The 5 Stages of Grief and Your New Tattoo

So I just got my first “real” tattoo.

All of my other 8 tattoos have been script/roman numerals. I’m a writer, ok? I really like words. (There seems to be some type of stigma associated with getting font tattooed on your body in tattoo culture.)

One of my other tattoos.

Anyway! So for my 9th tattoo, I finally got some real art done by a fantastic artist based out of Virginia. It was my first big piece of work and I’m a little surprised by how I coped with it.

Getting a tattoo is a weird process—after the fact, I might add. It’s saying goodbye to the skin on that part of your body forever. You’ll never see it again. You now have to see—insert whatever it is you got tattooed on your body—every day.

What I went through was a little like the five stages of grief with my new tattoo.

Denial: It’s Not Really There!

If you’ve gotten a tattoo before, you have experienced this.

Immediately after you get your tattoo, you love it. You show everyone. It’s fresh. It looks amazing!

You wake up the next morning and you’re like, “WHAT. IS. THAT.”

It’s not that you didn’t remember that you got it done. It’s just that… well, it’s a part of you now. Like really a part of you. For the first couple hours after I got my tattoo, I was like, “Whoa. What is that thing?” By the next morning, I remembered that it was there.

But while it was healing, it didn’t seem like it was a part of my body. It almost looked like a shiny new sticker that I could just peel right off. Despite the fact that while I was washing it and could feel the lines inked into my skin, I thought, “It’s not really there! Nothing’s different!”

Anger: Why Did I Get That?

Not everyone has welcome reactions to your new ink.

Mom: “IT’S HUGE! How much did that cost? What?? Why?!!!”


Fiancé: “Wow it looks sexy, you’re sexy, I love you.” *kiss*

Grandma: *insert slapping motion here* (Yes, she literally slapped my tattoo three days after I got it. I have not yet forgiven her.)

Regardless of people’s reactions (or on account of people’s reactions, whatever), you start to feel mad. Why did I get that? You think. You also see your credit card statement of how much it cost and, let’s face it, wake up the next morning feeling like shit because that part of your body is swollen and sore and red and you can’t wear clothes that cover it and you feel like you just hate everything.

Bargaining: If Only I Could Change This…

I saw a great YouTube video about tattoo regret and it really resonated with me, not necessarily because I have any tattoos I regret per se, but because she makes a great point.

You will always wonder:

  • What if I got it smaller/bigger?
  • What if I got it in color/black and grey?
  • What if I went to a different artist/shop?
  • What if I just had them change this little part of it?
  • What if I had gotten something different?
  • What if I didn’t get anything at all???

You bargain. You wonder what could have been changed. You think about changing it in the future. In my experience, the only reason I have wondered these things is because I am still grappling with my new tattoo.

I’m still processing it.

I don’t know what to think about it.

And, it’s not perfect.

Because nothing is ever perfect no matter how much we want it to be. Does my tattoo show imperfection? Of course. But, like me, it’s still beautiful.

Depression: I’ll Never Have Naked Skin Again

At some point, you start to feel depressed that you have this tattoo. You spent a bunch of money, spent hours in pain, and are now spending weeks taking care of it, resentfully avoiding the bathtub and wondering when you’ll ever feel normal again.

Me getting my tattoo done. That’s my leg ahhhh. I’m sure you guys will see the final result in some photos at some point.

I was freezing during this appointment! Next time remember to bring a sweater or a blanket, girl.

And then you realize that you’ll never BE normal again. Because you have this tattoo and you don’t know how to handle it. You know you’ll never see the skin on the other side of that tattoo again. What are you going to do??

You’re going to deal with it and you’re going to be just fine. Your skin is ruined, yes. But now you look like a tattooed badass and there’s nothing you can fucking do about it.

Acceptance: I Actually Like It!

Finally, once your tattoo heals a little more and it stops looking like a giant sticker, once your mom has stopped commenting on it and you can stop sleeping in weird positions to avoid rubbing it, you begin to accept and love your tattoo.

It’ll take at least a week or two, but you’ll realize that this tattoo is what you wanted and that it looks beautiful. It’s not perfect, but it’s you.

Side note: if you really hate your new tattoo or it has a major flaw you just can’t get over, you might not ever get to this stage, and instead you can seek out a tattoo artist who is experienced with cover-ups and get it taken care of. Removal is also an option, but I’ve heard it’s more costly and painful!

Do You Love Your Tattoo Yet?

