By Karen L. Hudson, Contributor for Tattoos.net
So…... you really want a tattoo, but you’re desperately afraid of needles, can’t stand the sight of your own blood, and have a low pain tolerance.
That’s a bit of a problem there.
Okay, okay – suck in the lower lip. If you’re absolutely sure you want a tattoo, there are some things you can do to overcome those…erhm…issues. Read on, brave soul.
Trypanophobia, aichmophobia, enetophobia, and belonephobia – four different phobias dedicated to the fear of sharp, pointy things – like needles. Approximately 10% of the world’s population has some kind of needle fear, so you’re not alone.
If you have a severe form of needle phobia – to the point of crying, fainting, screaming, trembling, or running – then I suggest that you concentrate on getting some help first before worrying about a tattoo. A strong fear of needles can prevent you from getting necessary vaccinations and seeking medical help when needed. I sympathize with this fear; I had it as a child. If it weren’t for having a parent to drag me to the doctor, I never would have gone.
Fortunately, I overcame my fear when I was 15, due to an allergic reaction that led me to break out in hives from head to toe. It was absolutely the most miserable experience of my young life, and when I finally got to the ER, I was desperate for any kind of treatment it took to make the horrible itch and pain go away—even if that meant being stuck with needles. I didn’t care. And when they inserted a needle full of Benadryl that almost instantly made the itch subside, I was so grateful that I completely lost my fear of needles from that point on.
If your fear if needles is more superficial – more of a strong dislike for them – then there are some things you can do to conquer any unpleasant thoughts that currently prevent you from getting tattooed. Not all suggestions will work for every person, so you’ll just have to see what appeals most to you.
Be Informed: The more you know about what you’re getting yourself into, the more relaxed you can be. The first thing you should know is that tattoo needles are nothing like hypodermic needles and getting a tattoo is nothing like getting a shot. You will not see a long sharp thing coming at you, and tattoo needles just barely break the skin.
As you can see in these illustrations, a medical needle goes much deeper than a tattoo needle. In the illustration on the left, the needle is all the way down into the fat layer. Now look at the illustration on the right, and see where the fat layer is in comparison to the tattoo. BIG difference!
Choose An Artist Who Sympathizes With Your Fears: A tattoo artist who understands what you feel and is willing to do whatever they can to make you feel at ease will make getting tattooed that much easier. Talk with them and don’t set an appointment with anyone who doesn’t have your full confidence
Don’t Look: Sometimes, the fear is all in the seeing of the needle. If you get a tattoo on an area of your body where you can’t see what’s going on, that might help. Or wear a blindfold if you must. It’s sort of the equivalent of not looking down if you have a fear of heights. If you don’t see what you perceive to be a danger, then you won’t have cause to fear.
DO Look: If you have a fear of the unknown and don’t like the idea of someone having a sharp object that you have no control over, then ask your artist to allow you a measure of control over the situation. You can do a count of three before they touch the needle to your skin, you can watch everything they’re doing, and you can ask questions about the process. Talk to your artist and let them know this is how you’d like to proceed before you sit in the chair. Make sure you feel confident that they will respect your wishes.
This one’s a little easier to deal with than fear of needles. First of all, you’ll be happy to know that a tattoo usually bleeds very little. As I mentioned above, tattoo needles barely break the skin. And skilled tattoo artists know how to keep what blood does escape from dripping down – one hand holds the tattoo machine, and the other holds a paper towel for mopping up ink and body fluids. Once the tattoo is finished, it beads for another 30-60 minutes and then it’s usually over.
