Why do people self-harm?

Skrevet d. 19-2-2020 11:36:07 af Birgitte Andersen - Psykoterapeut MPF

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.” The short answer, because the person is suffering deeply and is unable to cope.

However, there is more to it than that. Inflicting physical injury to oneself can provide a distraction and relief from intense emotional pain. 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 pinching yourself

• Preventing your wounds from healing

• Burning yourself • Banging your head against a wall

• Swallowing something harmful, in order to make 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.i Furthermore, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is shown to be one of the most effective types of therapeutical treatment.

How I work with self-harm:

I have worked with many distressed self-injuring young people. I know how uncomfortable and limiting this problem is, particularly for the client’s social life. 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. When I work with a client who does self-harm, I will typically focus on identifying and managing the underlying issues that trigger self-injuring behavior, such as:

• Learning different strategies to better manage distress

• Learning ways that will hep you to regulate your emotions

• Working towards boosting your self-esteem

• Learning skills that improve your social skills

• Learning 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 

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