Morning friends,

I read a quote recently that has me pondering. It’s by Father Thomas Keating and it says, “There is no commandment that says we have to be upset by the way other people treat us. The reason we are upset is because we have an emotional program that says if someone is nasty to me, I cannot be happy or feel good about myself.”  

What do you think? It shifts the power, doesn’t it? Instead of being a perpetual victim of someone’s ugly words, you become an owner who decides what words you are going to allow to impact you. 

Your work isn’t to change the other person (which we know is not possible). Your work is to change your own emotional program. Click To Tweet

Today’s Question: My husband became verbally abusive after I gave birth to my son 12 years ago. Is this common? I walked on eggshells. I believed I was as worthless as he told me. I believed I was lucky to have him and that he was so wonderful to even consider keeping me around. I believed I was stupid. I was a whore. I thought he was so smart and loved me, so why would he lie? 

Well, the day came that his rages were targeting our children. I put my foot down and told him I would file for divorce if he ever raged again (Which he had done weekly for 12 years).

This has been 4 months ago now and he has not raged since. In fact, he is the passive one now. I prayed for God to give me the strength to leave him or to change him and I got both. Leslie, it seems I got exactly what I wanted but now I am filled with resentment. 

If it was this easy to change, why didn't he do it long ago? Why would he have ever treated me or the kids this awful way? How can I ever forgive him? He was a downright monster. 

Answer: First it is not uncommon for women to report that abuse begins during her first pregnancy or after the birth of their child. That’s when your attention is shared, it’s not only him but now you are also focused on your child and he feels insecure, ignored, jealous, or slighted. 

When he started verbally abusing you, what was going on in you that you would still tell yourself that he loved you and you were lucky to have him when he was so cruel and abusive towards you? Obviously, his awful words penetrated some of your own inner insecurities and lies you believed about yourself that you would have so easily surrendered to his bullying and rages.  

But as it happens, often when you start to see your little ones’ being treated the same way, somewhere deep inside of you a well of courage erupts and you say ENOUGH! You know they don’t deserve to be treated this way (even if you believed the lie that you did). You spoke up, set boundaries, and told him the consequences if he ever did that again.  

And he stopped. Four months now.

You are shocked that you had more power than you thought you did.

You are shocked that you believed that you were helpless and voiceless but the truth was, you were not. 

You are mad at yourself that you waited twelve long years before you found your voice and set boundaries and consequences in place.

You resent that you and your children suffered in fear of emotional abuse for twelve years before he stopped.

You are furious that he had a whole lot more control over himself than you believed he had. Now he’s quiet. He’s passive. He hasn’t raged. All because you said, “if you do this again I will divorce you.”  You didn’t have the strength to change him, but you did have the strength to tell him what would happen if he didn’t change and mean it. That’s why he changed.  

Now you have a quieter man but not necessarily a better marriage. You are struggling with your own feelings – anger, resentment, lack of trust, and unforgiveness. You said they were towards him, but I wonder if you’re also feeling some of that towards yourself for not standing up sooner?

If you don’t address these emotions, they will hurt you and they will tempt you to retaliate with some of your own emotional outbursts towards him. I’d encourage you not to take that path.

Instead, it’s time for some self-compassion and a second conversation with your spouse. Make sure you do your own work before you have this conversation and decide what you what to say and how you want to say it.

For example, you might say something like this.

It’s been four months now where you have not raged or called anyone in our home a name. I’m grateful that you took my words seriously, but I’m also pretty dumbfounded that it was that easy for you to stop. 

It makes me angry that you would willingly choose to hurt me and the kids for twelve years until I finally had enough. It makes me angry that you would think that’s okay and never once apologized or realized you needed help. 

It also makes me very angry to realize you had control over your tongue and temper all this time. You could have chosen to stop anytime you decided to, but you did not until I threatened you with dire consequences if you did not.

Your rages have stopped and that is a good thing but it doesn’t repair all the hurt and damage that your rages did. 

Let me give you an example;  “If you punched holes in the walls whenever you raged, after twelve years there would be a lot of holes in our walls. 

So many holes that the structure of the walls would be weakened.  If I said, “if you don’t stop punching at the walls, they are going to fall down” you stopped.

