Are Tattoos Self Mutilation? I Prevent Self-Injury with Ink

May 18, 2020 Martyna Halas

Are tattoos the same as self-mutilation? Let's face it, tattoos do hurt, and so does self-harm. But does it mean they are the same? Having done both, I can assure you they are unlike each other, even if both are associated with some level of pain.

Not all people are fond of tattoos, and I can understand why. Tattoos are permanent and painful, and it hurts even more to laser them off if you change your mind. Most ink lovers, though -- myself included -- think long and hard about their body art. It often has a special meaning to the person who decides to get it.

It is not uncommon to use tattoos as a cover-up for scars. It can be a great way to turn something that makes us feel ashamed, guilty, or ugly into an artistic expression of beauty, bravery, or courage. Most of the time, though, it's merely an aesthetic choice, and it should be respected as such.

Are Tattoos Self-Mutilation?

If tattoos do hurt, and it's something ink lovers willingly do to themselves, is it fair to liken tattooing to self-injury? Besides the apparent artistic value, there is also the intention that counts. It is essential to distinguish between two completely different sources of motivation behind self-harm and tattoos:

  • Why do people self-harm? Like many who self-injure, I did it as a release of some extremely negative emotions that I was unable to express otherwise. It was an act of self-hatred which provided me with a momentary sense of relief.
  • Do tattoos feel like self-harm? I did it to cover my scars with beautiful art. It was an act of self-love, a vital part of my long-term healing strategy. Therefore, tattoos don't feel like self-harm at all.

Can Self-Harming Be Cured with Tattoos?

While a tattoo won't stop you from self-harming completely, it could help prevent self-injury or stop the urge to self-harm certain areas. For instance, I decided to get a tattoo on my left inner forearm, which was where I would usually cut or scratch myself in my darkest moments. I wanted to adorn it with something that would become my symbol of hope, strength, and my lifelong passion for music. I needed a reminder that I can -- and I will -- be happy again, even if I see no light at the end of the tunnel. So I got a watercolor musical symbol known as the treble clef.

I can proudly say that it's been over two years since I last self-harmed, and while my scars have since faded, my ink is still here to remind me that I am strong. I have prevailed. A tattoo may be an insignificant step for some, but it was an important milestone on my path to self-harm recovery.

Do you think that getting a tattoo is self-mutilation? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments.

APA Reference
Halas, M. (2020, May 18). Are Tattoos Self Mutilation? I Prevent Self-Injury with Ink, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 24 from

Author: Martyna Halas

Find Martyna on Facebook, InstagramMedium and on her blog.

Thomas Slatin
February, 13 2023 at 4:21 pm

As a proud owner of several tattoos, I would like to defend the art form and challenge the stereotypes associated with it. It's time to acknowledge that tattoos are a form of self-expression and have been a part of human culture for thousands of years.
I am also proud to say that I am highly educated and successful in my field. My tattoos have never held me back from achieving my goals and I firmly believe that they have only added to my individuality and creativity.
It's unfortunate that tattoos are still seen by some as a sign of rebellion or a lack of professionalism. However, times are changing and more and more people from all walks of life are embracing tattoos as a way to showcase their unique personality and creativity.
I hope that society continues to evolve and shed its negative perceptions of tattoos. In the end, it all comes down to personal choice and the meaning behind the artwork. So, to all those who have tattoos, embrace them and never let anyone dull your spark!
Thomas (She/Her)

February, 28 2023 at 2:09 pm

Hi Thomas,
I am not the original author of this post, but I want to thank you anyway for sharing your perspective on this issue. I agree; tattoos are generally poor indicators of anything other than a person's interest in tattoos. I don't think they are, or should be seen, as symbols of being less professional, less educated, or any other of the myriad negative stereotypes associated with body art. And I think, for some people, they are an excellent way of transforming old scars into something new and beautiful (not that scars themselves are bad, but it's a lovely option for those who wish to change or hide them regardless).

September, 29 2022 at 11:04 pm

As a well educated person, in the workplace and with those outside the workplace and the socioeconomic circles that I interact with, people generally don't do tattoo's. I suppose I have an advantage of having an education and therefore knowledge that its toxic poisons (little understood) being injected into the body. Aside from the potential damage, skin cells are constantly dying and being replaced. About 330 billion of those cells are replaced every day — that's about 1 percent of all our body's cells. Our skin cells are replaced more often than almost any other. When someone looks at a 50 year old tattoo for example, ALL of the inked cells have long gone decades ago and the ink has migrated all over the place. Clearly its mostly people from lower socioeconomic poorly educated backgrounds getting tattoos. For some observers its a form of mild self mutilation (one is clearly carrying out deliberate damage to the body) irrespective of the reasons to get one, and in my experience its mostly peer group pressure, rebellion and yet at the same time to fit in. Perhaps the same sort of reasons as smoking, body piercings, car joy riding, gang membership, and most drug use? Often regretted once the mind starts to mature in later life.

October, 10 2022 at 6:27 pm

Hi Jason,
Thank you for your comment. It's always good to hear from different viewpoints, and to express concern for others whom we fear are making choices that hurt them. I admit I'm not up to date on scientific inquiries into the effects of tattoos on the skin—and I'm certainly not a dermatologist. But I would like to disagree with you on the points you make about what sort of people get tattoos, and why. People from all walks of life get tattoos for a huge variety of reasons—not all of them are negative—and I've known many well-educated professionals who also happen to have tattoos. And while it's certainly true that sometimes people do get them spontaneously and come to regret them later, for many people tattoos are important life decisions that carry a lot of personal significance—decisions that are not made lightly.
Again, I appreciate your concern for folks over the potential physical damage you worry that tattoos can cause them. In fact, I would urge folks to talk with their dermatologists before getting tattoos if they can, to ensure the decision is a safe one for them to make.
But I hope we can agree, at least, that simply getting tattoos has no bearing on how well-educated, how well-off, or how mature an individual may be. Personally, I think tattoos can be a beautiful way to heal from self-harm—despite having none of my own.

June, 10 2022 at 8:43 am

Tattoos are a form of self-mutilation! Self-mutilation is not about the pain it's about the CONTROL PERIOD. People who participate in self-mutilation will almost universally tell you that the control compels them to do so. In a world where we cannot control most things choosing and picking out a tattoo that goes on your body is an incredibly addicting and rewarded feeling to someone that might be on the spectrum of self-harm. Start being honest with yourself on why you seek tattoos and in my opinion seek control in any areas that don't jeopardize your body.

June, 27 2022 at 3:02 pm

Thanks for your comment. I'm not the author of this post, but since I'm writing here now, I'd like to offer a reply anyway. And you're right, for many people, self-harm is very much about having control when you feel like everything else is absolutely out of control. And I can absolutely imagine that yes, for some people, tattoos might do more harm than good in the long run.
But not everyone's experience of self-harm, or recovery, is the same. My own experience was less about control than about feeling like I deserved it. Like it made me stronger, or braver, somehow to suffer in silence than open up to people about what I was going through. Yes, control played a role—I was attempting to manage my emotions in an unhealthy way—but I don't feel, in my case, that it was the main driver. And I might have considered tattoos, myself, were it not for other medical issues preventing me from being able to safely get them done. I don't see myself being addicted to tattoos, though of course, I'll never know for sure.
That being said, thank you for sharing your opinion as well. It's important to be able to talk about these things, even to debate them at times, and as I said, I do think you raised a very good point that tattoos are not a suitable option for everyone. It's something I will definitely keep in mind when writing future posts.

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