Sunday, March 6, 2011

The psychology of piercing and putting metal rings through lips and tongue

Recently a woman, in her mid-twenties, came to my office who attracted my attention by the extremely striking metal rings and nails that were at the two ends of her lips. They were so close to the edge of her mouth that they made one wonder if they would not impede activities associated with the mouth, including speaking. When I asked her as to why would she pierce her body and put rings in them and especially at such awkward spots, she could give no reason other than she likes body piercing, she is in to tattoos, and it is an expressive art.
It was obvious that this was a superficial explanation and the deeper unconscious motives that lay behind her compulsion to disfigure herself were unknown to her. For body piercing is a form of disfigurement - though we should not forget that it is as much adornment as disfigurement - and to practice it one has to undergo pain. So it is a form of beautifying oneself, by adding something external on to one's body [because one feels as if one is lacking something?], and is achieved through masochistic punishment of oneself.
Patient admitted that at one time she had nine holes pierced through her nose, and even had rings through her eyelids. Since harm coming to the eyes in dreams is often used as a symbol of harm coming to the penis - threat of castration - one has to wonder whether her masochistic tendencies were not a symbolic punishment for aggressive tendencies towards male genitals. For the girl freely admitted that she was completely tomboyish, took no put-downs from anybody, and did not hesitate to take a swing at her men if they behaved like a dick.
Since the rings and the nail were positioned to obstruct normal oral activities I could not help but speculate that it was a symbolic attempt to put a nail through her oral aggressive inclinations. She suffered from mood swings, and there was little doubt that she had strong oral love needs. She was very attached to her mother.
In past I have observed that stammering and stuttering often occurs in individuals who were on the path to develop Tourette like explosive speech, and that the speech impediment had occurred to block the aggression from emerging via the medium of speech. Behind the explosive speech lie abusive epithets directed towards the parents for inhibiting one from Oedipal sexual exploration and activities, and it is the fear of retaliation from parental figures for such aggressive oral tendencies that the little child develops a stutter or stammer. The speech impediment nullifies the aggression by putting a block in the expression of abusive words. In fact the block is so complete that it occurs prior to the expression of the abusive word, stammer getting attached to harmless words leading up to the abusive epithets.
Now is putting the nail through lips and tongues a similar attempt to keep control over one's oral aggressive tendencies?
I speculate that when pathological oral aggression occurs during Oedipal phase it causes speech impediment, but when it happens later in life, the person tries to control it by external means. Its psychology is not too different from how in olden days mothers would wash the mouth and tongue of the child with soap and water for using abusive language.
Piercing the lips or tongue are form of punishment for using the mouth for discharging aggressive tendencies. The nail or jewelery act as a reminder to not put one's mouth in proper gear and not to spew abuse. As the saying goes: put your mouth in the right gear before speaking.
Perhaps some people's fascination to have braces put on their teeth, or to replace natural teeth with gold,or as in singer Little Waynes case with diamond, is also an attempt to prevent oral aggression.
A lady I knew, who was a high executive in a hospital, suffered so much from her obsession with oral sex- behind which lay powerful impulses to castrate men - she went and got braces on her mouth at the age of 45 years. An example of such an attempt to prevent one's oral tendencies to express aggression through devouring others is Dr. Hannibal the Cannibal in the movie "The Silence of the Lambs."
The shiny rings and other precious stones that adorn the pierced part serve the purpose of deflecting attention from aggression to something alluring and inviting. They are as if to say: "Oh I don't mean any harm to you. Look I have just the opposite tendencies, to give you something shiny and precious."
While I do not have sufficient observations but I won't be surprised if all these piercing and placement of metal through varied parts of the body, including navel, breasts and genitals do not have same psychological explanation, to wit, putting an inhibiting nail through the expression of aggression and sexuality from all pores of the body.