But the holes are still in the walls and you have not made any effort to talk about the holes, to repair the holes, or to say you are sorry for ruining the walls of our home. Stopping is the first step but it’s not enough to repair our home.

In the same way, stopping your emotionally abusive rages was the first step but it’s not the only step that needs to be made if our marriage and family are going to survive.

You don’t want a divorce – that’s why you stopped. I don’t either. But I want a relationship where we can talk about how we are going to repair the holes in our marriage and family that were made over these past twelve years. I want you to realize how much you’ve hurt us and I want you to genuinely feel sorry for the pain you’ve caused and never repeat it again.  

I need you to understand how angry I am for what you put us through and care how deeply you hurt us.”

Then stop talking. Watch how he responds and see if he’s willing to take that next step of not only stopping abuse, but also repairing the damage he’s caused.

Meanwhile, do your work to continue to get stronger, to get those old lies out of your head that you deserved to be treated that way and help your children heal from the wounds their dad caused.   

Don’t be surprised once it’s safe around the house that your children may get angry with you that you waited so long to protect them. Validate their anger. Try not to get defensive. Tell them they have a right to be angry that you weren’t stronger back then. But make sure you encourage them to express their anger in constructive ways rather than destructive ways or they will simply be repeating the same patterns their dad engaged in. Do not allow your children to be emotionally abusive with you in their own anger or pain.  

Remember, you are working towards getting stronger and healthier for you, for your children, and hopefully your marriage. Therefore it’s very important that you nurture your courage, deal with these negative emotions now in a constructive way, and invite your husband to make more changes.

Friends: How did you get over your anger at your own self when you realized that you should have done something sooner?  

   

39 Comments

  1. Aly on October 14, 2020 at 11:34 am

    Leslie,
    I’m not sure I see Father Keating’s quote in a similar way regarding power. As survivors of abuse (especially emotional and verbal abuse) I would think we would be lying to ourselves if we are not given space to be upset about what hurtful/ugly things have been said. Sure, they don’t ultimately define me, but I think it’s ok to be upset for being mistreated by someone who claims to love or care about you. I think words do have power as scripture states. I think we can be upset at someone’s behavior or Ugly words and yet still not let it Truly define us.
    Those that are reckless with their words or behaviors do need to know that they impact others, have consequences, and they should be held accountable.
    I’m not sure I would feel ok telling someone that being upset gives the offender ‘power’. Often in these abusive dynamics, the abuser wants to take even the freedom for their victim to be able to be upset at a situation or something they did!!
    As an example,
    My own mother would be a person who would love this quote because she would much rather have a conversation with the hurt person and convince them to not be hurt, not to cause a conflict… so she wouldn’t have to have the unreasonable conversation with the offender who doesn’t take responsibility.

    • JoAnn on October 14, 2020 at 2:50 pm

      Good point, Aly. I do believe that mean and hurtful words do cause pain. However, I think it’s what we do with those words that make a difference. If those words find a “landing spot” in our heart, if they touch on something we already believe about ourselves, as Leslie points out, then these hurtful words stick and grow. It’s like being punched in the gut over and over again, and how can you resist when there’s already a wound there? You can’t give away power that you never had to begin with. What’s needed is a strong enough grounding in the truth to recognize that those words are not true and then to resist them. I believe that’s what can happen with building CORE strength. It’s about discovering the power that we do have but never realized it, as our poster did. We can grope around in a dark room for a long time until we bump into the light switch, then, WOW! What a difference.

    • Leslie Vernick on October 14, 2020 at 4:26 pm

      Aly, thanks for your perspective. I believe it’s both and, not either or. For example, Jesus tells us when someone sins against you (hurts you), go to them and talk with them ..we are not just to ignore those things..or the relationship will get damaged However, when we have talked and talked and talked, and that person continues to hurt us and we allow it, then we have to take a look at our own programs that are linking our happiness with their approval or care for us, which may be impossible to achieve. Better to accept the relationship as broken and/or dangerous and not put yourself in proximity of that person to wield their verbal sword.

      • Nancy on October 16, 2020 at 5:18 pm

        Hi Leslie,

        I agree with you that it should be ’both and’. The quote though, does not acknowledge both:

        ´The reason we get upset is….’

