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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.

Facing a Relapse

Recently, Dawn began cutting again, this time on her legs. "It was easy to cover them with jeans," she says.

But it was Dawn who called the SAFE program for help, not her mother. "I think it was harder for her this time," says Deb. "I told her, 'You need to be very proud that you could reach out. You need to see you're destined for great things. God does not bring us through these things for nothing. You need to see the other side of that circle, to see how strong you are.'"

That crisis has passed. In May, Dawn graduated from college with a major in psychology and a minor in art. She now works for an area agency that helps the mentally handicapped and disabled. She wants to pursue a master's in psychology, so she can be an art therapist. "Dawn found that art therapy helped her a lot with her own problems," Deb says.

Advice for Parents, Kids

Learning to be assertive, to speak up for herself, has been Dawn's hardest lesson. "It's a slow process, because I'm almost 25 and I have to unlearn all the stuff I did as a kid," Dawn tells WebMD. "It's like starting over, learning stuff you're supposed to learn growing up. But if you don't learn it, eventually you're going to crack."

Dawn offers advice for parents: Help your kids develop their sense of identity. "Let kids express their feelings, even if you don't feel comfortable with it. Let them get angry. Let them say what they feel, what their opinions are, so they can learn to speak up for what they think. Kids should also be encouraged to have hobbies, to get involved in activities, to help build their self-esteem."

Kids who are cutting themselves must understand how dangerous it is, says Dawn. "It's a trendy thing, but you're playing with fire. It can get out of control really fast. Find someone who takes it seriously, like a school counselor."

Deb's message to mothers: Pay attention to the clues, and trust your instinct. "Mothers have a great sixth sense, a gut instinct. Always listen to that. It won't steer you wrong," she tells WebMD.

Deb recognizes her own role in her daughter's problems - in not standing up to her husband and not allowing her daughter to have her own voice. "It's a battle, because women and girls need a voice and they don't always have one. That needs to change."

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