It’s taken me a little while, but I love my new tattoo.

I’m grateful to the artist and his patience with my first big piece (thank you @tokatattoos), I’m grateful to have a beautifully designed tattoo, and I’m grateful it didn’t get infected while it was healing.

I’m also grateful that my rabbits didn’t scratch it, although Fiver did bite my leg ridiculously close to it, adorable little bastard. He’s literally never bitten me before and he chooses to bite my leg the day after I get a giant tattoo. I think it’s because the tattoo butter I used had lavender in it? Rabbits love herbs!

Don’t let this evil little thing fool you. I love him, though.

Give your tattoo some time, show it some love, and let your body heal. You’ll like your tattoo soon!

16 thoughts on “The 5 Stages of Grief and Your New Tattoo

  1. Kimberley says:

    Thank you for your words. I’m up to the tattoo regret part at the moment and have gone through many pages looking at removal options but then I thought, why not do a 180 and learn to love the tattoo instead, and stumbled upon your piece. I share your sentiments and appreciate your words. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one going through or have gone through these emotions. Thank you.

    • Jenn says:

      Thanks for your comment Kimberley! If you are really having trouble accepting your tattoo you could always look into getting it covered with another design. I know it’s like paying twice for the same tattoo, but for some people, it makes a big difference and enables them to finally love their ink!

  2. Ash says:

    I just got a tattoo on 20th, few days ago, I had been planning on getting one to honor my late father whom I love and miss dearly, and a trident representing his devotion to lord Shiva, I had been planning on this tattoo for the past 2 years, ( since his passing)) I also got my mom’s name tattooed as well its on my fore arm.
    I didn’t think I could feel this way once I got it, I was never a tattoo person so I knew why I didn’t want it before.
    after I got it , I loved it when I got home spoke to my mom and sister on the phone they didn’t say much. My other sister, friends and colleagues love it Now here I am, looking if I can get ti removed in future, what id people judge me, what if it goes ugly? I didn’t know that tattoos age and spread and dont look the same..
    is it just the stage? Iwhat should I so? feel so confused

    • Jenn says:

      You are only a few days in! It’s completely normal to have these feelings about your new tattoo. Have patience and give yourself some time to adjust. Tattoos do age just as skin does, you can get it touched up as recommended by your tattoo artist to keep it looking as good as possible. I wouldn’t consider removal just yet–it’s still very early and experiencing some regret is normal. I’m seven months out from this huge tattoo I got and I actually can’t imagine not having it now. I hope you come to love your tattoos as they honor your parents and are a part of you now. Remember, what other people think about you is none of your business. Love yourself; everything will be ok!

  3. Elise says:

    I just got a large tattoo on my shoulder and upper arm 5 days ago and i’m totally feeling the regret right now. It’s a beautiful tattoo and it’s almost exactly what I wanted, but now it’s overwhelming me. I keep wishing I could turn back time and not do it at all. But I can’t, and that’s rough on me mentally. I’ve got 5 others that are smaller and not as visible, therefore, I’ve never felt this feeling before this new one. I’ve been contemplating removal, but i’m trying to tell myself to chill and just give it time. Hoping like hell, that it’ll get better. I hope I end up with the mindset that you have now.

    • Jenn says:

      Hey Elise, thanks for your comment! Your feelings are totally normal–you’re fortunate that your new tattoo is beautiful as you say and pretty much just what you wanted. I bet once your tattoo heals and you have some time to adjust to it you’ll feel much better about it. As I found, it can be difficult getting a bigger piece after getting smaller ones and dealing with all the emotions that come with it. Take care of your new tattoo and be patient. If you really want it removed after it heals, you can pursue that option, but allow yourself to process this new piece and grow to accept it for what it is right now. I hope you come to love it!

    • Nancy says:

      My husband passed away last year I got a cross on my forearm along with sun rays shining Down on it from blue clouds I was in such a state of grief that i wanted something to hold onto now but im kind of sorry I did it the tattoo didn’t bring him back I’m going to give it some time if I’m not happy in a few weeks I’m getting it lasered Off

      • Jenn says:

        Thank you for your comment, Nancy. I can understand your regret about your tattoo, even though it was (is?) a tribute to your late husband. I’ve heard lasering is very expensive, painful, and will leave a scar. You might want to consult a tattoo artist who has experience with cover-ups to see if that might be a better option for you. My sympathies to you for the loss of your husband, and my best wishes to you on your journey in remedying your tattoo, whatever it is you decide to do with it. If it were me I might give it a bit more time (in the grand scheme of tattoos, a year is a pretty short amount of time to have it), but only you know what’s best for you. Good luck!

