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31 Tattoos That Give Us Hope for Self-Harm Recovery

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

While most tattoos have a story, a tattoo that represents a journey with self-harm is more than a symptom — it’s a visible reminder. Maybe it’s a way of reclaiming your body, giving the story your scars tell more context. Maybe it’s simply a way to cover, to start fresh and move on from a painful part of your life. Whatever the reason, tattoos can sometimes be a way for people who’ve self-harmed to commit to their recovery, and act as a reminder that stopping self-harming behaviors is possible.

To show some examples, we asked our mental health community to share tattoos they got in honor of self-harm recovery.

Here’s what they shared with us:


A tattoo of trees

“This is my tattoo! I got it once I graduated high school to symbolize me being out of the woods and being free from the abuse and manipulation as well as the bullying I faced growing up.” — Abs H.


A tattoo of a semicolon turning into birds

“My tattoo is basically a ‘f*ck you’ to suicide. The semicolon represents the times where I could have ended everything, but I kept going instead. The birds represent each very important person to me who kept me here on this earth. Those who never give up on me no matter how low I go. Trying means you’re fighting. I want to fight every day.” — Ashley N.


A tattoo of a ship

“I just got this tattoo a week ago, and still have to go back to the artist to color and finish it. I designed this tattoo as a way to reclaim my body and skin from self-harm. I’ve had these self-harm scars for years, and hated how they drew attention and identified me. This tattoo is a promise to myself that I will ride through the waves of life, and I won’t jump ship when the tides get high. I am on my way to adventure, and I won’t my scars get in the way.” — Melissa K.


A tattoo of a heart-shaped key

“First one at age 52. Literal heart on my sleeve. Not giving up hope by symbolic attached key. Jewels are tears. The gold is nearly rusted shut. It took three and a half hours. It was no pain compared to what I continue to feel daily. To be truly honest — I liked the sensation and the damn control of needing no ones’ input.” — Dayna L.


a tattoo of an arrow

“I have two, they are both Twenty One Pilots related, but that band has helped me through my darkest times.” — Braelyn S.


a tattoo of a heart

“I used to scratch and just think horrible thoughts of dying constantly. But this helps remind me I need to love myself every day. No matter what happens, if I don’t love myself, I can’t love anyone else the way they need it.” — Keelya G.


tattoo that says, "fight back"

“My latest, a little reminder. I had depression and social anxiety when I was young and I never realized that. Recently, I noticed every time a youth comes to me to talk about some mental disorder (now I’m a youth group coordinator) one of my favorite phrases to say is, ‘You have to fight back for your life.’ So, this is a little reminder to myself of that… Doesn’t matter what… I have to fight back!” — Alejandro B.


“The large one is lyrics from La Dispute, ‘Scars will fade away but never disappear.’ The one on my wrist is a semicolon, to remind me to keep going and my story isn’t over yet. The AKF is for the campaign by Jared Padalecki, Always Keep Fighting.” — Jey S.


This photo was taken the day I got tatted, so excuse how red my arm looks. This tattoo is actually a quote from my favorite song by my favorite band (“Reaper Man” by Mother Mother, just in case anyone was wondering!). Mother Mother’s music was sometimes the only thing I could truly relate to in my darkest hours; they helped me feel less alone in my struggling, and gave me hope that I could succeed in life despite being a mess in the head.” — Carson Eileen A.


tattoo says warrior

“I’ve recently started opening up about my mental health and just got this tattoo this week. It’s not just a reminder — warriors never stop fighting. So it reminds me to never stop fighting.” — Chelsea S.


An antler skull

“I designed this tattoo to cover up the first cluster of scars I made in my early high school years. I got this after two years clean of self-harm, to symbolize the strength and resilience I needed to fight my way through recovery. I am still recovering every day, and having this reminder of the struggle I already endured helps me from falling into old habits.” — Melissa K.


A tattoo of a paintbrush, a pen and a pencil

I got this tattoo of a pencil, a pen and a paintbrush over old scars. For me, it represents my recovery and how I learned that writing and painting helped me cope. The pencil symbolizes my time in an inpatient psychiatric hospital, where I was only allowed to have small golf pencils to write with. The pen symbolizes when I got out of inpatient and was in outpatient (finally allowed to use a pen!) and then the paintbrush symbolizes my recovery as a whole since I learned that painting helped me cope with emotions.” — Ashton P.


tattoo that says this too shall past

“Started self-harming when I was in middle school. I’m now completely out of school, haven’t self-harmed in forever and about to be a momma! I’ve learned through the battles I still face every day that the bad moments, thoughts, emotions, feelings… everything negative basically, they pass. Even when I feel like it’s the end of the world, it’s going to pass.” — Julia D.