If you don’t want to see any blood, don’t watch them doing the tattoo and have them cover you up with a proper bandage when it’s finished. Leave the bandage on for at least an hour, which you’re supposed to do anyway, and you shouldn’t have any leaky blood to deal with. And if you got red ink in your tattoo, don’t freak out and think that’s blood.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me they can’t get a tattoo because they have a “low tolerance for pain.” And I ask them—exactly how painful do you think getting a tattoo is? That usually confuses them and they’re not sure how to respond, except that they’ve heard from others that tattoos hurt and they don’t like pain. Well, guess what? I don’t like pain either! Most tattoo collectors aren’t masochists – that’s not the purpose of getting tattooed. If that were the case, I’d tell them not to bother with the ink and just shred me for a couple hours with a tattoo needle.
Now, I will admit that I believe that pain should be experienced while getting a tattoo, even though I don’t particularly enjoy it. It’s a “rite of passage” kind of thing – in order to have earned the final result, you have to endure the pain that goes with it. And I’ll admit that there is a sense of pride that results from sitting quietly through a seriously painful tattoo. That is part of the experience for me and many others; it takes you to a place of spiritual and personal awareness. During this time, many also experience a natural high from their own endorphins, which is your body’s natural response to pain in order to make it more endurable. It’s pretty amazing to experience that and realize what a miracle the human body really is.
The woman on the left has already forgotten all about the pain of childbirth, and the woman on the right has already forgotten all about the pain of getting tattooed. When the end result is something positive, it’s worth a little pain to get there!
Most people have a higher tolerance to pain than they think they do, in the same way that people often find that they are braver than they thought they’d be until a situation calls for such bravery. One of the most wonderfully painful things in human existence is childbirth. And yet, women give birth every single day. It is not so unbearable that women have decided not to bear children any more. Well, getting a tattoo is nothing compared to childbirth. Tattoos are also not so unbearable that people have decided not to get them anymore. In fact, we keep going back for more. If we’re not masochists, then that must mean that the pain of getting a tattoo isn’t all that horrible.
So, you’ve heard about the “big, strong guy” who fainted during a tattoo. Or you watched the video of the girl who wouldn’t stop crying through the whole thing. Or you heard about someone throwing up after getting a tattoo. Don’t these stories prove that getting tattooed was extremely painful?
There have been a few – very few – stories of people fainting. And that’s usually because they didn’t eat before their appointment. Low blood sugar can cause anyone to faint, and even moderate pain can cause a person’s blood sugar to drop. I happen to have seen the results of this first-hand when my daughter (a Type 1 Diabetic) got her first tattoo. Every 30 minutes during her tattoo, she’d check her blood glucose levels, and every time it had dropped at least 50-100 points. She ate 3 candy bars through the process of getting the tattoo, just to keep her blood sugar from tanking.
Another possible cause of fainting is being – well – underwhelmed. Some people get themselves so worked up about how bad the tattoo is going to hurt that they go in with this frenzied ball of nerves. Then the tattoo starts and the words have been echoed across the universe at least a million times……”That’s not nearly as bad as I expected.” That physical and mental let-down, when your body has gotten itself all prepared for a big fight only to find out there isn’t one, can throw your body off to the point of actually passing out.
Am I going to tell you that tattoos don’t hurt? Hell no. Anyone who tells you differently is lying and trying to be a bad ass. Tattoos hurt, okay? Just not that bad. And you can even learn some of my personal distraction tricks by reading How Much do Tattoos Hurt?
The bottom line is that when it comes to anything in life, you should never let fear stop you from achieving your goals. If your goal is to get a tattoo, then set your resolve not to let your fears get the best of you and just do it. Sometimes our worst enemy is ourselves – if you can conquer yourself, you can conquer the world.
About Author: Karen L Hudson - Tattoo/Body Mod Expert & Educator, Author, Wife, Mother, Excessive Hobbyist. She is the author of Living Canvas: Your Complete Guide to Tattoos, Piercings, and Body Modification and the editor and co-author of Chick Ink: 40 Stories of Tattoos -- And the Women Who Wear Them. She has been one the world's top body art safety and acceptance advocates since 1999, and former About.com guide for 12 years. Check out her website for more great content: www.Tat2Guru.com.