Photograph by Liat Meir
Hi, I’m 16 years old and at times can be really impulsive. An example of this is on Sunday when I gave myself three stick n pokes (home tattoos–they’re permanent); two of them I still like however one of them I actually hate because I messed it up. I also feel really guilty because my parents hate tattoos and I told three of my friends who weren’t too keen on the idea either… Gaaahh! I feel like I have a huge weight of regret but the more people I tell the worse I feel about it. At times I’m ok with it and then my mood will quickly change and I absolutely hate it. I just feel so guilty/regretful aaahhh. I feel like I’m losing myself (I’m pretty mentally ill as well…), I keep doing stupid reckless things that I really regret later on some things I can’t stop like cutting which I regret because of scars but I still don’t stop. I just want a way of dealing with regret.
Thanks so much for writing to us. Sounds like you’re in a tricky situation–dealing with regret is never fun, but we’ve all been there in some form or another (I know I certainly have plenty of times). I’m about to bombard you with a super long answer, so bare with me, and apologies if this was a bit more than you were asking for, but I really hope it helps.
So let’s start with the bad news–as you already know, and said yourself, these tattoos are permanent. They’re here to stay, so drowning yourself in guilt and regret is going to get you nowhere–it certainly won’t remove the tattoo. It’s okay to wallow a little bit, but something I’ve learned is that when you’re in a shitty situation that you have no control over, the best thing to do is tackle any aspects you DO have any control over, and try to make peace with the parts that you don’t. You’ve got to find a way to forgive yourself and move forward. So, here are some ideas to help you take some control back.
1. Stop telling people about it. That seems to be making things a lot worse for you. That’s a pretty simple and straightforward one.
2. Try not to let your friends’ opinions bother you. Who cares if they don’t like your tattoos? Some of your friends probably don’t love the way you dress either, but that doesn’t mean you should stop dressing that way. You probably don’t like one of your friend’s haircuts, but that doesn’t mean she should grow it back out to appease you. They’ll get over it, and unlike with your parents, it’s really none of their business, so try to remember that. If a friend brings it up or makes negative remarks, it might be worth saying something like, “I realize you don’t support my decision to do these tattoos, but I’d really appreciate it if you stopped saying so, because I’m feeling regretful and I could use your support as my friend, instead of you adding to my regret,” or at least say “I actually really don’t want to talk about this, and I’d really appreciate it if you stop bringing it up.”
3. In terms of your parents, I get that that’s a bit different–I’ve got two tattoos myself, and both of my parents were pretty damn upset and disappointed about it, and I know how bad that feels. In a way, you “owe” your parents something that you simply don’t owe your friends. That being said, I don’t think you should feel helplessly guilty about upsetting your parents, because again, it’s not going to change anything. If you haven’t already, try a simple apology. Say something like, “I know you’re angry that I did this, and I want you to know that I’m sorry for how it’s affected you. My intentions weren’t to upset you, and I’ve definitely learned my lesson about being more thoughtful about this stuff.” They might still be upset, but acknowledging that you know that it upset them can go a long way.
4. Use this as a reminder going forward when you feel yourself on the edge of making an impulsive, destructive decision. Ah, the classic use-it-as-a-learning-experience solution. But seriously. Regret it a pain in the ass, but believe it or not, it has a purpose. It’s an emotion that’s meant to flare up when you’re back in a similar situation, to try to prevent you from repeating it. In a strange way, it’s a way that your body and brain are trying to help you out and protect you. For one, remember this feeling if you consider giving yourself another tattoo. Or, beyond that, you might think to yourself, damn, I really don’t want to want to deal with any more regret like I did the tattoo thing, maybe skipping school/starting to smoke/throwing away my vitamins isn’t worth the fall out.
5. When you feel the regret coming on, take a deep breath and use some positive affirmations and self-talk. Maybe even make yourself a little mantra that you can repeat in your head when the regret swells: I made a mistake, but everyone makes mistakes. This isn’t the end of the world, and simmering in my regret isn’t going to fix anything, and is only going to make me feel worse. I am a good person, and this doesn’t have to be a reflection of me. I’m going to be okay. And then do something healthy to get your mind off it, like reading a good book or going for a bike ride. Do something that you definitely WON’T have regrets about, but something that you can be proud of or feel good about, even as simple as getting the laundry done or walking the dog for your mom.
6. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there are, of course, options for tattoo removal, but they tend to be expensive and tedious. You could also potentially have a professional tattoo artist create something on top of the tattoo you dislike, though I strongly recommend you DON’T do that for at least a few years, after you’ve had some serious time to think about it and NOT be impulsive. But you can keep that in the back of your mind as a little bit of comfort in the moments that you look at the tattoo and think, Ugh, I really don’t want to look at this for the rest of my life. Also, since it’s a stick and poke and not a professional tattoo, it’s probably going to fade a lot more quickly, for what it’s worth.
All that being said, I think there is definitely a larger underlying problem here that trumps the tattoo concern. In the scheme of your life, this tattoo thing isn’t going to be all too important (you might always dislike that tattoo, or maybe in a few years it’ll turn into a little reminder sewn onto your skin of your strength and resilience in dealing with hard times, like a tribute to what you’ve been through…maybe it’ll become a reminder of the importance of practicing forgiveness for yourself and others); self-harm, on the other hand, is absolutely a problem that needs addressing, and 100% has the power to affect your future if you don’t address it (well beyond the scars), in a way this tattoo doesn’t, and THAT’S what I think you really need to deal with here. And to be clear, I DON’T mean you just need to find a way to cope with your post-cutting regret. Those tips above are not an adequate way of addressing self-harm–this isn’t something you can just brush off as a little regretful mistake that you’ll learn to live with, it’s something that you need to get help with in order to stop and heal.
Before a say any more about the cutting, let me know say that when you’re depressed, and I know this from my own first hand experience, feelings like regret have a tendency to take over you and drown you. This is true when you aren’t dealing with mental illness as well, to a point, but not in the same way. Now, you obviously didn’t say you were depressed (though self-harm is a pretty solid red flag), and I don’t know in what way you’d categorize what you mention as “pretty mentally ill”–I don’t know if this is a self-diagnosis, or if you’re seeing a doctor, or what. I would bet my left foot, however, that whatever sort of mental illness you’re dealing with, in whatever capacity, is exacerbating the guilt and regret you’re feeling, as well as enabling the emotional see-saw between feeling okay and hating the tattoo. So the best way to deal with your regret may in fact be dealing with the root of the problem, and getting some serious help with the mental health issues you’re facing.
Again, I’m making assumptions here, and for all I know you are talking to/seeing someone about this, but if you aren’t it is SO so important that you find some support. That might be your parents, an older sibling, a teacher, coach, or guidance counselor…someone who can point you in the right direction for the further resources you need. I don’t know what country you’re based in, but this is a great site to look up different help lines you could call. I know (again, from personally experience) that dealing with this stuff is not exactly what we wake up in the morning eager to do, but it’s worth the effort when you come out on the other side, which you will.
Good luck with all you’re facing, and please talk to an adult about your problem with self-harm. As always, the Tigress community will be here to send you extra love and support. The tattoo will fade, the scars will heal, and it will get better.
All my love,