Psycho-Analysis of the Tattoo Part -I

Tattoo’s date back to the earliest days of civilizations. However, excitingly, in the 80’s tattooing and body piercing became a standard procedure, and part-and-parcel of our culture. Despite its somewhat negative connotation decorating and styling our bodies  became an accepted and thrilling way of displaying ourselves.
The meaning behind art is subjective, however we can provide an overarching universal interpretation. Body-art to some degree  symbolizes  body ownership. The  feeling of ownership and autonomy is real. It gives us the liberation to design ourselves despite the stigma and social conformity. Perhaps, precisely because of the stigmatization the tattooing is an indication of power. Our body represents choice and freedom of our individual expression and through design we reflect our will.

The return of our fluffy mind-of-thought back into our physical body of groundedness and work is essential. Like a massage, sex, and  deep breathing  which helps us connect to our organs, the tattoo represents a body-ego orientation. The analyst D. W. Winnicott, in “Mind and Psyche-Soma” explains how the body-ego is a healthy ego center of the soma.  The  imprint of ink-art displays  and  symbolizing our central apparatus of being and functioning.

Body-ink can link  ourselves and others to the past, present and future. The tattoo signifies a co-creation  between us and an external person: an idea, concept, and  object. We share and connect to some idea or person and internalize it. The  needling is  internalization and the tattoo serves as an on-going reminder of unity of being with self others.


25 thoughts on “Psycho-Analysis of the Tattoo Part -I

  1. I agree!. Well said….the tattoo as an unconscious act and imprint and connection with psyche and the sacred…

    1. Thanks…it is only after reading your article on the Jung and the nude that I took the guts and courage to write this article.

  2. Amazing analysis of the psychology behind the Tattoo – one of which I had/have – I have question, since you seem spiritual as well as scientific – could there be a connection between tattoos and our past lives? As if it is a subconscious attempt to integrate our past existence(s) with our current one? Thanks so much! Great post!

    1. Thank you so much for the kind words. Regarding your theoretical suggestion, I agree with your train of thought, it can be our unconscious way of integrating a past part of our-self that we want to reintegrate with and re-connect with.

  3. I really like the point you made in part b. For me, the experience of getting a tattoo very much brought me into my body. So much so, in fact, that I almost reached a sort of pain induced “climax” experience. It was insanely powerful! Anyway, this was a fun read. Thanks for the post!

    1. You made me smile. Thanks so much for sharing I love hearing from others and I love your philosophical blog. I love the cartoon you posted, Im going to comment on it.

    1. Thanks Honey,
      I’m thankful and appreciate that you put in the ‘double’ effort in reading my post.
      I’m assuming that you meant that you’re not sure about #1, so let me clarify. Some people suffer from a pathology where they feel a sense of powerlessness and a sense of dependency with no self-reliance. This disorder can be understood as a sense of no-ownership of one’s body. Thus the tattoo gives the person the symbolic sense of ownership and a sense of ‘mine-ness’ that I have control over myself and my body belongs to me. After feeling the sense of ownership the individual feels a sense of power and responsibility and can restore to a healthy sense of self.
      Thanks again for commenting and I hope this was helpful,

  4. I talked to the author of the book, “the last time I wore a dress.” “She” was born female but looked very masculine and people were always confusing her with being a guy. I asked whether “she” saw “herself” as male or female and s/he said that s/he felt somewhere in-between.

    S/he also has a lot of tattoos. I asked if that was because s/he was tired of people labeling her/him and s/he wanted to label “herself.”

    Yep that’s it.

  5. I’ve often thought in a more Freudian way regarding tattooing. Much in line with our “self-possessiveness” and labeling as described in part A, I’ve often felt the act is more of a self-objectification as it facilitates others’ perception of a human being as an object. The person turns one’s self into a canvas thereby becoming an object. Perhaps this is also the underlying regard behind the observer viewing them (perhaps) as a potential sex partner rather than the being beyond or within the body. I hear way more people thinking it’s sexy (including me) than anyone mentioning the contrary.
    I’m certain this is just me, but I often regard tattoos, particularly a lot of them on one person, as very sexual. When I remove the libido however, I can’t see myself in a deep relationship with one so extensively inked. I appreciate the art, but I accept the more tribal motive than a Betty Boop drawing. The labeling or categorizing of ourselves makes us more of an item on a store shelf than a spirit. Or, thanks to your post, it allows me to see it as the spirit coming to the surface. All art is like that–simply the external representation that’s giving form–be they pictures, words, sculpture, clothing, or even the making of food–to thoughts formed out of spirit.
    Now I expect a lot of disagreement but hey, I accept whatever. That’s the nice thing about being an individual. Like the prevalence of tattoos it helps us remember we’re unique–just like everyone else! I appreciate you writing this article and giving me a perspective that’s less shallow. Damn you Freud!

    1. Thanks Mark, for adding to this post. I agree that in a way the tattoo can be a form of transforming the individual from a subjective self to a selfobject. Ogden differentiates between a self that has subjectivity versus a self that is just an “it”. Perhaps the tattoo, as you mention, can be a reference to a selfobject and a sex-object. For Freud, I was thinking that he would explain it as an act of repression and then externalization, the repressed memory becomes imprinting as a tattoo and it then becomes revealed to others as an act of externalization. I was also thinking that excessive tattooing to the point where the person is covered can be seen as an act of defending and hiding oneself from others. Or perhaps an unconscious feeling of guilt for having a beautiful body thus trying to cover it over.

  6. I just had a very vivid dream that I tattooed my entire left arm. All along it, there were images from my past…even Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street! I thought it was beautiful, but I kept trying to hide it from my husband because I thought it was so “dark” looking…and too personal to be shared. Interesting how in line that is with your article! Thanks!

    1. Thanks for sharing your dream. So much of our unconscious is revealed in a dream and we are so lucky when we can remember them and interpret them. It seems like the unconscious felt comfortable to express themselves in a tattoo. Its amazing how much depth lies in the tattoo. Thanks again for sharing.

  7. I have a tattoo that is not usually visible. It is one of a rather pleasant looking exotic spotted cat’s head, with a bit of plant life designed around it. I guess your category C nails it: I used to raise really large exotic cats, and when I no longer had, wanted to maintain some sort of connection besides in my memories.

  8. Another aspect of the tattoo might be health benefits. As an acupuncturist, I mostly see tats in the wrong places that block the surface flow of energy. But they can be judiciously placed so as to treat chronic blockages such as scars.

  9. Love this blog Eli and this an excellent article on Tattos and what they signify to us. I love this quote…“thus the individual sucks the energy out of the body and becomes overly intellectual and creates a mind which becomes localized or in the head or in the stomach. Perhaps the tattoo is an imprint of the connection one has with his body and thus symbolizing where his ego is localized”.
    Thank you Heather

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