DREAM ADVICE COLUMN: TATTOO DREAM SYMBOLISM
I keep having the same general dream but with different details. The dream always involves me getting a tattoo of some sort, usually on my back or arm and then afterwards deeply regretting it. In some of the dreams I have even ripped them off. Usually it is my pain of regretting them that is prominent and consumes the rest of the dream. I suffer, try to hide it, and then wake up. Last night I had another tattoo dream, I got a large tattoo on my back and had laser removal done to get rid of 1. I can tell that these dreams are trying to tell me something but I donąt know what, please help! Iąm not sure if this information is helpful but I have recently moved to Madrid for the second part of my gap year abroad.
I love dreams like this, where the dream narrative is simple and unencumbered, yet conceptually deep. So you keep getting a tattoo, then deeply regret it afterward, which leads you to hide the tattoo or get rid of it. Then, as you said, the regret “consumes the rest of the dream.” Wow, if we were working in person, I would ask you about your associations to tattoos, and your associations to regret. In your dreams it’s like you’re left impotent to undo what you’ve done, and you’re forced to live with it written on your skin.
Tattoos and regret go hand in hand. On one side you have the literal regrettable tattoo, like a tramp stamp from when those were a thing, or one that doesn’t turn out as expected, or the name of an ex- spelled out, you get the idea. On the other hand, I’ve learned from heavily tattooed friends of mine that tattooing is a way of marking your skin with your story, thereby
coming to terms with what is and what has been. Body art then becomes a possible route toward a meditation on the passage of time, inclusive of the joys, pains, and regrets.
The word regret stems from Old English and can literally be translated to mean to weep again. I would infer from your dream that there is a displaced pain seeking to be mourned. The pain in the dream is not in its proper place — getting the tattoo is where you’re “supposed” to feel the pain; yet, in your dream, the terrible pain comes after the fact. Perhaps through dreamwork and therapy, you might find a way to link your pain back to its source, setting it closer to the right place and time. This is not unlike ghost movies where they terrorize their home’s residents due to some unfinished business. It sounds like you, too, are haunted, and there is a pain that won’t die until it is weeped for again. Maybe then you’d be free to feel the proper pain that should come along with the procedure of getting a tattoo (ow needles!), and live relatively comfortably with the tattoo itself.
Your dream also conveys the bind of doing and undoing. The dream is missing the part where you choose to get a tattoo, and only illustrates the post-tattoo regret. I would wonder about your relationship to decision-making and your experiences of trusting yourself, or not. I find that a lot of young women in particular can be perfectionistic when it comes to decision-making. This might show up like a wish for reassurance they are making the “right” decision, displacing the responsibility of decision-making onto someone else (or trying to), burdened with questions like, “who will I be if I do or don’t do ____.” Young women can often be saddled with a fear of making mistakes, where decisions carry the weight of the world, at least of the inner world. This burden can lead to an impoverished sense of agency, feelings of being stuck or paralysis, and struggles to glean satisfaction from life choices. Perhaps this dream is presenting an opportunity to feel into holding the reins. There is a part of you choosing to get tattooed…who is she? How can we use the dream to help you develop a relationship to the part of you making lasting decisions?
It also seems poignant that the dream is ultimately taking place on the scene of your skin. Skin is both barrier and organ, protecting us from the inner and outer world alike. Some of us are more “thin-skinned,” others “thick-skinned,” suggesting something about our degree of “touchiness.” Skin also marks the passage of time, yet it’s always with us, thus the paradox of mortality and timelessness is held by our skin. Like other liminal images — twilight, shore, gate — skin occupies a similar threshold space in our archetypal imagination, a porous border at the meeting of two worlds. Might this describe how you’ve been feeling given your time abroad and recent move to Madrid for your gap year? Living in the “gap” between two worlds — the worlds of high school and college, and the worlds of Spain and home? Travel demands great resilience on a skin level in order to both let in all the new experiences yet protect yourself in a strange new place.
It’s important when working with dreams to not assume that a long or complicated dream is “better” than a fragment. I hope this response illuminates the kind of journey that can use a simple dream scene as the foundation. A dream fragment can be such a generative and rich resource if we hold it thoughtfully, as if the dream lets us in under its skin.
*DISCLAIMER: Dreamwork is a collaborative process that relies entirely on the associations of the dreamer to create a dream meaning. Without the dreamer’s input, I can only describe my personal associations and amplify the dream images as they exist symbolically on a cultural level.