as my beliefs. The pain was a reminder to me of some of the pain and suffering Jesus went through on the cross for me and His protection. Later in life, I escaped a very abusive and violent relationship, leaving me to bring up two children by myself as a solo mother. The tattoo I chose to represent my strength was a black panther. The panther is a solitary creature and a dedicated mother. In my twenties, I lost my mother, followed by my father a few years later. I kept a reminder of them and my roots where I came from, represented by a Lion for my mother; she was from South Africa and a strong leader, and a red English rose to represent my father from England and his impact on encouraging me to bloom. The element of pain in a memorial tattoo symbolizes a degree of hardship. A physical permanent marker of a loved one can help someone feel they are keeping their loved one’s memory alive and aid in the grieving process.

Tattoos can be a regular reminder of an achievement, athletic, birth of, and survival. After the birth of my children, I got a tattoo to symbolize their personalities. My daughters was a monarch butterfly, symbolizing her growth from a caterpillar to a butterfly spreading her wings. My sons was a wolf as he was now the male in the family, a leader, and protector.

Tattoos can help people reclaim their bodies after trauma and abuse, commemorating surviving a serious illness, claiming one's body back, symbolizing strength and survival as a reminder of the battle, such as my panther. The survival and endurance of pain with an image reminder of the experience as part of one's past is what heals. One is empowered because you suffered through it and survived.

Some tattoo designs are thought to have protection or mystical powers, like my cross or a well-known verse that can serve as a constant reminder of your faith. Tattoos can reflect sobriety and overcoming addiction, a dedication to continued recovery. Tattoos can help one come to terms with the past and move forward to a better relationship with body and mind. For example, getting tattoos to cover old scars from self-harm and cutting marks. No matter what your reasons for getting a tattoo, I’ve no doubt that it can have transformative powers and prove your body and mind are stronger than you think.

What about the agony? Is experiencing the pain of a tattoo therapeutic in some way?

It all starts with the anticipation phase, the rush of your brain experiences of adrenalin and dopamine. This can feel exciting, like riding a roller coaster. Once the needle touches the skin, you produce adrenalin. This helps mask some of the pain. Then comes the endorphins, like a mood boost one gets after an intense gym session. These feel-good chemicals reduce your perception of pain as morphine or codeine do. In the same way as morphine or codeine, you also feel a natural high. Living through the controlled physical pain of a tattoo, some say, has made them more resilient. There is research to suggest that getting multiple tattoos may affect your long-term ability to cope with stress by reducing the release of cortisol. A mixture of adrenalin, dopamine, and endorphins keeps people coming back for more.

Many people debate the health benefits of tattoos, one thing is sure; they can dramatically improve the quality of your mental health. Tattoos can be a stark reminder of where you have come from and where you are now. The process of tattooing can be described as mirroring healing. Tattoos can create empowerment and provide closure from a dark past. By physically owning one's injury/ trauma with a consciously chosen tattoo, a person establishes control over that injury rather than the trauma having control over them. The tattooing process can help you heal and see not only your body but the many internal parts of yourself in a different light. What matters most is working on self-love, both mentally and physically.

Please see my articles on “Self-Care” and “Self -love” https://www.mynzdreamblog.com/post/self-care


Tattoos are an outlet for self-love, a source of recovery, and a means for healing. For many tattoos contribute to a positive sense of self.

By Elise Brooke

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