Therapy tattoos

The practice of ornamenting our bodies could have been one of human first conscientious acts that apply the use of tools that would separate us from the other animals. 

The tattoos have been transforming in the timeline, it was a taboo on the 70s, and even later then that.But we can observe that this drawings on the skin have evolved highly individualised, its now a trend and something that some understand as art, or body decoration. 

We can also observe that the tribe tattoos were made with different intentions, protection, distinction form other tribes, medicine (like acupuncture ), magic, camouflage, etc. Somehow I tend to think that even today we’re doing the same thing that the tribes used to do, for each intention there’s a way to show the world how you feel or the story that you want to tell. 

Somehow I always thought that in this intentions there’s also a psychological matter, looking at all the years that I have been tattooing, most of the times there’s a story that the costumer wants to tell, sometimes its happy sometimes its not so happy. That to say that I think that there are  some things that we don’t know how to deal with, and somehow we need to remind ourselves about that history and also have the pain as a way to overcome ourselves. 

There’s a study form Grumet that I have been getting references from, and its very interesting to see how they did their studies with different patients which were tattooed, and to see that it’s  much easier to understand someone if there’s a map of their history, its the way we express our feelings and talk to the world. Basically they say that the tattoos are the window for the psyche.

The painful penetration of the skin in the process of tattooing is a way of acting out. Karacaoglan Grumet, also said “an attempt to actively represent an recompense as it were an deficiency”, meaning its an expression through pain when we’re not able to talk about some things. 

I have also talked with some artists and friends that are tattooed, I asked about their opinion about this idea, they all agreed that somehow there’s a story telling, something related to our past or who we want to be. There’s one of my friends that is a tattoo artist but she’s also a psychologist, and I found it very interesting to talk about this matter with her, and to know about her point of view. Her name is Julia Kössler, and she’s going to share some aspects from her point of view with us.

Julia Kössler

While being tattooed, needles with up to 0,40 mm diameter penetrate the skin around 10 000 times. Depending on which part of the skin is getting tattooed, the client is going through pain – sometimes for several hours –  in order to obtain the desired image on his or her skin. The question which arises is, why would people go through this process? According to surveys, summerized by Arthur Zuckerman (https://comparecamp.com/tattoo-statistics/) tattoos are getting more an more popular with 38% of american adults aged 30-39 being tattooed, millennials are very likely to get a tattoo, indicating that tattooing is getting more and more mainstream. 

Although I can’t  look back on several years of experience I assume that there is more to this craft, which already exists for thousands of years. 

When people talk about their tattoos, some of them not only point out the aesthetic aspects of the image, but also the story or meaning behind it, as well as the process of getting tattooed, the pain they had to endure and the tattoo artist, who tattooed them. 

I would therefore suspect that for some people tattooing is seen as a kind of ritual, where going through the pain is seen as an essential part. 

Ariel Glucklich describes in her book „Sacred Pain. Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul“ (2001), that – per definition – pain has to be distinguished from suffering and is tangled with mental and cultural experiences, which is also pursued and glorified throughout history. Further, in ancient medicine, pain was obligatory in order to become healthy. Only with the use anesthetics, pain got pushed in the background, but still belongs to the healing process. 

Many psychologists described the significant effect of emotional trauma on the mind and wellbeing, the need for conclusion and the mind-body connection. Applied to the process of tattooing, I suspect, that for many people emotional pain is transformed into physical pain, which leads – after going through the pain – to the desired image on their skin, which also is associated with some symbolic value. It is therefore possible that for some people, who can not articulate and discuss experiences of emotional pain and trauma, tattooing provides a therapeutic attribute.

This aspect of tattooing definitely has to be examined further and there are more reasons (e.g. cultural identity, body modification, individuality etc.) why people get tattooed day after day. Nevertheless, through the lens of a tattoo artist I can say, that there might be an interesting  connection which makes this job more and more valuable to me as an artist and psychologist.

CItations:

Glucklich, Ariel (2001). Sacred Pain. Hurting the Body for the Sake of the Soul. University Press: Oxford

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