boundaries, codependency, tattoo grief, trauma

If You’re a People-Pleaser, Getting a Tattoo Might Not Be the Best Idea

tattoos people pleasing

If you struggle with codependency or people-pleasing, you know the feeling.

You don’t like it. The placement is off. You want to change a small part of the design. It doesn’t look anything like the reference you provided.

There’s an uneasiness in your stomach. You’re looking in the mirror at the tattoo stencil on your body or seeing the stencil on the artist’s iPad.

And yet, when they ask you how it looks, what you think, if you like it, you can only be enthusiastic. You can only say, “Looks great!”, “Yes, let’s do it!”, or “I love it!”.

This is where tattoos and people-pleasing can lead to tattoo regret and tattoo dysphoria. It can result in us having ink that we don’t like, never liked, wish we’d gotten somewhere else, wish we’d never gotten at all, wish we’d spoken up about it.

But we didn’t. And now we’re here.

If you’re a people-pleaser, here’s why getting a tattoo might not be the best idea (at least until you learn a few skills!).

How People-Pleasers Are Created

As both children and adults, we need some important skills to help us stay safe, navigate our experiences, and advocate for ourselves.

Unfortunately, poor parenting has impacted most of us. It was easier for our parents if we were compliant, quiet, “good” children, so they hindered our ability to develop these skills that allowed us our independence, resilience, and safety.

This resulted in us as children—and now as adults—being unable to say no, ask for help, speak up for ourselves, and verbalize our needs. These are all characteristics of people-pleasers, or people who seek an internal sense of safety through:

  • Hypervigilance. Hypervigilance once kept us safe from the harm of our parents and other authority figures. Hypervigilant people pay close attention to others’ behaviors in an attempt to assess their emotional state or behavior; we often do this unconsciously. In the process, we are unable to identify our own needs and so neglect them.

  • Compliance. We do what we feel others need of us. We say yes to everything. We have an extremely hard time saying no or changing our behaviors, even when they are harmful to us. We may feel intense guilt when we say no or distance ourselves from toxic people who take advantage of us.

  • Abandoning ourselves. We abandon ourselves and focus on others because we unconsciously believe this will make us loved, safe, and accepted, as it did when we were children and had no other means of protecting ourselves. We may have trouble identifying our own feelings and needs, and even if we are aware of them, we can’t express them.

Sound familiar? This kind of behavior is not rare—in fact, it’s far too common.

I believe this is true for a couple of reasons:

  • Our society has an unhealthy focus on honoring our parents. Many parents are emotionally or physically neglectful, if not outright abusive (I have yet to come across anyone who has had mature, emotionally intelligent parents who were not in some sense neglectful or abusive). Yet we are under societal pressure to love them, do for them, celebrate them, and see or talk to them, even when it’s harmful to us. We are taught to put them—and other people—above ourselves.

  • Codependent behavior has been normalized. Putting others before ourselves has long been considered a positive behavior and one many parents reinforced. So we continue the pattern and label it as “normal”. But what most people consider normal in our society is severely dysfunctional. Acknowledging the role that poor parenting played in this dysfunction is becoming more normal. But in general, many of us have been traumatized as children and view our parents as good and think we’re the defective ones. Our parents may have unknowingly passed on generational trauma, but they are not blameless.

Tattoos and People-Pleasing

People-pleasing and codependency (taking responsibility for other people rather than ourselves) bleed into every aspect of our lives: work, relationships, parenting, how (and if) we relax, how we spend our money and time, etc.

It even impacts what we choose to do with our bodies. People-pleasing and codependency can make us worry about our weight, our hair, our clothes, and yes, our tattoos.

Codependent, people-pleasing, hypervigilant fawn types are constantly assessing their environment for danger, looking for approval, and wanting to keep the peace. So anything that disrupts that sense of safety—people may comment on our weight, so we have to stay thin; people may not like our hair, we need to keep it how it’s always been; our partners may not like us without makeup, we have to wear makeup; our parents may not like tattoos, we have to hide our tattoos—is a big deal to our brains.

It sounds ridiculous, I know. It sounds extreme. And yet, this unconscious process keeps many of us tethered to our childhood trauma. It keeps many of us trapped and unhappy.

This creates a dangerous intersection with tattoos and people-pleasing. Of course, we want the tattoo to look good. We want to love it. But there’s usually something else people-pleasers don’t think about when they go to get a tattoo—disappointing the tattoo artist.

We may be excited to get our tattoo. We’ve thought about it a lot and picked the elements we want in the design. We can’t wait to have fresh ink and feel empowered and excited about our new look!

