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

Lachrista Greco
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.

Joan of Arc 1412 1431 aka Jeanne d Arc or Jeanne la Pucelle French heroine

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.

Joan Of Arc

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.

Some tattooers work during the festival. The best tattooers

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.

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