What it’s like to be “branded” by an abusive ex’s tattoo

He ended up branding me twice in the end: one piece of beautiful artwork and one incurable virus. He made sure to leave his mark.

He was a tattoo artist, and without me even asking, he insisted on gifting me a tattoo. At that point, I had three small black tattoos and was wanting something big and in color. I had seen a rendition of Joan of Arc by one of my favorite artists, Angelique Houtkamp, and for a year, I dreamed about getting a tattoo just like it.

I had always been fascinated by Joan Of Arc. I read everything I could about her from an early age. To me, she was a warrior, a feminist, and (possibly) mentally ill — just like me.


I told him what I was thinking of getting tattooed. He immediately had to do it. He didn’t want me to go to anyone else. At the time I didn’t question this. I knew he was capable; I knew he was a great artist; I knew his studio was clean and sanitary.

When I think back to it now though, I see the control he had over me. He was England. I was Joan. But I didn’t know we were at war.


On the day he did the outline, I brought in the image I had been holding dear for over a year. I told him I didn’t want it exactly the same — I wanted him to throw his own flare into it. He agreed. I was nervous (because I hate the process of getting tattoos), but I felt cared for and comforted by him. The outline took around three hours.

When I saw the outline, I was floored. I wanted to cry because the outline alone was stunning.

I felt like a badass. I felt even more enamored with him and with Joan.


He completed the tattoo a few days before my birthday on a blustery December evening, and once he added the color and shading, I fell even more in love with this piece of art — and with him.

It didn’t occur to me that I had just been “branded by my abusive boyfriend.

He wasn’t going to charge me, but I insisted on paying for it. I remember thinking to myself: “If I don’t pay for this, and we breakup, I will feel wretched.” I didn’t want it to be a gift. I wanted it to be a paid transaction that I bought for myself. He refused to charge me more than $300, which I was fine with, and the transaction was complete.

A couple of weeks later, around Christmas, he started pulling away. I couldn’t tell if he was playing a game with me or if he meant it. I felt as if my life would be over if he left me. He said he needed time to think about whether he wanted to be in a relationship at all. Maybe this is when he started cheating on me, who knows?

I couldn’t believe it. This man I was so completely in love with, the man who just branded me with this gorgeous tattoo, needed to “think about things.” I wish I could have felt empowered to end things, but I didn’t. I waited. His hold on me was too intense.

He wasn’t always abusive, but this is how narcissists work: they charm you, they pretend to love you -- and maybe they do love you for real for a little while, but then something shifts.

The manipulation, the mind games, the gaslighting: all things I never expected to deal with from the man I loved.

We never expect this behavior from people we’re in love with though.

We spent the next five months together. I felt safe again. He talked about tattooing me again and again and again.

It didn’t happen though, and we broke up in May -- two months after he gave me herpes; five months after tattooing me; seven months after I fell in love with him.

He lit me in flames.


After the breakup, people kept asking (or saying) the wrong things. Some wanted to know, “What is it like having a tattoo from him? I would feel awful!” Others  asked, “Are you going to get the tattoo removed? I would.” These remarks angered me. They assumed I only wanted the tattoo because of him. It assumed that I must hate myself because I have a permanent marking that all can see from someone who treated me so poorly.

I told people over and over: “I had been thinking about getting this for over a year before we met. He gave me the opportunity. Even if this wasn’t my reasoning, would it matter? Why? To whom?

I might be branded by him in more than one way, but I’m okay with that. I don’t hate myself. I don’t hate him anymore. I can’t. For my own mental health, I’ve chosen healing over hate. I don’t forgive any of what he did to me (and I don’t believe you have to forgive people to move on), but I definitely don’t carry the pain with me like I once did. And for that, I’m grateful.


Several months after our breakup, I got another tattoo. This one is on the back of Joan, on my inner bicep, that reads: “Si viju lu diavulu non schiantu.” It’s in Calabrese — the Italian dialect of my ancestors. It’s from a traditional Calabrese women’s folk song and translates to: “If I see the devil, I do not run.”

The placement and the saying were both deliberate.

I saw the devil, wrestled with him, was branded by him, and came out alive. I am forever grateful for my strength and vulnerability. I am forever grateful for my resilience.


A few months ago, I had needed to get the tattoo touched up. I knew I would never go back to him, and I made sure to get it done by a woman this time. She made Joan look even more beautiful, coloring over some areas with a darker, more vibrant color than my ex had used.During the touch up, I envisioned my ex and all of his energy leaving my body.

Do I feel weird that my abusive ex tattooed me? No. I never did until other people acted like I should feel weird about it.

I refuse to hate any part of my body because of a man who didn’t treat me well. I am still me. This is still my body. This is still my skin.

He doesn’t live (or love) here anymore.

Filed Under