  1. Hmmm. This is interesting, but I certainly don't think it would apply in every case. I am very afraid of needles, and for that reason I never got my ears pierced. I always enjoyed wearing earrings, but I only ever wore clips (which, in fact, are MUCH more painful than having pierced ears-- they hurt the whole time you are wearing them, whereas a piercing only hurts for a few minutes). I always thought it would be nice to have pierced ears and be able to wear all the pretty earrings I see in the stores, but my fear of needles prevented me. After I turned thirty-three, I decided to get pierced. By this point, my main reason for getting pierced was _because_ I was so afraid to get it done. But I went to the tattoo parlour and-- though I did scream quite a bit to the amusement of all-- got pierced, and I had _such_ a feeling of accomplishment after. For months, even years afterward, I would look at my ears and think, "My ear lobes now have an adaptation specifically to accommodate purpose-designed jewellery. My ears did not come with earring receptacles. They have them now _because I put them there_." That feeling of adapting my physical body to my own purposes was very gratifying. After piercing my ears and experiencing that feeling, I thought, "I can see the appeal in body modifications."

    I can see a few possible (and not mutually exclusive) rationales for body piercing besides the one you put forth.
    1) Piercing of the earlobes in twenty-first century America is now a cultural norm. You don't need any "reason" to do it-- it's just in fashion.
    2) Piercing of body parts other than the earlobes, as well as other body modifications, have significance in certain subcultures. So having body modifications can be a way to reinforce one's identity as part of a group.
    3) Taking part in your own body's "design" by exercising a god-like influence over your own anatomy is an incredible thrill. You become the author (or at least editor!) of your physical being. The satisfaction inherent in exerting this level of control cannot be underestimated.

  2. Thanks Morpheus for your thoughtful commentary. I fully agree with you that the psychology of ornamentation is far vaster. The peculiar behavior of piercing followed by ornamentation in very unlikely spots of the body is just part of it, and my essay was limited to that.
    Ornamentation seems to have its aim an accentuation of one's natural attributes. The earrings with their symmetrical globular designs seem to have been inspired from accentuating the natural attraction that humans feel for the symmetrical and globular breasts and buttocks.
    I fully agree with you that such accentuation and body modification extends beyond the purpose of sexual attraction and is perhaps more often used to reinforce one's identity as part of a group.
    As for the fear of needles and the body getting pierced you may want to read my post of September 28 2010 where I analyze the dream of a girl who had great fear of needles. I trace there its root in fear of the opposite sex and penetration of one's body by foreign object and the foreign sex. Very sensitive people betray this trait which is a form of narcissism and rejection of penetration of one's precious and highly esteemed body and self. They rather have their ornaments by their own designs. They are reluctant to submit their anatomy to others. If possible they would rather have the greatest ornaments of our lives - our children - come to fruition by their own designs.

  3. I always love listening to "shrinks" no disrespect intended... TRY to explain and inevitably overanalyize things they know NOTHING about. It's all speculation on their part... Just as religion is by ANY culture. Does it always have to have to have such a deep seated, pyscological reason. Can't it just be, for some people, that they simply like the way it looks, feels or expresses their personality. With all due respect to the professionals in this field... Please lighten up a bit... Not EVERYTHING in this world has to have or NEEDS some elaborate explanation.

  4. I always love listening to "shrinks" no disrespect intended... TRY to explain and inevitably overanalyize things they know NOTHING about. It's all speculation on their part... Just as religion is by ANY culture. Does it always have to have to have such a deep seated, pyscological reason. Can't it just be, for some people, that they simply like the way it looks, feels or expresses their personality. With all due respect to the professionals in this field... Please lighten up a bit... Not EVERYTHING in this world has to have or NEEDS some elaborate explanation.