    • Nancy on October 16, 2020 at 10:07 am

      Aly, Joanne, Leslie

      I thought exactly the same thing as Aly. The way I thought about it was this:

      There may be no commandment that says I should be upset, but didn’t The Lord create me to know when I am being tresspassed upon? Just like there’s nothing in the Bible that says gravity exists but He certainly created this world with the reality of gravity.

      From the way I read this quote, it mixes up two realities:

      1) The way someone else feels about is, or treats us, should never define our value- true.

      2) The reason that we get upset when someone else treats us badly is because of an emotional program that links my value to what they say…? Not necessarily true.

      I could be getting upset simply because I have been tresspassed upon. This is God honouring.

      I believe that a person who is now becoming sensitive to the tresspasses that have been going on for years needs to be encouraged to separate these two realities.

      • Nancy on October 16, 2020 at 10:23 am

        As I think about it more it’s not that this quote is untrue. It’s that it is incomplete. Especially for people who are just waking up to abuse.

        There is an aspect of getting upset that is Godly (recognition of a tresspass) and an aspect that is unGodly (linking another’s perspective to my value).

        Because the quote fails to highlight the Godly aspect, I believe that it can be too easily misused.

        • Aly on October 16, 2020 at 1:18 pm

          Nancy,
          I think you explained it really well from how I was reading & trying to understand it.
          I think it’s important for those of us that have found ourselves in relationships where we have been devalued or continuously mistreated from another, that part of being Free to be upset is the some of the ‘waking-up process‘ to make next steps toward valuing ourselves and our environment.
          All too often we were brought up or our Early coping mechanisms were to tolerate someone crossing boundaries. We were also parented to ‘not be so sensitive, not make a big fuss about being hurt by someone, etc. not given freedom to being upset about something being WRONG!

          • Nancy on October 16, 2020 at 5:39 pm

            Yes and all of what you say isn’t only applicable to those who were parented to live in denial, or ‘suck it up’ as well as those in abusive relationships.

            it’s also very applicable to those with a timid personality.



      • Janice D on October 17, 2020 at 7:09 am

        Hi,I think many male church leaders/pastors twist truth#1 and tell women to stop finding their value in their abusive husbands and look to God for their identity and worth without addressing the issue( ongoing mistreatment) Wives are sent home once again believing that they are doing something unbiblical and if they were just more spiritual they would be unaffected by their husbands wicked behavior and accept it.It is a heavy burden that God never intended for his precious daughters to bear.It is a loving and Godly thing to push back the darkness in our relationships,which often results in separation and/or divorce if no repentance occurs.This is a painful yet truthful reality of sin not acknowledged.As we prayfully follow our Savior and lover of our souls He provides each next necessary step and the peace that passes all ( human) understanding.

  2. Stephanie Fuller on October 14, 2020 at 11:47 am

    I am in a similar situation. Once we had children it’s like he went crazy. (2 year old twins and a 5 month old). What do I say when he says that now I am the problem? Because I can’t let it go? Because of the “holes in the wall” that he has left? He doesn’t understand that the damage he did is longer lasting than the time it took him to say all those hurtful things. He claims I just want to be a victim. And he still occasionally rages. He says now it is because I’ve hurt him by being hurt! 🙄🤷🏼‍♀️He seems to feel justified in his rages. I have started counseling and it seems everything just got worse once I started setting boundaries. I just don’t know what to do.

    • Leslie Vernick on October 14, 2020 at 4:26 pm

      Continue to do your own work to get healthy and whole. Your children need you to be healthy, strong and whole, even if your marriage doesn’t survive.

      • Shelli Blackburn on October 27, 2020 at 4:03 pm

        Thank you Leslie for making the many sacrifices it has taken to cultivate this ministry. I thank God for you. Understanding CORE strength and reading, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, has been a HUGE blessing and source of godly wisdom. I take my 31 yr. marriage one day at a time. God has done much healing in our lives and the lives of our daughters and I expect that will continue always. God is faithful. After being involved in women’s ministry for many years most of which I learned and grew as a human being, I’ve also come to understand that being a champion for other women means to speak up and speak the truth in love while participating in Bible studies. You never know who is silently suffering in confusion. Recently, I was able to encourage women in my group (via zoom) to follow the example of Jesus in speaking up when he experienced sinful behavior. As we studied John 2, it seemed appropriate to emphasize that Jesus behavior toward sinfulness wasn’t to cower and people please. His NO meant NO. I love this lesson! While I’m not suggesting that we drive our destructive person out with a whip, we should certainly speak up and call out sinful behavior, following up with healthy boundaries. I’m waiting for God to send me the next person (there are so many) who is dealing with a destructive relationship so I can share the resources that you, Leslie, have provided.

