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Why do people self-harm?


Definition of self-harm (from Merriam-Webster): “the act of purposely hurting oneself (as by cutting or burning the skin) as an emotional coping mechanism.”

People commit self-harm because they are struggling with deep emotional suffering and are unable to cope. Inflicting physical injury to oneself can provide a distraction and relief from intense emotional pain. In a way, it can be seen as an outlet of the emotional pain, by letting it become physical.

People often believe that self-injurious is a sign that the person will commit suicide. However, this is rarely the case. Self-harming behavior does not necessarily correlate with suicidal behavior, rather it is a method of releasing inner tension. You could compare it with the way that many people use alcohol, drugs or other unhealthy methods as a type of self-medication; it becomes a way to control the internal pain.

What are some common ways of doing self-harm?

  • Cutting yourself

  • Punching or slapping yourself

  • Scratching or pintching yourself

  • You may prevent the wounds you already have from healing

  • Burning yourself

  • Banging your head against something hard

  • Swallowing something harmful and making yourself sick

The latest research shows that the number of young people using self-harm is on the increase. Most of these people between the ages of 15 and 25 and have varied underlying problems for their self-injurious behavior. Some examples are the pressure to perform well at school, romantic problems or issues with their parents to name a few.

Fortunately, there are other ways of dealing with suffering that are useful and proven to help. Psychotherapy is proven to be a very effective tool in this field as well as in the field of suicide prevention, which can be seen as the ultimate type of self-harm. The statistic results are positive overall, with a decrease of suicidal ideation rates in 95.7% of them. Furthermore, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is shown to be one of the most effective types of therapeutical treatment for this type of issue.


Having had experience with many distressed self-injuring young people, I understand how painful, limiting and often shameful this problem is.

Through therapy we can address the self-injurious behavior by dealing with the emotional pain. For some, the emotional pain has been part of their lives for so long, that it has become a part of their personality. However, others inflict self-harm as a coping strategy for sudden traumatic experiences.

If you choose to work with me, you can expect us to work at clarifying what 'warning signs' tell you that you are beginning to feel like you want to self-harm. Often it can be a specific feeling, a behaviour or a chain of thoughts.

Then we work towards creating a copping strategi, that you can turn to when you become aware of the warning signs.

I will also typically focus on identifying and managing the underlying issues that trigger self-injuring behavior, such as:

  • strategies to better manage distress

  • ways that will hep you to regulate your emotions

  • Working towards boosting your self-esteem

  • Improving your social skills

  • Improving your general problem-solving skills

If you or someone you love suffers from self-harm, I hope that this blog will inspire you to seek help.

Wishing you well,

Brigitte Escobar from

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Copenhagen Therapy

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About Brigitte

I am a certified Organic Psychotherapist (MPF), specializing in narcissism and personal development.

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