Psychoanalysis of the Tattoo Part – II

Psychoanalysis of the Tattoo Part- II

A) The tattoo can have different purposes and meanings according to the stage of the individual’s development, the family dynamics, and the cultural and societal environment at large. In Erikson’s fifth stage of his psycho-social development he states that the individual is faced with a phase called ‘identity vs. role confusion’ where the individual is challenged with configuring and forming a sense of identity. Perhaps the tattoo can serve as a tool for the individual’s ‘expressive- identity’, coupled with a sense of ‘separation-individuation’ from the rest of the environment. It becomes his working ‘internal environment’ and ‘self-expression’ of his ‘going-on-being’. The tattoo includes a form of ‘rebelling’ against the outside environment which creates the ‘separation-individuation’. Although Margret Mahler speaks of infant’s developing separation-individuation as an early development phase, nevertheless there is an ongoing ‘separation-individuation’ that comes in the later stages of development as well. ‘Identity’ is especially intermingled with the ‘separation-individuation’ one enhances the other. The tattoo serves a ‘dual role’ in the process; first it serves the role of ‘identity’ and self-expression of the individual, and second it serves the role of ‘rebelling’ against the other, the tattoo induces the separation-individuation. The need to rebel is necessary for true emotional growth. Winnicott calls this the need to kill off the other in order to love them. He talks about the concept called ‘object survival’, which is when the other survives the rebellious acts without retaliating and thus there becomes a harmonious relationship between the two separate entities which are no longer one big ‘extension’ anymore. The act of rebelling severs the extension and creates individuation. In the role of identity the tattoo needs to ‘fit’ in with the ‘personality’ as a part and parcel of the expression of the ego structure. It’s not outside nor inside it is placed as the ‘togetherness’ of the body. It can be seen as an ‘expression and identity of the body’. The body can be experiencing the tattoo.

B) The actual procedure can be of tremendous excitement, rush, and thrill and it can also entail a masochism, pain inducing, and aggressive act. The pleasure and fear need to be allowed and experienced in order to develop a ‘united self’ which includes hate and love. The tolerance of experiencing both love and hate is the creation of the whole being.

C) There are two parts to the significance of the tattoo 1) the actual having ‘something-anything’ on your body irrelevant as to what the content is, and 2) having a specific content with a meaning and reference. When there is meaning to the actual tattoo the tattoo begins to develop a ‘personality’. There is a kind of ‘aliveness’ to the tattoo and we can even say the tattoo has a ‘personality with attributes’. The tattooist, the creator of the tattoo, is not merely an instrument for printing an image onto the body; rather it’s a creation of art which includes the tattooist’s personality and projections. His entire personality is reflected in the creation of the tattoo. Furthermore the body onto where the tattoo is drawn is not merely a canvas where the tattoo is placed; rather the body receives, accepts, joins, and participates in a reciprocal manner in the tattooing procedure. The tattoo holder has a ‘joint relationship’ in the ‘aliveness’ of the tattoo. Its creation is a ‘joint process’ between ‘two creators’ the ‘tattooist and tattoo-ee’.
The personality of the tattoo is not an abstract concept; rather it’s a combination of collective-art of personalities. It serves as a reference to several concepts.


5 thoughts on “Psychoanalysis of the Tattoo Part – II

  1. So being a student of psychology I went and got my first tattoo during a rebirth period of my life. I designed it, so it had a personal meaning to me, as every tattoo has a personal meaning to me or it wouldn’t be on my body. But the first tattoo, I was in emotional pain at the time, and I needed to know there was still another form of pain, I needed to know that the emotional pain could go away, would go away. So I had the tattoo done. I don’t really remember the pain being bad in anyway, just that during the process I was able to feel something outside of my emotional pain.

    Then I had the second tattoo, for very much the same reason. Again though the work itself has personal meaning, it wasn’t a quick decision; but I knew that it would relieve my emotional pain so I planned another one.

    Now that that period of my life is behind me I have gotten others, but for purely self expression. I was the last person in my immediate family to get a tattoo, not including my children, so it was almost as if I had “joined the club”, but because of the nature of my tattoo I was still an individual.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas and concepts of the human mind.


    1. Staci,
      Thanks for sharing and adding insight. Perhaps the wanting to feel ‘another’ form of pain, not an emotional one, was a form of externalizing your pain and having it sublimated into a measurable and physical pain which was under your control. Staci, thanks again for sharing and I appreciate your comment.

    2. A pattern is created when some event takes place, be it good or bad. If an unintended scratch or stick happened and was then loved up by a caretaker, then it is clear one might be sticking or pricking the self in order to get the love and attention on desires. Consider the pigeon in Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Box. This is an unhealthy pattern of behavior. Vaccinations in childhood could create this desire. Intervention for a negative behavior is essential and then reprogramming the thinking will create a new behavior pattern. According to Grof and even Freud, acting out which would be the act of getting the tattoo, has to be experienced through talk therapy as opposed to actually getting the tattoo. The tattooing represents something in the mind that likely happened to the body, be it an injection or something else. It is the re-creation of the sensation. Not intending to complicate the problem but it is important to mention that entanglements can create a problem where there was none. Sometimes getting a tattoo is nothing more than just getting a tattoo. I have never had one but I have been told they are quite painful. It is best to seek a knowledgeable professional in such a matter. Their guidance call be invaluable and that is all they should do, is guide you to finding the answer that lies only in one’s own unconscious mind. Jung states, “the unconscious is always right”.

  2. If you’ve ever burned your finger you already know there is physical pain. I don’t know you but I might suggest there is another reason you are inflicting pain on the self, and that seems to be what you intended doing. Something as trivial as having some prickly garment on as an infant or young child that may have scratched the skin could give rise to one wishing to re-create that pain. Babies are susceptible to the slightest traumas sometimes but they don’t always recollect them and apoptosis causes a loss of many of those earliest memories during brain development. Grof’s Beyond the Brain was helpful to me in understanding self-multilation. I think causing more harm to the self is negative approach to the problem. I also suggest seeking professional assistance in working through this and it seems that is what you are trying to do and certainly reading books on the problem are helpful but the real work is in writing on the problem or talking through the problems with someone.

  3. “When there is meaning to the actual tattoo the tattoo begins to develop a ‘personality’”…I don’t know if the tattoo develops a personality but it likely represents some part of the personality or content in the mind, or some personal identification and the manner in which thoughts were generated about the image, causing an, “on me” kind of thinking. Again acting out is the course of action that needs to be disrupted. Recollecting a negative memory should never be discouraged but again this should be managed by a professional.

    What I have stated are just suggestions and should be questioned with respect to one’s personal history.

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