    • Free on October 14, 2020 at 4:57 pm

      Stephanie you have found a great place to start connecting with people who understand what you are going through. Have you heard the phrase, “Education is power?”

      May I suggest you read Leslie’s books as well as others in the field. Many titles are available to download or as audio books for free at your local library. Try the Libby App. I recommend Lundy Bancroft’s “Why does he do that?” and all the you tube videos featuring Patrick Doyle of Veritas Counseling. Please try your local domestic violence shelter and or call the national hotline for advice. A man who punches walls us not going to get any better, anytime soon. You are in danger.

    • Nancy on October 17, 2020 at 11:16 am

      Stephanie,

      I can so relate with your words ‘he doesn’t understand’. No he doesn’t. The more you talk, the less power you have. As Leslie says, do your own work. You change you.

      He will do the work of understanding, if and when he chooses to.

      Setting him free to make his own choices involves grief work on your part. You’ll not be able to set him free until you do the deep, deep work of grieving the image you had of marriage.

      • Shelli Blackburn on October 27, 2020 at 3:48 pm

        So very helpful.

    • Carol on October 17, 2020 at 5:25 pm

      Honestly, I was in your shoes over 20 years ago. I was isolated until I found Leslie’s book and website. I just want to say I had NO IDEA the collateral damage done to my children and their future relationships because they watched me suffer making the choice to pray more, do more, be more not realizing that my h had a personality disorder. All but one of my kids are in/or have been in counseling. Leslie is an awesome resource to get healthy. Do all the things with Conquer and building CORE strength.

    • ruth8318 on October 30, 2020 at 11:11 am

      How old are your children now?

  3. Chuck on October 14, 2020 at 11:51 am

    Hi, it is good that he has stopped being angry and abusive but you both and particularly your husband needs to exploreand not a truce why. While his outer behavior is acceptable you don’t know what is simmering within.
    Also , if possible you want to go deeper in and grow together if both of you are willing. You want a deeper, healthier marriage if possible and not just a truce.
    You

  4. Karyn on October 14, 2020 at 2:06 pm

    I have been able to forgive myself by thinking of my former self as disabled. I was weak because I didn’t have the skills or support to manage the abuse and defend myself. I did what I could with the limited resources I had. I slowly leaned how to love myself and to erect proper boundaries. I grew stronger and stronger until I found the courage to leave after my ex refused to change. He made feeble attempts but his efforts were ineffective. I made the choice to honor myself and remove myself from the situation. I stopped making excuses for him. I waited 28 years for a change. Enough is enough. Now I rejoice in my freedom and my newfound self respect. It’s a long journey and I did the best I could. I will honor my past and not be ashamed of it because it is part of who I am today. I will continue to learn and grow and heal because i believe it’s a lifelong process!

    • Lois on October 15, 2020 at 5:35 am

      It is such a different place to be in when finally the barrage of abuse seemingly comes to a halt –
      most likely temporarily. I like how Leslie has given us the advise to “guard our hearts.” As we grow stronger and take care of our needs…/wounds…/poor responses…/CORE… it is challenging to adjust our ways when relating to unsafe people/abusive or evil people. Unless there is a deep repentance in the person’s heart with all the fruit that comes from it verbally and with actions, then it is not wise to trust that they have changed. If they worked so hard to loose our heart, then it will need to take work to earn that trust back. I finally let go of any hope that my h would change and began to work on me. Emotionally and physically I have developed a “guarded” separation within the home. I need to learn these strong yet respectful boundary with consequences type statements… but with the empowering emotional standing apart from getting that emotional “barb in the eye” [Numbers 33:55 NASB] does help me to see I have the power to respect my emotional needs weather or not there is understanding on the other person’s part. I would be very careful not to let your guard down. Stay firm and strong. I have noticed when I have wavered in my resolve, that I almost get back to that old defeated self when with my h. Then I would choose to get back those new CORE skills. It would be so good to get around some safe people and learn how nice it is to have a time to “relax” and just be with them. Then you can see how much work it is to be around someone like your husband and how much you are keeping guard. Just recently, I gave my h information about how I did not appreciate how he related to me and he did apologize(not with empathy…). It was a surprise. It may be because I am growing. I do not trust him, but was glad for him that he didn’t choose to defend or reflect back to me my faults. All in all, I would continue to get into CORE tapes and keep guarding your heart.

