Our aesthetic exterior can oftentimes be our means of presenting the interior contents of our unconscious. In the face of great changes, transitions, or even trauma, tattoos can serve as a beautifully embodied exterior representation of our lives.
The meaning of symbols has been paramount in Jungian psychology, and many recurring symbols hold immense significance for individual people. “It’s a way of owning one’s body for many people who had had traumatic pasts or abuse or really difficult situations,” Rodney states. “You know, it’s a kind of taking ownership and responsibility back, saying this doesn’t belong to anyone else-this is mine-and how it connects inner and outer in that sort of way.”
As major life events and character-building occur, images emerge from the unconscious. Kate Burns says, “One of the primary things that we notice about the tattoos gotten at that time was when a person was either contemplating a transition, or didn’t know they were contemplating as a transition but it was right there on the horizon, or they had just accomplished the transition-and sometimes right in the middle of all the chaos of transition, they’ll get a tattoo. Because it grounds them-the image grounds them.”
In this interview, psychotherapist Kate Burns and pianist Rodney Waters talk about tattoos as a dynamic source of meaning and self. “It seems like we’re offering a class about tattoos, which we are, but we’re really offering a class that allows people to tell their stories. There are people that come to the class that don’t have tattoos, but they say things like, ‘if I were to get one it would be this because this symbol has followed me throughout my life.’ That’s part of what the class is-everyone thinking about what symbols and images make them able to be themselves, and in the fullest way possible.”