Are tattoos a form of therapy?

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Walking under the needle of the ink pattern can physically hurt, but there is evidence that the painful process could make you mentally stronger

As someone without tattoos, I’ve always been fascinated by people who choose ink. Aside from the pain of an electrical needle that pierces my skin 50 to 3,000 times a minute, it sounds like a club I would like to join.

There is camaraderie. I saw acquaintances become best buddies when they discussed the likelihood of time travel, the result of an obscure reference to “Back to the Future” that looks out of an open shirt. I’ve seen couples celebrate anniversaries and individuals immortalize their loved ones on their skin. It is such a socially acceptable form of creative expression that a fifth of British adults have at least one tattoo.

Why is tattooing a thing?

The origin of tattooing cannot be pinpointed to a specific location or time, and its purpose varies depending on the location and cultural norms. 49 mummified remains are known, which show evidence of tattoos. They come from all over the world, including Alaska, Greenland, Mongolia, Egypt and Siberia.

The earliest known evidence of tattoos can be found at Otzi the Iceman, Europe’s oldest mummy. It is believed that the body dates back to 3370 BC. Chr dates back and has a total of 61 tattoos. Upon closer inspection of Otzi’s bones, experts found that the placement of many of his tattoos matched areas that showed degeneration. There is widespread speculation that his tattoos have been strategically positioned as an early form of pain relief, much like modern acupuncture. Nowadays, tattoos are generally used to symbolize a feeling or to express identity.

Chemical reaction

To learn more about the physiological effects of tattooing, I spoke to Doctify-rated psychotherapist Mark Bailey, who has tattoos himself, and he spoke to me about the brain chemistry involved.

It all starts with the anticipation phase, in which your brain experiences an adrenaline and dopamine surge. This can feel exciting and a little bit scary, like riding a roller coaster or having a first date. As soon as the needle touches your skin, you produce adrenaline. “This can then help mask some of the pain,” says Mark, “although experience has shown that it doesn’t always look like pain is masked!”

Then the endorphins come. Do you know that after an intensive training session you get an amazing mood boost? The tattoo process has the same effect. These feel-good chemicals reduce your pain perception in the same way that medications like morphine or codeine do. According to Mark, you will also feel a “natural high”. There are even studies that suggest that getting multiple tattoos can affect your long-term ability to deal with stress and improve your immune system by reducing cortisol release.

With this strong mix of adrenaline, dopamine and endorphins, it’s easy to understand why some people insist on going back more. But what about the agony of being colored? Is it therapeutic in any way to experience the pain of a tattoo?

Do you know that after an intensive training session you get an amazing mood boost? The tattoo process has the same effect

Push through the pain

Some people say that through the controlled, physical pain of a tattoo, life has made them mentally more resilient. I spoke to Rosalie Hurr, co-editor of Things & Ink magazine, who told me that the pain of a tattoo is a mixture of emotions for her.

“At the beginning of the tattoo appointment, I’m nervous and excited,” says Rosalie, “then I sit in pain like” that’s okay, I can handle it. “There is definitely a buzz, especially if your tattoo artist is enthusiastic is to do the tattoo too and in the end it’s amazing to see the finished piece at the end. But there’s also exhaustion and it can take a lot of time to get over the pain. ”

Rosalie also describes the feeling of empowerment that arises when you travel to a new tattoo parlor and then spend the day with a complete stranger who changes her body permanently. “As someone with fear, this is a great achievement,” she tells me. “Throw the mixture into the time you spent in an uncomfortable position and the pain of the tattoo itself, and I’m a bloody warrior.”

Dr. Kimberly Baltzer-Jaray, a lecturer in women’s studies at Kings University College, says that tattoos have helped her trip with PTSD, depression, and autoimmune diseases. Tattooing in particular has provided a positive transition from unhealthy coping mechanisms such as self-harm. Kimberly believes that walking under the needle complements her professional therapy sessions and provides a welcome distraction. Caring for your healing skin has also proven to be a powerful process.

“I also tattooed my old crop marks, and that helped me deal with my past and build a better relationship with my body and mind,” she tells me. “I can see the old markings through the tattoos, but nobody knows they are there. So it’s no secret they are right there, but only I know where to find them in the colorful patterns and shades. ”

Both Kimberly and Rosalie emphasize the importance of their relationship with each tattoo artist. Similar to a therapist, finding the right one can lead to a lifelong connection. Kimberly says the artist she’s currently working with has become a trusted friend. “The time I spend on his table is, in a sense, therapeutic. It is an escape from my world and everything outside, and it is a safe place where we both somehow take care of me. “

Word of warning

According to Mark, this transition between tattooing and self-harm should be approached with caution. “We know that one of the main reasons people harm themselves is to alleviate psychological stress. And if someone were given tattoos to bring that relief, I would want to explore other ways of regulating their emotions. “

Regardless of your reasons for a tattoo, there is no doubt that it can have transformative powers. Whether you love the rush or what it looks like, it’s proof that your body – and your mind – are stronger than you might think

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