    • Lily on October 20, 2020 at 7:46 pm

      Karyn, could you please explain how you “grew stronger and stronger”? What actions did you take? I’ve been in an abusive marriage for 24 years now and am really trying to get stronger. Thanks

      • Free on October 21, 2020 at 6:24 am

        One if the best ways to grow stronger and stronger is to detox. Take time away for yourself. The longer your retreat, the better. Avoid any text and phone calls from your difficult person.

        Get alone and think and pray. You need to hear your voice and listen to your own intuition and the holy spirit. Shut down any thoughts that are not what YOU think. The truth will be revealed. Then the next step is to find the courage to act on the truth revealed to you. The strength comes from realizing your value and trusting in God to lead you into safety.

      • Karyn on October 21, 2020 at 9:05 am

        Hey Lily! One of the ways that I got stronger was to start living my own life. I started to love myself more than I feared his reactions. I discovered he cared so much about his image and he desperately didn’t want a divorce to preserve that image, so I had more power than I had realized. I stopped fearing what he would do more than I feared what would happen if I continued to live as I had lived for years; taking full responsibility for his happiness and ignoring my needs hoping he would see my efforts and follow suit. That didn’t work and never will work when dealing with a narcissist. I did my own counseling just for me. I learned why I was so afraid of him, which stemmed from my feelings of powerlessness in childhood. I grew closer to the Lord by reading good books and attending conferences and spending time learning how to hear Gods voice. I journaled daily and made record of how he was behaving and how it made me feel and I asked God for direction. I took time to listen to what God said. I finally heard the Lord tell me “I didn’t create you just to survive. I created you to thrive. Your husband is living in darkness and it is overwhelming you. You are allowed to come out of the dark and. into the light if you choose to but I will be with you always, no matter what you choose.” I chose the light.

        I recommend the book “The Missing Commandment, Love Yourself”. It’s not missing it’s just forgotten. God says to love your neighbor as yourself that means we are to love ourselves. And the book by Henry Cloud Necessary Endings was really enlightening as well. Both were keys in doing what I wanted to do but struggled to do. I discovered a book after I had left my husband called “Is it Me? making sense of your confusing marriage”. This is so powerful too. I joined a group called Flying Free fro support for a cost but it has free resources online and was created by the woman who wrote that book. I think education helps make you strong too.

        Overall I think getting stronger is working on yourself more than you focus on how bad the marriage is. It is loving yourself as much as you honor him or the institution of marriage. It is finding your identity in Christ more than as a wife and mother.

        I know this was a bit rambling. I hope it helps. God bless you on your own journey!!

        • Nancy on October 31, 2020 at 3:08 pm

          Karyn,

          I couldn’t agree more with this statement ‘getting stronger is working on yourself more….’.

          Where we place our focus is absolutely life changing.

          When I focus on my own responsibilities and my own walk, I grow. When I focus outside my responsibilities I grow powerless.

  5. Free on October 14, 2020 at 3:45 pm

    Do you know all the methods one can utilize to gain power and control? It is likely your abusive spouse has changed his methods to some you do not easily recognize. No one changes overnight in God’s economy of change. The Duluth Model power and control wheel is a great place to start identifying the patterns if abuse.

    • Cornnie on October 14, 2020 at 9:21 pm

      What I was thinking.

    • Vicky on October 16, 2020 at 9:02 pm

      I agree. The hatred made evident in such words does not disappear into thin air. However, I do believe that as Leslie implied, the truth will appear in what she sees as she invites him to make reparations.

    • Shelli Blackburn on October 27, 2020 at 3:43 pm

      Yes this was a game changer for me! I saw it posted on the wall of an ER and I refer back to it often. It would be super helpful for all public restrooms to have one posted for reference.

      http://www.ncdsv.org/images/PowerControlwheelNOSHADING.pdf

  6. Free on October 14, 2020 at 8:22 pm

    https://www.saferresource.org.au/the_bible_on_domestic_family_violence

    I found this helpful from a group in Australia.

