Psychology and Tattoos

What does psychology say about tattoos?


The relationship between the body and tattoos opens up a very important analysis for psychology.

Experiences and emotions pass through the body. They are part of our life.

Tattoos also speak of who we are, they express what we like, what defines us, what crosses us and are part of our personality. But let's see what psychology has to say about this. Here we’ll tell you everything.

Tattoos to prick the unconscious?

Studies on the relationship between the body and people are very extensive. From several approaches, very interesting conclusions can be reached. For psychology, the relationship between the body and the person is very important.

The body functions as a life diary, it is a living testimony of all our experiences. The body goes through all its changes and transformations together with the person. And, both bodies and people change in time.

Emotions and thoughts are embodied on the skin and also in the tattoos.

In addition, what happens inside is expressed through the exterior. This is why the tattoo expresses the individual world of each person, and it is a way of talking about oneself and sharing it with the rest.

For many, tattoos represent very personal bonds, values, and beliefs. This allows them to define themselves and also express it to others, generating both bonds of empathy and identity and a sense of belonging and differentiation from other people.

Many people think a tattoo is only an aesthetic creation but it tells more about their life.

But there are also those who think that a common characteristic is the search to feel unique, to distinguish, to be different and original.

The so-called Body Art is understood as decorating the body through art, including tattoos. The body is a canvas to make aesthetic modifications, both permanently and temporarily.

This relationship between art, body and tattoos can be very significant when it comes to analysing someone’s tastes and even their personality. That is why it has begun to be the object of study for psychology for several years now.

And this also includes the experience of pain. There are those who believe that going through the pain of tattooing is something necessary, almost as part of the ritual. And it symbolizes the strength, conviction, and commitment embodied in the skin.

If you want to learn more about this, you can read our article Anaesthesia: A safe method when having a tattoo?

But what does a professional psychologist say about this?

To expand further on this topic, we consulted Rosalba Varaceta, a mental health professional, who tells us about her experience in the field of psychology and gives us an idea about tattoos and the impact they have on people.

She studied psychology in Bogotá, Colombia, in her hometown, and then she moved to Barcelona to specialize. She graduated in 2001 and, since then, she has had many personal and professional experiences that help her on her path as a psychotherapist.

Rosalba says: Currently, I work following an integrative approach to observe the person as a holistic unit that belongs to a social, family and cultural system, which leaves a mark on our emotional and bodily DNA. Only by understanding the person in his uniqueness and designing a tailored therapy, I have been able to build solid bonds with my patients, which has helped them in their personal reconstruction process.”

Let's see the contributions.

Identifying oneself through tattoos

There are social groups that have a specific tattoo code, such as tribes or various cultural groups, mafias, prison tattoos, etc. Wearing one of these tattoos gives a sense of belonging. Here, both perception and self-perception pay an important role.

Does the view point of others interfere when deciding to get a tattoo? What relationship do tattoos have with self-esteem? Let's see what Rosalba thinks.

According to her,

Self-esteem has nothing to do with what you decide to get tattooed on your body. Self-esteem comes from the inside out and not the other way around. This means that a tattoo will not give me self-esteem, just as having the latest car, or going out with the most handsome guy around me, or having a million tattoos on my body will not give me self-esteem. A tattoo can mean strength, love, peace, resilience, ability, union, change or growth, but the tattoo per se cannot give us what we have not built internally.

And she adds

“The acceptance of our body with its defects has to do directly with the esteem we have towards ourselves and our image. A person who has a well-constructed ontological esteem will most likely not get a tattoo to accept their body or to look more attractive, but for a different reason, perhaps more symbolic than identitarian. When our esteem depends on the gaze of others and the recognition and/or acceptance of others, it is as if we became the shares that fluctuate in the stock market, which means that our value, understood as validation and personal legitimacy, will depend on the value that others give us and, in this case, some people might get tattoos to be accepted.”

But in addition to this, we could also say that there is a strong relationship between tattoos and the personal meanings that people give them.

Every tattoo symbolizes something, even if it is in the least, if each person is asked about their tattoos, they surely have a story to tell or a why that explains them.

