tattoo grief

Can You Prevent Tattoo Dysphoria? Dos and Don’ts When Getting a Tattoo

tattoo dysphoria

Tattoo dysphoria is when you feel anxiety, panic, dread, depression, or shame about your new tattoo. I have talked to many people with tattoo dysphoria, and many of them have certain things in common.

Based on my experience with tattoo dysphoria and those who have had tattoo grief, I’ve compiled this list of dos and don’ts when getting a tattoo that can help minimize your chances of experiencing tattoo dysphoria, tattoo grief, and tattoo regret.

Don’t: Get It in a Very Visible Spot

I can’t tell you how many people I’ve spoken to with tattoo dysphoria who panic because they got their tattoo in a very visible spot.

These spots are most commonly on the arm—the forearm, wrist, or upper arm. The forearm is the most common, and it’s the area most people think of first when they think about getting a tattoo.

If you do not have many tattoos or it’s your first tattoo, do not get it in a very visible spot. You might think you’ll look cool or that you’ll be okay with it, but if you want to avoid anxiety and panic, or you are a person who is prone to anxiety, it’s best to build up your body art in non-visible areas first.

I had four or five tattoos in very not-visible areas (my inner arms, mouth, and back of my leg) before I got a large thigh tattoo that sparked my dysphoria. This dysphoria was not severe and went away in a couple of weeks.

However, years and dozens of tattoos later, I got my neck tattooed and experienced dysphoria that continues to this day, so you can never be too careful about where you get your new ink.

Do: Tell the Artist You Need to Sleep on the Design

Every tattoo artist is different, but in my experience, most artists do not let you see the design beforehand. This is likely because there’s a chance you will take the design and find someone else to tattoo it for cheaper.

However, if you have a history of anxiety or are very anxious about getting your new tattoo, talk to the artist and ask to see the design beforehand—ideally at least a day or more before your appointment—so you can sleep on it and think things over.

Some artists will not agree to this, but others will, especially if you explain the situation. Some may charge you an extra fee or add more to the deposit for you to see the design before the appointment, but it may be well worth the cost of doing so.

Don’t: Go Forward With the Tattoo If You’re Not Sure

I’ve been there. You made the appointment, showed up at the shop, have the cash (or your credit card) with you, and wore the right outfit for the tattoo. Now you’re standing there with this design you are not 100% sure about, and the artist is setting up their station to tattoo you, and you’re freaking out.

You do not have to go forward with the tattoo if you have doubts or are uncertain. Even if you somehow offend the artist by needing to walk away, you can walk away. Even if you lose your deposit, it is not worth getting tattooed with something you do not know if you will like later.

It’s hard to speak up in these situations, especially if you are a people-pleaser or codependent.

During a small tattoo I got a few months ago (a heart with my son Ansel’s name in it), the artist designed it right there while I was in the studio. But when he showed me the design, I hated it. I didn’t react right away. I sat with my feelings for about 30 seconds before telling the truth: “I like the lettering, but I don’t like the heart.”

The heart had what appeared to be barbed wire around it. I don’t think that’s what the artist would have called it. It was just a very curly heart, and it looked very strange and busy. The artist explained why he had done the design that way, and I agreed to have it stenciled on me just so I could make sure I didn’t like it.

I looked in the mirror for about two seconds before I said, “Nope.” I asked him to change the heart to a simpler outline, which he did. But I didn’t like that design either!

I knew what I wanted—a simple heart outline with just a couple of curls. I told the artist so, and he basically said he thought it would look bad, but I insisted, and so he made the design. I loved it even though he said he disagreed, but we moved forward with the design I wanted, and now I’m happy with the tattoo.

This whole situation wasn’t nearly as awkward as it sounds when I’m writing it out. But was it a little awkward? Sure. As a recovering people-pleaser and codependent, it’s always a little uncomfortable for me when someone disagrees with me. But the interaction was well worth a little discomfort for me to have the tattoo I want.

Do: Take Time to Sit With the Design

Most artists will allow you to sit with the design at the shop for as long as you need to before actually getting it tattooed on your body. Do not let anyone rush you into this decision. If they ask you if it looks okay, you can say, “I’d like to sit with it for a few minutes.” Then do so.

How you use this time is up to you. I sometimes find it helpful to distract myself with my phone, a book, or a magazine for a few minutes before looking back at the design and noticing my initial reaction to it. If you are a highly sensitive person (HSP) like me, you might be overstimulated at this point and need some time to take a few breaths and collect your thoughts.

If the artist is rushing you or you feel pressured to move forward, consider walking away. You should only move forward with the appointment if it feels right to you.

Don’t: Be Hard on Yourself Afterward

It’s difficult not to be hard on yourself if you’ve gotten through a tattoo appointment, gotten home, and realize you aren’t totally psyched about the design. This is where feelings of anxiety, panic, and depression can set in.

Getting a tattoo can be a difficult process. Some people find it soothing, but I always find it nerve-wracking. Making decisions about the design, placement, shading, and color is hard, especially when you know the ink will be with you for the rest of your physical life here. Having the artist be so close to you for hours is hard (I don’t like having people too close to me based on my previous trauma).

On top of all that, you may have spent many hours in pain, and when you get home, you might be feeling completely overwhelmed and a little upset. Of course you’re having doubts about your tattoo—that whole process was really hard!

Exercise self-compassion here. Tell yourself, “That was really hard! You had to make so many decisions, and it hurt, and now you aren’t even sure if you like it. That’s okay, and that’s normal for what you just went through. You did the best you could do, and now you can relax and feel safe again. We’ll think about the tattoo later.”

Do: Engage in Self-Care When You Get Home

After getting a tattoo is the perfect time to engage in self-care. I like to come home, eat a snack, read a gossip magazine, watch a movie or TV show, read a book, or just curl up on the couch with a blanket and a stuffed animal after my appointment.

Personally, I like to ignore my tattoo for a few days after I get it. It keeps me from fixating on things that might be “wrong” with it before I can even really see the final result after the healing process. I do my best to take care of it, but otherwise, I don’t pay attention to it.

This also allows me to slowly process the tattoo and, in my experience, can help prevent tattoo dysphoria. Adjusting to your new ink is a process, and like any process, it usually helps to ease into it. I process my tattoos little by little until I feel they are actually a part of my body.

You Got This!

Getting used to a tattoo can be difficult for anyone, especially if you are experiencing tattoo dysphoria. If you’re getting a new tattoo, consider the above dos and don’ts to prevent tattoo dysphoria and tattoo grief. And if you already have a tattoo that you’re struggling with, it’s never too late to practice self-compassion and self-care. You got this!

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