a tattoo of an owl

“This owl covers a huge scar across my wrist so I don’t have to share my terrible secret with everyone who always asked what happened. I am not ashamed of what I did, but I don’t also want to remember the dark time that lead me there. My life is so full of love and joy now I don’t want to taint it with the bad.” — Kim M.


tattoo of a serotonin molecule

“I got this tattoo a couple weeks ago but have wanted it since I can remember… I got it on my left wrist where most of my self-harm scars are, so it’s a reminder of the bad times I got through and it’s also I reminder I can get through even more hard times. I also have a small hope that the tattoo is motivation for my brain to produce more serotonin lol.”  — Kate M.


a tattoo of a tree

“I got this tree to remind me to not beat myself up in my head and think positive and compassionate about myself. It‘s also a reminder to treat myself well and give my body what it needs: good food, rest, exercise, sleep. The tree is a symbol we worked on in therapy. It‘s a place where I can sit and rest and get away from my negative thoughts.” — Kerstin S.


a tattoo of a fox

“The ‘hope’ and ‘love’ were written out by the drummer and lead singer of We The Kings respectively. They cover old scars and are reminders there is hope and love in the world. That band got me through the worst years. Additionally, I get tattoos on my arms to prevent relapses.” — Grayce R.


A flower tattoo

“I like to think that anything beautiful can go through bad things. Like a rose can have a few thorns, but can still be beautiful. We can have a few scars but are still beautiful.” — Kailey D.


tattoo that reads: Don't lose your fight kid

“My latest tattoo is a quote from All Time Low’s song, ‘Missing You.’ It talks about how when you feel so alone and lost in the world, to never give up and to keep fighting. It was released after I met the band, and they hugged me so hard when they saw my arms and spoke to me about it. Alex and Jack told me to never give up, and that things will pass with time — and that I can recover. When the song was released, it spoke to me on every level. I now look at this tattoo every time I feel like giving up, and remember my heroes are supporting my recovery 100 percent.” — Abby A.


a back tattoo of a heart

“Song lyrics from two songs that get me through some dark hours.” — Jess D.


tattoo that says, "Even on my worst days, I got a little bit stronger

“‘Even on my weakest days I get a little bit stronger’ on my arm.” — Jaclyn C.


tattoo that reads stay strong

“‘Stay Strong;’ Of course the semicolon is for the Semicolon Project, but I got these when I made a promise to myself to Stay Strong. When I want to self-harm, I look down and remember to Stay Strong and that my story isn’t near over yet.” — Morgan L.


tattoo that says: i am, i am, i am

“This is part of a Sylvia Plath quote. It helps ground me, so I’m not having urges to self-harm.” — Jalayne S.


two people handing hands with semicolon tattoos

“Me and my best friend got a semicolon type tattoo for my journey through self-harm and suicidal attempts.” — Taylor B.


tattoo that reads: you will be OK

“What my boyfriend says to me to calm me down.” — Breanna B.


“This quote I got from an episode of ‘My So Called Life.’ This was probably one of my favorite TV shows in high school. I was diagnosed with depression and then with panic disorder during my college years. This quote always stood out to me because although I wasn’t diagnosed at the time, I always felt different from my peers. But now as I’m older and I understand my disorders better, I’ve come to realize everyone is unique. Being complicated is what makes us humans and that is the most beautiful thing ever.” — Sherene B.


A tattoo on a foot that reads hope

“My semicolon not only represents surviving my suicide attempt last year, but it reminds me every day of the hope that’s there… despite the struggle when emotions are intense and urges to self-harm arise. I recently relapsed in self-harm and looking at my tattoo reminds me it’s OK to keep moving forward in recovery after a relapse.” — T.C.


tattoo that says, and so she goes on

“The tattoo I got to remind me I can go on no matter what.” — K.L.


Tattoo on a person's forearm with a semicolon and the words "love" and "I am strong"

“This is my first tattoo, used as a scar cover-up. I chose the semicolon due to my history with suicide and my mentor told me the words as an affirmation all the time when I hurt. It’s in my handwriting to remind me I am strong.” — Mae


Tattoo with the words "there's a hope that's waiting for you in the dark"

“These are lyrics from Alesia Cara’s ‘Scars To Your Beautiful’ that was on replay during some of my darkest times. I had them tattooed with paw prints to represent my dogs and the dandelion to represent dreams to remind me to not give up yet.” — Mae


Tattoo across the inside of an arm with the words "A new hope begins; a life worth living."

“When I started my borderline personality recovery journey, I decided to get a tattoo after a year of treatment. As an homage to Marsha Linehan and my time in dialectical behavior therapy, I decided to include the phrase ‘a life worth living.’ The tattoo also includes a semicolon, notes my journey towards recovery, and is written in a friend’s handwriting so they’re ‘always with me.'” — Megan G.

Originally published: March 16, 2018
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