  5. Dear SWM,
    The analysis is not that complicated. If you read it a couple of times, paying full attention, you will realize the explanations are common sense. They are based upon observations and not speculative.
    I do realize that if you ask the person who does all these body piercing adornments, she knows nothing of the complicated reasoning I give. And her first impulse would be to tell me to go and jump in a lake and that she feels nothing of oral aggression in her or any of the convoluted theories I am telling to explain the phenomena.
    But these aggressive thoughts are in the unconscious. In the conscious mind the person feels a compulsion to go and get pierced on the lips or through the eyelid etc. based upon their symbolic significance. While these thoughts are in the unconscious and the person has little or no inkling of it, they still influence the behavior and compulsively.
    One's rejection of these underlying motivations behind this "expressive art" is again based upon refusal to acknowledge the aggressive tendencies that lie behind the beautiful adornment. We loath to see our destructiveness and would rather be seen, not just to others but to our own selves as well, as nothing but all sugar and shiny.

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  8. Very interesting. I appreciate your conclusions through observation.

  9. My dream I rang this big bell waiting to pay someone my bill and all of a sudden this beautiful woman who was covered in body piercings and scars bc of the peircings just looks at me n starts crying bc these men are about to Pierce her back and hand her up on hooks.. then this guy turns to me and says now you must get this done.. I tell him no ill give him anything if he doesn't do that to me and I start throwing needles at him. I woke up screaming. Please help with this. I have lots of disturbing dreams. I do not take drugs and am not on any other medication please help.

  10. Dear Rachel,
    Generally it is difficult to analyze a dream without associations to its individual elements. But what little sense I can make of it is as follows:
    Your ringing the bell to pay the bill would be that you feel guilty and must make atonement. The guilt appears to be in relationship to men and to them you must make atonement/pay a price. The price appears to be allowing them to pierce you. The beautiful woman most likely is yourself.
    She is being treated by those men in that sadistic fashion to satisfy her masochistic needs. The masochism itself arises from sense of guilt and its origin on further analysis will show it to be from the Oedipal Period.
    One of those men turning to you next shows that you are in same relationship to them as that beautiful woman. This lends further support to the conjecture that the beautiful woman is yourself.
    Your telling the man you will give anything if he does not do that to you - shows that you want the same masochistic satisfaction. At the same time its prohibited nature makes you protest to not do that to you.
    While deep down it is masochistic sexual satisfaction the affect associated with it is unpleasant and the dread overshadows the pleasure and you wake out of the dream screaming.
    Your throwing needles at him is retaliation at being subjected to such punishment/sadism but at the same time it gives a hint that the masochism arose from sadistic designs towards men.
    The sequence goes as follows: first is your desire to pierce men with needles then the guilt turns it into that those men should punish you in like fashion. Then comes anger at how dare those men subject you to such piercing and hanging from the hooks and you retaliate with throwing the needles at them.
    This is a typical anxiety dream. You wake up from these anxiety dreams screaming because of fear of harm coming to you.
    There is a regression of your psychosexuality to sado-masochistic phase, at least part of it, which emerges in the dream as being subjected to sadism from which you wake up screaming. The disturbance is a mild regression of sexuality to an earlier phase. Proper love from a good partner will bring it back to genital stage and the dreams will normalize.

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  13. Alfred Adler, using the psychology of the 1920s in his book - 'Understanding Human nature', put it down to vanity.

  14. I always feel sorry for people who compromise the perfection of their body in order to hide their true self.

  15. have recently pierced my cock, did it myself startng with a needle and expending it to a 10mm ring. its a frenum(skin below,behind head). i was acting compulsively over two days, am 10 months in recovery from alcohol and drugs, part of my addiction has involved sex with many partners including cheating at times. have toyed with needles etc before, also recenseperated from a friend whom i was sleeping with, which i know is not best idea when in early recovery. is interesting reading your posts as have feeling of needing to limit myself sexually, have had tendancy to hurt people in relationships, and part of the pain involved seems carthartic, at times enjoyable, also feels like a statement in coming to terms with my past, tendancies and sexual tastes, whilst closing the scope of possible partners, physically and asthetically i really like it, become more sensitive and holds foreskin back, slight rebirthish, change, would be interested in your feedback thankyou, m

  16. Piercing is a form of violence to should be anticipated that violence to others would be a logical conclusion as well