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Tattoos and Transitions: A Conversation with Kate Burns and Rodney Waters

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.”


Watch a video of this conversation here!

Full interview transcript