Tattoo are a non-verbal language, they speak without words and can even say more intimate things about a person. They are visible and will always have something to say.

At this point, Rosalba says:

“Indeed, a tattoo represents many things, since an image can be interpreted in infinite ways, hence the richness in the meaning of tattoos.

To know what a tattoo means, it is absolutely necessary to ask that person about the meaning of the tattoos they have, since each one has a moment in time, was made at a different stage, and each one of them might even represent something totally different.

We cannot say that a person is bad because they have dragons and demons tattooed, in the same way that we cannot say that they are good because they have angels and flowers tattooed on their body. Personality is not required by an image tattooed on the body.”

After going through the experience of being punctured and tattooed, the person is no longer the same and the idea for which they got a tattoo begins to have a different dimension. For example, to get through difficult situations, a tattoo can be really therapeutic.

In this sense, many people decide to get a tattoo to go through some painful situation or to close a cycle. That is why it seemed essential to us to ask a professional about this, and Rosalba told us:

“Some of my patients have got tattoos as a symbol of the process of change they are experiencing in therapy. Others, on the contrary, do it at the end of their process as the closure of what I call an interesting adventure and other people come with tattoos that represent past experiences. All of them have given a special meaning to their life stories through tattoos and I have noticed that they are very careful when choosing the tattoo, they take their time, they live it as a process of reflection, and they take pride when they take that step.”

And she adds:

With scars, a tattoo seeks to hide it but not erase a past experience. Accompanying my patients in this process is very nourishing, because behind a symbol very deep emotions are hidden, many of them of resilience and empathy towards themselves.”

If you want to know more about this topic, you can read our article One wound that heals the other: Tattoos for scars. Also, do not forget to leave your opinion about this in the comments, we want to read your opinions!

Do tattooed people have different psychological traits?

In the past, tattooed people were considered the most marginalized people in society, often associated with gangs or criminality.

Little by little, that perception changed, until tattoos became part of the trends and fashions, distinctive for each generation.

But some of those old beliefs persist today and there are those who believe, although they are a minority, that tattooed people have some characteristic psychological traits that make them different from other people. In this sense, Rosalba remarked:

“In this case we could state that those people who collect luxury cars, or Coca-Cola bottles, or paper boats also have different psychological traits, and we cannot say that. Here the psychological regulation of each person plays a crucial role. For those whose regulation is anomic, perhaps in this case pleasure and impulsiveness will prevail over other things. If, on the contrary, people have a more socioeconomic regulation, well then, perhaps they will let themselves be carried away by the masses and do things to be accepted by a group. It is about is understanding why each person, uniquely, acts as they do. Generalizations are often useful to explain something without contextualizing each case, which can be detrimental.

In addition, there are also those who associate addictions or psychiatric disorders with the tattooed population or with a particular group of people who wear tattoos. But Rosalba thinks:

Once again, we emphasize that the important thing is to understand the moral and psychological regulation of the person. People who have some type of disorder or addiction are not always tattooed, in the same way that a tattooed person does not always have a particular disorder or addiction. We have to pay close attention and understand once again that, although we belong to a social group, we are not all the same.”

As the doctor points out, it is important not to generalize and always focus on the fact that when talking about psychological traits, we must talk about particular people and specific cases, it is not possible to draw a conclusion that works for everyone equally.

So, we could say that tattooed people do not necessarily have distinctive features, apart from physical features that differentiate them from others.

So, do tattoos talk about people?

As we have developed, having a tattoo is a not random thing to do. Although minimal, the meanings of each tattoo express a part of the person who wears them.

In addition, it can also be very positive for those who wear them, both in a therapeutic sense, helping to go through and transform painful situations, as in an aesthetic sense: a living canvas of a painting in the form of a tattoo.

In relation to identity, the body speaks for the person. We communicate through the body and our tattoos. That's why It is not just a drawing that is printed on the skin, but it is something much more relevant.

In fact, our tattoos also influence our personality and how we see ourselves.

Caroline Gourdier asserts this in this interview. Don't miss it!