Tattoos: more than just self expression

F. L. Y. – First Love Yourself

“A symbol is not just an image but is like a door into the inner world of the soul, through which we can access the energy & meaning that belongs to this sacred dimension of our self.” – Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Sufi teacher & author

While many people may not put permanently changing their body at the top of their self-care to do list, getting a tattoo can be a therapeutic way to work through major events.

Personally, I view tattoos as snapshot moments of time: playing under the Evergreen in the front yard of my childhood home, binge watching Jerry Springer with my cousin Ham (who has now passed from breast cancer), standing in the Hawaiian sand weeks after graduating college, getting through the worst year of my life.

Tattoos – like self-care – are a lifelong commitment. Choosing and designing a tattoo can allow time for reflection on one’s wants and needs – often leading to a better understanding of one’s self.

“We are taught to think in an analytic, linear manner, using words to explain our self,” clarifies Vaughan-Lee. Symbolic consciousness is the journey of creating a world around us that symbolizes what has existed within. “It’s a way of working with symbols that allows their meaning and energy into our consciousness. It is like a key that is needed to unlock the real potential, the energy of a symbol.” says Vaughan-Lee. “It’s holistic rather than analytics.”

Tattoos can help you face and deal with deep/intense emotions. When my sister finished her treatment with depression, she felt so empowered she decided to get a tattoo of the serotonin molecule – as a reminder of her ability to create her own happiness.

Many people choose to get tattoos to commemorate friends or family members who’ve passed away. Sometimes, in the process, helping them move from debilitating grief into a form of acceptance. Others who have experienced a happy uplifting event may choose to commemorate it by carrying a reminder of it, while some choose to transform visible scars into something they’d love to see.

Tattoos can help give power back to those who’ve been marginalized or abused. And serve as a permanent reminder of our own strength, our ability to choose our own path and the importance of taking care of our bodies. Additionally, it can be extremely empowering to make a permanent change in your life, even if it’s small like putting ink under your skin.

“I cannot think of another medium of personal expression and meaning that is so intimately connected to our bodies and memories,” says Lars Krutak, a tattoo anthropologist and research associate at the Smithsonian Institution. And the benefits are more than skin-deep.

“Feelings of hope can reduce stress and create a positive outlook, which has been documented to help healing,” says Anna Friedman, a tattoo historian and the director of the Center for Tattoo History and Culture, a research organization. In fact, there’s an entire movement called Project Semicolon where people get semicolon tattoos as a symbol of hope in the face of depression and suicide – a nod to tattooing’s history as a spiritual and tribal practice, dating back millennia.

. . .

Getting out of your head and into your body can be profound. When you suffer through something physical (like having a needle repeatedly pierce your skin) and come out the other side, it can help you deal with emotional pain. Even after the scars are healed, tattoos continue to boost their bearer’s self-image while providing a permanent reminder to keep feeling – making them an excellent and effective form of emotional self-care.

Since completing my undergraduate studies, I've dedicated my time to supporting and empowering individuals with behavioral health issues. This blog is to be a platform for the behavioral health community; examining the history of behavioral health and the progressions made within the field while providing information and resources to those who need it.

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