Tattoos and body piercings are common and have become a popular trend. People have different reasons for getting body modifications, including childhood abuse. While childhood trauma isn’t the only reason for getting tattoos or piercings, its prevalence is worth discussing.

Everyone chooses tattoos with different meanings, making them personal marks of their life. There are many ideas to choose from, or you can design something entirely new. Either way, the permanent mark will mean something special to you.

Tattoos say quite a bit about the person who has them, so it’s essential to think about it before you get one. Piercings are temporary, so they don’t require much reflection, but they still give insight into the person who has them.

People with Tattoos and Piercings Often Had Childhood Abuse

One study published in BMC Psychology indicates a link between body modifications and childhood abuse. Research shows people are more likely to get body modifications if they experienced childhood trauma in their past.

The prevalence of body modifications was higher depending on the severity of the abusive situation. During the study, participants answered questions regarding childhood abuse and neglect, the extent of the trauma, and whether they had body modifications.

The results indicated that 48% of people who experienced abuse have tattoos or pieces. In comparison, only 35% of those who didn’t experience abuse had tattoos. Experts also cited a strong link between the severity of trauma and a higher number of body modifications.

While these findings offer some insight, there are some limitations. Since the study focused on self-reporting, it could include inconsistencies or inaccurate answers.

The findings indicate a correlation, but more research is necessary. Researchers also suggest body modifications could be a therapeutic method to signify a traumatic event or current prevalent theme in their life.

childhood abuse

Other Studies of Body Art and Trauma

Other studies show that tattoos are more common for people with mental disorders. These people are also more likely to receive mental health services.

Experts indicate that tattoos can hint at specific psychiatric conditions. They can also give insight into the inner thoughts and well-being of the person. The study indicates that those with tattoos also have higher rates of:

  • drug misuse
  • alcoholism
  • risk-taking behavior
  • impulsivity
  • self-harm

Is Childhood Abuse Always Prevalent if Someone Gets a Tattoo?

While the previous studies cited childhood abuse as why people get tattoos, not all research agrees. Other experts indicate that having tattoos is associated with high self-esteem. The experts claim that tattoos and piercings do not signify mental disorders, contradicting other studies.

Other Reasons People Get Tattoos

People get tattoos as a form of non-verbal communication, although the meaning varies based on the person. Some of the reasons people get tattoos can include:

  • religious purposes
  • gaining a sense of belonging
  • covering specific body areas
  • to seem tough
  • asserting independence and individuality
  • rebellion
  • enhancing image or looking fashionable
  • communicating inner ideas or conflict
  • self-expression
  • strength or aggression
  • social resistance

History of Tattoos

When you get a tattoo, pigment gets inserted with a needle just below where the dermal and epidermal meet. Your immune system attacks it, and it sits in your cells. As it sits in the macrophages and fibroblast cells, it produces permanent skin coloration.

The earliest examples were in Pharaonic Egypt and indicated status and belonging. They also served as markers of protection or for therapeutic reasons.

In the Maori of New Zealand, tattoos showed status, rank, ancestry, and abilities. In other areas, tattoos were a rite of passage among warriors, indicating that the painful ritual was sacred. Tattoos are also used in tribes to show belonging to a nomadic guild.

Sailors got tattoos to show the trials they fought through and their status on the ship. They also got them to differentiate themselves from non-sailors.

Tattoos became less common during the Dark and Middle Ages, mostly disappearing. However, they were still prevalent among those who didn’t follow the law. The word ‘tattoo’ got introduced by Captain Cook to the Western world during the 18th century. It became well-known but didn’t immediately become popular. Now, 24% or more of the general population has at least one tattoo.

The Categories of the Imagery

Tattoos have become decorative and artistic and often signify something about the person. Tattoos are also used for cosmetic reasons after surgery to cover scars or physical trauma.

People choose various tattoo designs, locations, and content. Some of the tattoo classifications in history include:

  • identification tattoos, including military service emblems, personal information, and traumatic events
  • love tattoos, including sentimental or idealized
  • pseudo-heroic or bombastic tattoos, including death, power, skulls, and crossbones
  • fate tattoos, including symbols for luck or superstitious ideas
  • private tattoos, including those that are only significant to the person who gets it
  • miscellaneous tattoos, including birds, flowers, and other random things


The Meaning Behind Popular Tattoos

Tattoos have different meanings for each individual who receives them. There are meanings behind many popular tattoos, although the person who gets them might not mean it that way. These meanings are only a guideline, and the person may not fit the description even if they have the tattoo.

Five dots

A tattoo of five dots in an arrangement like on dice indicates the trauma of incarceration. The four dots show the cell, and the fifth dot in the center represents the prisoner.


Star tattoos indicate honor, hope, intuition, desire, or guidance. They can also symbolize success and progress toward your goals. However, in Russia, having a star on the chest or shoulder means the person is a high-ranking criminal.

Spider webs

Spider webs can represent fear or danger and, in some cases, violence. It can either mean that you’re trying to overcome a fear or you want to appear intimidating. These tattoos can sometimes indicate a prison sentence. It represents being trapped, as in trapped behind bars.

An X

This tattoo indicates negative feelings and implies that things are amiss. It can also reveal a barrier that holds you back. However, it can also show boldness and bravery or imply eroticism.


A spade tattoo can indicate military service and war or symbolize sin. A Queen of Spades symbol is a feminine design, while the King of Spades is masculine. Couples sometimes get these tattoos together to honor their relationship.

Ship Wheel

When someone gets a ship wheel tattoo, it could symbolize navigation and direction. It can help people remember the direction they want their life to go. This tattoo serves as a reminder to stay focused and persevere through the hard times.


Having a tattoo of a wave can symbolize passion and drive. It might be that the person is passionate about their family, career, or life.


There are a few common skull tattoos. One is a sugar skull, part of the celebration of Dia de Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. Mexican and Latin American cultures celebrate this festivity.

A sugar skull represents ancestors who have passed away and come back to earth to be honored. Getting a tattoo of it is often a way to honor ancestors.

Another common tattoo is a skull with wings. It can be a symbol of foreboding or danger.

A skull with wings could indicate that the person lives a dangerous life or often thinks about death. It also can represent the desire to live adventurously without letting people or things interfere.


The sun can represent a few things depending on the design. A rising sun indicates a new beginning, while a tribal sun tattoo represents strength.

Cross with birds

This tattoo represents freedom from the expectations of society. Someone with this tattoo feels free or doesn’t care what others think of them.

Paper Airplane

A paper airplane tattoo can represent a love of traveling or a desire to see the world. Other people get this tattoo to show their adventurous and carefree side. It can also remind people of their childhood or that moving forward is essential.


Tattoos of mountains indicate courage and spirit. A mountain range represents a person’s life journey, including the good and bad times. The high and low tops of the mountains represent the natural flow of life.

Crescent Moon

A crescent moon tattoo represents many things, including a love of nighttime. It can also indicate feminine energy, freedom from guilt or evil, and a sign of strength. A crescent moon may also show darkness within.

Manta Ray

A manta ray tattoo represents focusing your energy on achieving your goals. It encourages you to stay calm and not let emotions control your direction. A manta ray tattoo also inspires tranquility and movement.

childhood abuse

Final Thoughts on People with Tattoos and Piercings Often Had Childhood Abuse

While some studies show tattoos and piercings indicate childhood abuse or trauma, others disagree. It can be hard to pinpoint the meaning of body modifications since they are personal to each individual who gets them.

Before getting a tattoo, you can reflect on what it symbolizes. You can get whatever tattoo or piercing appeals to you, regardless of what it means to others.