And then, something happens. It could be that our tattoo artist changed the design. They made it bigger. They used a totally different reference. They added color or shading that we didn’t ask for. They think it looks great. And we are left there, in a suspended moment, all our warning bells going off, yet we do what we have always done—keep the peace. Don’t disappoint. Don’t rock the boat. Stay safe.

People-pleasers may do extreme things to avoid disappointing people—including their tattoo artists. When it comes to tattoos and people-pleasing, people may behave in ways that don’t align with their true wishes when they try to keep the peace and even gain their approval. So, you may find yourself saying that you like the tattoo, that it’s fine, when really, you don’t feel sure. Or you may even hate it, but still consent to getting it.

All of this can result in a heartbreaking experience where, even if we may initially feel neutral or even excited about the tattoo, eventually, the panic and distress set in as we realize that we did not want this but could not speak up and say so.

The Aftermath: Shame and Hatred

After the tattoo, we may start to feel intense shame and hatred toward ourselves. We know we should have spoken up for ourselves. It was our responsibility to do that, and we failed.


Because we did what we have always done—stayed silent, remained agreeable, went along with it—in an effort to keep ourselves safe from conflict, from disapproval, from our bodies’ memory that speaking up for ourselves in the past was unsafe. Speaking up for ourselves in the past made us unlovable, “too much”, rude, or selfish—and of course, no one wants to be those things. Everyone wants to feel loved and accepted.

If this is you, please try to be gentle with yourself. When you have lived your whole life being a people-pleaser and codependent, you are not going to suddenly snap out of your trauma responses now and speak up when a tattoo artist asks you to sign off on a tattoo. Breaking codependency and people-pleasing is work that typically takes years.

It’s hard not to be hard on yourself when you feel like you should have spoken up, and now you are stuck with a piece of permanent body art. I know it sucks, which is why I say that when it comes to tattoos and people-pleasing, you may not want to get a tattoo until you develop some important skills.

Skills to Have When You Get a Tattoo as a People-Pleaser

Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until you become a boundary-setting badass to get that tattoo you’ve been wanting. Having a few basic skills before you walk into a tattoo shop can reduce the chances that you’d end up with ink you hate.

  • Start saying no. Just say no to small things. A friend asks you to hang out, and you say, “No, that day doesn’t work for me. How about Friday?” The barista asks you if oat milk is okay in your latte. “No, I prefer soy.” Start small. These little “nos” will help you work up to bigger “nos”, like telling your tattoo artist you don’t like the design or want to change it.

  • Pause before you speak. As people-pleasers, we tend to respond quickly to what other people say in order to reduce any awkwardness or discomfort, even if we’re not sure how we actually want to respond. Pausing before responding can wedge a tiny bit of space between what the artist says and your response. It can give you the leverage you need to reassess the situation—your instinct may be to say, “It looks great!”, but stop and think for a second. If you’re not sure (or even if you feel sure), it can be helpful to ask for space and say, “Can I have a few minutes to think about it?”

  • Know when to walk away. Sometimes, we’ve asked for what we want and expressed ourselves clearly, and something still isn’t working. We may not feel good about the tattoo, the artist, or just our general experience. Start getting a sense of when it’s time to walk away from situations or people by checking in with yourself. Whether this means taking a break to decide if you want to proceed or just walking out, knowing when you don’t want to continue an experience is an important skill to have.

A Note on the Attitude of Your Tattoo Artist

I want to make an important note here and say that any good tattoo artist and kind human will:

  • Change the design based on your preferences.
  • Give you time to think about the tattoo before consenting to it.
  • Cancel your appointment if you decide you don’t want the tattoo or are unsure.
  • Never pressure you into getting ink you are unsure about.

If you feel like your artist is pressuring you to get the tattoo or is unwilling to change the design or give you time to think about it, these are signs that you should walk away, even if you lose your deposit. It will not be worth it to go forward with the appointment and end up with a tattoo you hate or need to remove (laser tattoo removal is expensive, painful, and can take years to complete).

Want to Know More About Poor Parenting and How It Creates Codependency?

If you’re interested in reading more about poor parenting and how it can lead to trauma, people-pleasing, codependency, depression, and anxiety, I recommend the following books:

  • The Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller
  • Complex PTSD, by Pete Walker
  • Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, by Lindsay C. Gibson
  • Inner Bonding, by Margaret Paul
  • Stop People Pleasing, by Hailey Magee

It’s never too late to speak up for yourself. It’s never too late to break people-pleasing patterns. It’s never too late to change your mind and decide you don’t like something. It’s never too late to say no.

If you’re a recovering people-pleaser, leave a comment and let us know your experience getting a tattoo! And read about mine here.

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