What Getting a Tattoo Taught Me about Pain and Healing

You can’t have one without the other.

Nisha Mody


Tattoo and photo by feliine

I just got my first tattoo and I’m in love. I love the design and I loved the experience. But I didn’t expect to learn more about pain and healing than the literal pain and healing that came from getting a tattoo. Here are a few things I learned…

Self-inflicted pain is masochistic.

I wavered about getting a tattoo for years. Like many, I was scared of the pain. Would it hurt so much that I would move and mess it up? What if I started and it hurt too much to finish?

But I pulled the trigger and it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be.

I actually enjoyed the pain…

…some of the time. Yes, I wanted it to end but there were several moments that the buzz of the needle and sustained jabbing kicked my endorphins into high gear. I wondered what this meant for other types of pain we inflict upon ourselves.

There are so many cruel messages I recite to myself on a daily basis:

  • You’re not doing enough.
  • You need to be more patient.
  • You need to stand up for yourself more.

Why do I do this to myself? Because my brain loves the feedback of familiar patterns. And so does yours. We punish ourselves — and we secretly like it. I don’t think this is a conscious choice, like getting a tattoo. But messages we likely heard from childhood or from society are engrained into the rhetoric of our lives. And then they become routine. Routine allows our brain and body to do its thing and satisfy itself with regularity. This is why making changes like altering diet or starting an exercising routine can be so hard, it’s a lot of work! So why not just do the same things over and over? Being savage to ourselves reinforces habit and even though it hurts, we kind of enjoy it.

So the next time you catch yourself repeating the same messages, remember that a part of you likes it. If you want to change things up, it will take some rewiring that may not be enjoyable. But, eventually, you’ll reap other benefits.

Don’t pick at yourself but it’s okay to…



Nisha Mody

Writer. Feminist Healing Coach. Librarian. Cat Mom. I write about healing & justice. Read more at thehealinghype.com and hear me on my podcast, MigrAsians.