  4. Susanna says:

    WOW I needed this. I got my first tattoo, after 2 years of thinking, and i got my second one out of a whim. Anyway, I love the minimalist look, but i see other peoples tattoos with more detail and then i look at mine, wondering, i should of added more. Then I see those small imperfections, where a line isnt straight, or the size isnt the same. (I am very OCD) and i am always tempted to go back and touch it up. But what is the point? No matter what I will find imperfections. I am going to accept my tattoos both of them. The imperfections and flaws are what make them beautiful, it’s what makes them my own

    • Jenn says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Susanna! You are absolutely right when you say that no matter what you will find imperfections. In addition, getting touch-ups may just make more room for you to perceive imperfections with it. No tattoo is perfect. And I can promise you that no one is noticing the flaws you’re noticing! You are also absolutely right when you say the imperfections are what make them beautiful and make them yours–beautifully said!

  5. Spencer says:

    I hate my new tattoo. I thought I wanted it and what it is does have meaning for me . But I still wished I had not gotten it. I have another tattoo that I love but this new one I skilling me and I see it everyday when I take my shirt off in the mirror. I have never had anxiety like this before .

    • Jenn says:

      Thanks so much for your comment Spencer, and so sorry to hear you hate your new tattoo. How long has it been since you’ve gotten it? I’m hoping time will resolve your negative feelings about it; however, if it doesn’t, would you be able to get it covered up? I know larger tattoos can be difficult to cover. I hope you have some peace about your new ink eventually, even if that means getting it removed or doing what you need to do to feel better about it.

  6. Sophie says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this article! I got my first ( beautiful ) piece yesterday… but it isn’t *exactly* what I pictured and I keep swinging between moods of ‘ i shouldn’t have done that’ sadness and ‘what if it just had *insert teeny tiny tweak here*’. After reading so many unhelpful blogs about people who feel AMAZING after and “maybe you should have thought more before you got it” , this was really refreshing.

    • Jenn says:

      Thank you, Sophie! It feels like nothing in life turns out exactly how we imagine. I love my tattoo but it’s not perfect and that’s ok. I hope you come to love and accept your new piece!

  7. Sarah says:

    Just had a forearm tattoo 2 days ago n the line are way too thick, black n bold. I feel sick to the stomach n gutted. Another artist has basically said it’s a bit of a mess n its way too thick lined n black that the artist had made a few of that kind of messes lately… i was too hasty n am now really angry n upset with myself n so upset that i didn’t have the guts to stop the session n let myself get worked by the guy, who i know was shakey but trying to do his best to please… i feel weak n ashamed, withdrawn emotionally n ‘stuck’ in a loop if u get me? It’s a horrid feeling. My husband really likes it, for what it represents ….
    I’m 54 ….We’re on honeymoon n i saved his life 5 days ago n nearly lost mine in the process n i so wanted to celebrate the limb that literally stopped him from drowning in a rip tide hundreds of yards from the shore in NZ waters n hate that i now hate the art on the forearm that kept him above the water n towed him for enough in for us both to be reached by others who started to wade out without threat to themselves .I am a gold standatd life saver n ex under national swimmer swam…. i so hard with the rest of my 9st little body that i nearly ran out if energy in the pull n despite all my power kept getting swept further out n feared i would drow the tat meant to signify that but doesn’t . All i see now is my weakness, stupidity, folly n impetuousness n am worried about the finished product and my capacity to move beyond the emotional stuckness. It feels so crap. So sorry to dump this but i need to reach out….

    • Jenn says:

      Hi Sarah, I’m so sorry about your feelings regarding your new tattoo. It sounds like it all happened so fast (the rescue of your husband and then the tattoo). You are probably still processing everything. It sounds like the tattoo represents something so significant, yet the thick black lines you describe and the feelings you have regarding moving forward with the session even though you didn’t feel quite right about it sound awful. I’m really sorry this all happened. You can’t do much until the tattoo heals anyway, so give it some time. You can always pursue a cover-up (maybe one as an honor to saving your husband just better?) or a removal. I hope you find some peace and forgiveness after everything… after all, you did save your husband and you both are alive and married and hopefully doing well. Sending much love and healing vibes!

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