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23 Tattoos That Represent Healing From Childhood Trauma

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Trauma leaves marks — but these marks are not set in stone. They might not erase completely, but they can fade, adjust, and become less powerful as time goes on and as you heal.

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Tattoos, though, can act as permanent reminders that healing from trauma is possible. That’s why we asked our mental health community to share tattoos they got on their own healing journey.

If you’ve been through trauma, and you’re still struggling now, you’re not alone. Even if you can’t see it now, healing is possible. We hope the messages and images below give you hope.

Here’s what our community shared with us:

1. “My phoenix (still in progress) is a symbol of my strength. Of how many times I have risen from absolutely horrible medical circumstances that have both altered the course of my life and nearly taken my life. But I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.’” — Darcy R.

A full back tattoo of a phoenix with wings spread.

2. “A semicolon. To remember every time I wanted to give up, every time I almost gave up and even when I tried to, that I got through everything that happened. Not only was it difficult, but I experienced it as a child. It’s a constant reminder to keep fighting and never forget what’s brought me where I am now.” — Sophia M.

A wrist with a small semicolon tattoo.

3. “It seems odd, but I distinctly remember reading a book about forests and forest fires when I was a kid, and learning about how ecosystems recovered after a fire. I read that some trees’ seeds would only successfully plant and germinate after a large fire hot enough to open whatever structure the tree used to contain its seeds. For some reason I really connected to that idea that somewhere out there, no matter how horrible things got, something new and good and strong was going to literally grow out of the ashes. That got me through a lot of rough patches as a kid. So I got a tree tattooed on my arm to remind me of my resilience.” — Ryan G.

A man's forearm with a tattoo of a fire-blackened tree, with its branches bare and its roots exposed.

4. “The bird cage directly over my heart represents the trauma I suffered as a child. It is in all grey tone, representing a lack of joy. The bird, holding her own key in her beak, in the colors of purple and blue, has escaped the cage. She flies freely away from her prison. The lettering says, ‘Love gives her wings,’ which means that only love can heal the pain of childhood trauma — self-love. I wear this tattoo proudly because it reminds me of what I have endured and how I not only survived, but have learned to thrive.” — Catherine M.

Tattoo of a birdcage over a woman's heart, with the bird flying away.

5. “This is a reminder for all my suicide attempts, my father’s death because of suicide and many years of sexual abuse, I am still here because I have a purpose. I am still living, despite all that has been done to me.” — Tayla D.

Tattoo on a thigh that reads: "and here you are living despite it all."

6. “My tattoo symbolizes the hold my past has on me… every so often, though, I manage to let go a little, which is the balloons that are floating off. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to let go of everything because my past is my life lessons, my life story and my personality, which keeps me floating.” — Sophie G.

Tattoo of balloons floating upward, with a child holding onto the balloon strings and being lifted with the balloons.

7. “My dad was killed when I was a child and a few years ago, I initially had a rose tattoo and ‘in loving memory’ of my father on my shoulder. I then had a full sleeve added with roses and the quote, ‘Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.’ It’s a great reminder about my dad, but also to others that I have lost close to me.” — Ben D.

A full sleeve tattoo that reads, "In loving memory of my father."

8. “Growing up in a toxic environment meant having to adapt to all my surroundings. This lotus flower represents someone who is able to thrive in every environment they are put in. Even if it’s deep in the mud I will still thrive.” — Nicole V.

Tattoo of a lotus flower on a forearm.

9. “It’s almost done. I still have to add color… this tattoo represents the three main characters I created to survive abuse and depression. The female knight is Leonie, the horse is Bay, and the dragon Draco’n. I am currently working on writing the novels of their adventures.” — Amanda P.

Full back tattoo of a knight, a horse, and a dragon.

10. “I got Céline Dion’s autograph on my arm. I actually met her and this was her actual autograph. Céline has been my ‘safe place’ since I was a bullied teen in high school. Now in my healing journey from trauma and PTSD, she’s what I end every session of EMDR with. She’s the only thing that calms me and brings me joy.” — Monika S.

An arm tattoo of Celine Dion's autograph.

11. “I have a tattered open door on each of my wrists. ‘When the thunderstorms of life come rolling in keep your front and back doors open so that your troubles cannot find a home.’ It is my daily reminder that I do not have to take on everyone’s problems as my own and that this, as with everything, too shall pass.” — Christopher B.

Tattoo on a wrist of a tattered open door.