    • Teresa on October 15, 2020 at 5:48 pm

      This is great- very helpful. 😊

  7. Vicky on October 16, 2020 at 9:26 pm

    I am still working on getting over it. As others have mentioned, giving myself grace for the place I was in and could not see out of does help. Also, knowing that God was patiently waiting for me to wake up all along, while He knew everything that would happen, is tremendous. He was never in a panic, never out of control. Third, I battle to remember that the outcome has always been out of my hands. It is not that I never stood up for my boys. I always tried, I just never was able to see the danger and what my real options were. I failed to see how damaging the abusive environment was to them and how much my frantic state was also affecting my children.
    It wasn’t until, as this precious sister also experienced, I saw my son being punished in the same kind of ways that I had been punished for years, that the bear rose up within me. I still didn’t give my husband an ultimatum. I just called it what it was and told him I would not allow him to do it. I did it in the right way. I had enough core left even then.
    Sadly, my husband’s response was to escalate his abuse. Not too long before that event with my son, my husband had threatened to kill me for the second time. The first time, I wrote him an e-mail about it that I never sent. The second time, I confronted him – but I didn’t even tell him I would divorce him or leave! I just said that it needed to never happen again. The third time he did, I got my boys, snuck out of the house, and managed (with help) to not go back.
    I struggle with the possibility that if I had really put my foot down at the very beginning, if I had not been so silent for so long, the outcome could have been different. Maybe he would have changed paths. But, maybe he wouldn’t have. That part was never in my hands.

    • Autumn on October 20, 2020 at 4:02 am

      I have a book I would like to recommend, “Freeing the Psychopath” by Jackson Mackenzie. It is available in most public libraries and contains vital information that will help you process what you went through.

      • Autumn on October 20, 2020 at 11:20 am

        My mistake. The title is “Psychopath Free” by Jackson MacKenzie. I listened to it as an audio book. Mind blowing.

        • Vicky on October 28, 2020 at 10:04 pm

          Thank you, Autumn. I will find it!

  8. Barbara B on October 19, 2020 at 10:55 am

    We can play the what-if game all day long but in the end none of us know what could have been. We only know what is. It’s tempting to imagine that if we had done something differently in the past we might not be in such bad shape now, but truthfully we can’t know what the outcome would have been for different decisions. Those decisions might not have turned out well, either. I think it’s best to raise a hallelujah to God for today’s insight, follow His leading today, and don’t get caught up in what-ifs.

    • Autumn on October 19, 2020 at 12:36 pm

      Except the “what if ” we never married an abusive person…we know that would have had a better outcome. Ha!

    • Melinda on October 20, 2020 at 12:53 pm

      Agreed. We made the decision we made when we were who we were. I have to remember: I wasn’t the same person “back then” as I am today, even though I inadvertently tend to assume I was. Today, our journey, and where we are in it, is full of possibilities/insight/leading…for us.

  9. Melinda on October 20, 2020 at 12:49 pm

    Pain not transformed is transmitted. His rage didn’t come from nowhere. He needs counseling to discover why he was/is eruptive (either blatantly or passively). How did his childhood experience shape him and his emotions? Etc. You can invite him to counseling. Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “when we are ready the teacher comes.” Who knows when he will be open and receptive. So sorry. This is hard stuff and often we don’t fully understand or see what we are getting when we enter into deep relationships. God bless you as YOU grow and change and become stronger and healed and wise. Hugs.

  10. Fran on August 18, 2022 at 1:43 am

    I really related to this.
    I am struggling with the aftermath of an abusive relationship. It’s been 9 years since I left my ex for being verbally and emotionally abusive to my son (and our daughter and me but mostly my son) for years. He was only 4 when we met and I didn’t find the courage to put my foot down until he was about 6 years old, it decreased greatly when I did but the damage was done. I found myself constantly standing up for my children and I finally left when my son was 12.
    The pain and regret is immeasurable. All I can think about is this little boy that needed me, his sad eyes when he told me he didn’t like being around him. I didn’t protect him and keep him safe, it makes me sick to my stomach, the pain is so deep i can’t breath sometimes.
    I don’t know how to move past it, I feel like forgiving myself for not doing something earlier is saying it’s ok it happened. I’m lost

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