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What Getting Tattoos Means to Someone With a History of Self-Harm

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Article updated August 19, 2019.

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

I have heard many passionate rants from many passionate people about why I should never get a tattoo. “Tattoos are permanent,” they observe. “You might like it now but in 10 years you’ll regret it,” they surmise. “People in the business world will judge you for it,” they warn. “So don’t get a tattoo,” they conclude.

Well, as someone who has a past with self-harm and whose body is not covered in tattoos but in unwanted scars, those words hurt. Because like a tattoo, my scars are permanent. Like a tattoo, I look at my scars a year later and feel a sense of regret, wishing more than anything that I could go back in time and take that razor blade out of my confused and desperate hand. And like a tattoo, people judge me for my scars.

But unlike a tattoo, my scars are ugly. Unlike a tattoo, my scars are hard to explain to people who see them and ask where they came from. And unlike a tattoo, my scars do not put a good feeling in my heart.

I plan to get a real tattoo and I plan for that tattoo to cover up some of my scars. And if someone tries to give me that passionate anti-tattoo rant, I will tell them that my tattoos are works of art to cover up a far from picture-perfect past. I will tell them that in 10 years I would rather look down and see those beautiful strokes of black ink than see ugly scars that fill me with bad memories.

That’s what getting a tattoo means to me as someone with a past of self-harm. It means new beginnings. It means moving on. It means turning emblems of hopelessness into symbols of strength and beauty. From my perspective, those anti-tattoo rants have got it all wrong. Tattoos aren’t bad — they are powerful.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via avemario

Originally published: August 22, 2017
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