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Self-Injury: One Family's Story

A mother and daughter tell their story about self-harm and how they finally got the strength to get help.
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WebMD Feature

Dawn was a junior in high school when her secret was discovered - she was practicing self-harm, she was cutting herself. That was eight years ago. Today, Dawn is nearly 25, and has transformed herself and her life. She has focused her career goals on helping others with emotional problems.

Dawn and Deb (her mother) hope that, in sharing their story, they can help other families come to grips with the problem of cutting.

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A Sheltered, Strict Childhood

Looking back, Dawn can see what went wrong. Things just weren't right at home. "I always felt, when I was a kid growing up, a lot of anger, but I didn't know what to do with it," she tells WebMD. "I wasn't really allowed to get angry at home, to express my anger."

Her father demanded perfection from her, Dawn says. "Also, I lived an extremely sheltered, controlled life as a child. I was real shy, real passive. I didn't have hobbies or activities. I didn't belong to clubs. I was always by myself, always in my room. I didn't have a whole lot of friends."

Her mother has the same memories. "Dawn's father was very strict with her when she was growing up," says Deb. "Let's face it, you're the product of how you were raised - and he was raised by a really mean father who was very strict. He demanded that Dawn be perfect. I was just 19 when I got married, and at that age I let him take the lead as far as discipline. I wasn't as strong as I am today. It was only later that I realized, this just isn't right."

When Dawn was age 10, her brother was born. As often happens, the second-born didn't face the same strict discipline that Dawn had. "Her father and I were older then, and we let some things go, her father wasn't as strict with him," Deb says. "That was hard for Dawn."

Dawn was becoming more isolated. "My brother was a real small baby, and my parents were really busy with him. Yet I was going through all this stuff, having a really hard time."

By age 13, Dawn was making threats to kill herself. She went into counseling, but things didn't get better, her mother says. By age 14, she was seeing a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with depression.

There was something else no one suspected. Dawn had begun cutting herself. "I'd never heard of cutting," she says. "I thought I'd made it up. For me, it was something that I thought might make me feel better. It was like, I'm going to do this and see what happens."

Hiding the Cuts

In the beginning, she didn't cut herself very often, Dawn explains. "I started to see it was making me feel better, so I kept doing it. I would do it in the bathroom at school... hiding in a stall during lunch time. I used a paper clip that I would sharpen with a file. I just did a lot of little shallow cuts... I didn't want to need stitches. I hid it for so long because I never needed medical attention."

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