Delaying is a form of harm minimisation where the aim is to recognise urges to self-harm and to try not to act on them straight away.

Delaying self-harm is not about telling yourself that you can't self-harm, but about trying to wait until urges and emotions are less strong, so you feel more in control and are able to control the level of self-harm.

It often doesn't feel like it at the time, but powerful emotional states and urges to self-harm do pass or reduce with time.

Here are some suggestions that might help you to delay self-harm. Again different things work for different people, so don't beat yourself up if this doesn't work for you right now.

Being Aware of Triggers

Some people find it helpful to think about when they get urges to self-harm and if there are any specific things which make them start thinking about self-harm such as:

  • specific events or experiences

  • times of the day, month or year

  • seeing certain people or going to certain places

  • specific smells, tastes, sounds, images or types of touch

  • or any other patterns they notice about their urges to self-harm

If you are aware of the types of things that trigger your thoughts and feelings of self-harm then you might be able to use that awareness to notice your feelings earlier, and slow down the process that leads from feeling urges to actual self-harm.

You might also find over time that you're able to remove yourself from a situation you are finding triggering or do some other activities which help get you out of a triggered mindset e.g. exercise, loud singing, screaming into a pillow 

Creating a Safe Space in Advance

It can be hard to think clearly if you are distressed or trying to deal with self-harm urges, but some people find it helpful to create a 'safe space', where there is nothing available to harm yourself with - this could be:

  • a specific chair

  • corner of the room

  • inside a cupboard

  • anywhere you can stay until you feel less unsafe

As soon as you become aware of urges to self-harm you can go to the space. You could also put activities there that you know will help to distract you.

Surfing the Urge

When you notice urges you may be able to tell yourself that you will wait a short time:

  • choose (possibly in advance) how long you think you can wait e.g. 30 seconds or 5 minutes - any time is an achievement, but try to choose something you think you can manage

  • you might want to plan an activity that you know will distract you in advance and keep it somewhere you can access it easily

  • see if you still want to harm yourself at the end of this time, if you do then you can

  • if you get to the end of the time and you think you can wait longer you can wait for that time again

  • over time you may be able to extend this time and make it longer

If you are able to delay sometimes and not others, try not to beat yourself up - it might not always feel possible and that's OK.

At times when you can't delay then other harm minimisation techniques might be helpful

Keeping Implements in Awkward Places

Some people find it helpful to put what they use to self-harm in a place that is difficult to access, to try and delay self-harm.

This might involve:

  • an inaccessible place - keeping implements in a place that is difficult to get into such as a high cupboard or somewhere that needs to be accessed with a ladder

  • another person - asking someone else to keep things for you and you have to ask for them to use them

  • awkward storage - storing implements inside something that takes a long time to remove, such as layers of wrapping paper or clingfilm or freezing them in a block of ice

Similar to delaying by distraction/surfing the urge, the aim is to slow down the process that leads to self-harm, not necessarily to stop it, and some people find they still need to self-harm when they get what they need and others find it creates enough of a delay for the urges to pass.

There are no wrong or right ways to use these techniques - simply use them in ways which are helpful to you and don't use things which you don't find helpful.

This page from LifeSigns walks you through how to try a fifteen-minute delay