12. “My tattoo represents my childhood sexual abuse and healing from that. I was always mocked for being an emotional kid (hence the ‘Cry Baby,’ also the Melanie Martinez song resonates with me), and the semicolon for many years of self-injury.” — Teresa S.

Tattoo on a forearm of three hearts. The pink heart reads "Cry", the purple heart reads "Baby", and the green heart has a semicolon.

13. “This is the compass from the album art for the song ‘Invincible’ by Hedley. I got this tattoo on my 18th birthday. I struggled a lot with at first physical abuse, then as I got older it turned into mental and verbal abuse. I had a lot of pressure placed on me through my school years where I had to be the highest academic, excel in sports and get the student of the year every year. On top of that, I had to be strong because I have four younger siblings. I’ve made a lot of mistakes by letting them take away my power. I’ve lost parts of myself. But as I got older I regained all my missing pieces and mended my broken pieces. So heartless, so selfish, so in darkness / When all your nights are starless / You’re running outta hope / But I found the strength inside to see / Found the better part of me / And I’ll never let it go.’” — Lauren P.

Tattoo of a compass on a woman's chest beneath her shoulder.

14. “My tattoo is impossible to take a photo of whole, but it’s a phoenix hugging me with its wings. I went through a lot from early childhood… The phoenix stands for always getting up and being reborn more strongly after every failure or bad experience and learning from it. I made it pink to symbolize girl power and women being strong with getting out of toxic or violent situations.” — Katy M.

A woman in a swim suit sits in a pool facing away. A tattoo of blue and pink phoenix feathers wraps around the back of her neck and down her right shoulder blade.

15. “’Daring greatly means the courage to be vulnerable. It means to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you’re feeling. To have the hard conversations.’ It’s a quote from Brené Brown. My tattoo also has the semicolon as a reminder that I survived. I am here and need to keep going. It’s not over so I will ‘Dare Greatly.’” — Julie M.

A tattoo on a shoulder that reads "Daring Greatly".

16. “Set free. Because I am set free from the struggles that I had in the past. I am in no way fully recovered, but I’m set free from what held me back.” — Emmy S.

Tattoo of the words "set free" with a cross and a dove in flight.

17. “Tree of life, new growth often comes from the withered dying parts. They are intertwined, no one wants to live through the effects of childhood trauma, but some of the most beautiful moments come during the healing process.” — Lara P.

Tattoo on a leg of the tree of life. Brown dying branches of the tree are interwoven with healthy green branches, which also have green leaves and flowers.

18. “I got a serotonin molecule because it is released in the act of self-harm. I got this as a reminder that I don’t have to hurt myself to be happy. There has been a major lack of stability in my life growing up so I turned to some pretty unfortunate coping mechanisms, but I’m trying so hard to move forward and focus on being a victor, not a victim.” — Taylor E.

Tattoo of a serotonin molecule with a rose.

19. “This tattoo is what keeps me grounded when times get tough. I’ve gone through what I’ve gone through and I’ve come out on the other side with a badge of resilience. I am a survivor, a witness, a warrior. My experiences have changed me, but that doesn’t mean they have to define me. I’m learning that every single day.” — Brittany K.

Two arms with tattoos on each. One side has the tattoo "peace will win," while the other side has "fear will lose."

20. “I got this to remind me that I have the power to be free by doing the thing I love the most (I’m a screenwriter). Because I’ve always feel trapped because of the sexual abuse, I never told anyone, but now I can face it.” — Zaraid B.

A tattoo reading: "I wrote my own deliverance."

21. “I was physically and mentally abused by my sisters growing up. Because of what I went through I grew up with no self-esteem, no self-confidence, depression, general anxiety/social anxiety disorder, body dysmorphia, and panic disorder. It has been a long road to recovery…I do what I have to do for my peace of mind.” — Allison M.

Tattoo of a multicolored feather on a foot. Beneath the feather reads, "Take these broken wings and learn to fly."

22. “My tattoo says, ‘Now I’m a warrior.’ This reminds me how far I’ve come in my mental health journey. It also gives me strength and reminds me that I’ll continue to get through this journey. I’ve been through a lot, but I always come out a warrior in the end.” — Briana E.

Tattoo on a forearm reading: "Now I'm a warrior."

23. “‘Harry Potter’ has always been a part of my life. So has fighting the dark and light and not knowing what it was until I was diagnosed at age 28. This is a reminder that light will always win.” — Kayla D.

Tattoo of a phoenix surrounded by darkness, representing the battle of light and dark.

Originally published: September 14, 2018
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