Being Right or Being Happy: The Consequences of Anger in Your Relationship

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How to Deal with Fear

What we do with scary information is my point in writing today. Patients frequently express to me that they just do not know what to do with a problem facing them: whether it’s a worry about their job, their marriage, their child, etc. 

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Dealing with Emotional Pain

How to Deal with Emotional Pain: 3 Ways to Feel Better Today

Emotional pain can stop us in our tracks. It can feel unbearable—almost physically painful at times—but unlike physical pain, taking a pain reliever and getting rest doesn’t make emotional pain go away. If you’re wondering how to deal with emotional pain, you aren’t alone.

Some emotional pain can stem from a major life change or disruption like a breakup, a divorce, the loss of a job, or the death of a loved one. When we can pinpoint the trigger of our emotional pain, it may help us to recognize that it’s part of the natural grieving process. Grief hurts.

Sometimes, though, the emotional pain can feel like it's too much to bear. It may last for months and may start to disrupt our day-to-day activities. When this happens, it's time to reach out for support. Whether the emotional pain comes from a life change or is more nebulous in nature, talking to a professional counselor can get you through. Reach out today to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists so that you can deal with emotional pain in a manageable way.

Why Emotional Pain Happens

Anyone who's experienced the deep emotional pain of a loss or trauma can attest that it hurts. Sometimes that hurt is so intense that it feels physical. In fact, it's not uncommon to experience physical manifestations of emotional pain.

When we're going through an emotional upset, we may have headaches, stomach pains, and digestive issues. Our sleep may be disrupted, and we may find that we're unable to focus on work or our usual activities. As a result, our performance can suffer in our jobs and personal lives.

We may also find that we don’t have much of an appetite, or some people may turn to comfort foods—feeling an almost insatiable desire to eat ice cream, cookies, chips, bread, and other carbs (they trigger "feel-good" serotonin in our brains and help us feel relaxed). Other people may turn to less healthy behaviors like smoking, drinking, or drugs in an attempt to numb and deal with emotional pain.

When we experience emotional pain, we can even experience real, physical symptoms. For example, as discussed in Scientific America's article, What Causes Chest Pains When Feelings Are Hurt?

“According to a 2009 study from the University of Arizona and the University of Maryland, activity in a brain region that regulates emotional reactions called the anterior cingulate cortex helps to explain how an emotional insult can trigger a biological cascade. During a particularly stressful experience, the anterior cingulate cortex may respond by increasing the activity of the vagus nerve—the nerve that starts in the brain stem and connects to the neck, chest, and abdomen. When the vagus nerve is overstimulated, it can cause pain and nausea.”

Those gut-wrenching, heart-achy feelings aren’t in our heads. They’re actual bodily reactions to the emotional discomfort. When we grieve or experience a loss, the physical sensations can be particularly strong and overwhelming.

At the same time, our brains are looking for patterns and reasons for the loss. We may find ourselves going through the stages of grief during a breakup or job loss, just like a death. We might experience "magical thinking” where we believe our thoughts, feelings, or actions might have inadvertently caused something to occur. We may try to rationalize and find a sense of control over the situation. Often, we may look for somewhere to put the blame or think, "If only I'd done something differently."

We may also experience guilt over what happened, or we may find ourselves feeling deeply sad, tired, and listless. It's not uncommon for those experiencing emotional pain to feel overcome with emotion suddenly. One minute we're standing in line at the grocery store listening to a song, and suddenly we're in tears.

During grief, sorrow, and emotional pain, we may also find that we feel anger. We might feel abandoned by our loved ones, unsupported in a situation at work, or enraged at our ex. All these complex emotions can come in waves—one moment we’re fine, and the next moment we’re ready to scream, cry, or both.

Emotional pain is challenging, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. It's essential that we feel grief and allow ourselves space to experience the emotions. However, when we don't know how to deal with emotional pain, or it becomes destructive and ever-present in our lives, it may be time to reach out. Whether our pain happens because of a loss or we're not sure what has caused our pain, a professional can provide the supportive space to talk through our problems.

Should we discover that our emotional pain is caused by depression, or if it’s a reaction to circumstances in our life, we can still find relief. While working with a therapist or counselor, it can also be helpful to try these three techniques to alleviate emotional pain.

3 Tips for Dealing with Emotional Pain

1. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation are helpful practices for addressing many different mental health concerns, including emotional pain and depression. When we're mindful, we bring our brains back "online" and help ourselves reorient to the moment. Instead of ruminating on the past source of our emotional pain (or worrying about the future), we look at the present. Even if these pockets of mindfulness are brief, they can help us find relief and deal with emotional pain.

Meditation and mindfulness are easy to learn. There are helpful apps out there like Headspace and Calm that can guide us through the process. There are also many resources online, including free videos on YouTube that can help you get the hang of mindfulness and meditation.

Practice mindfulness anywhere—at home, at the office, in the classroom. It doesn't require anything extra. To give it a shot, we can try to take several deep breaths, focusing on the air coming into our nose and out of our mouth. As we breathe, we can observe our thoughts and feelings. Rather than getting caught up in a thought, we allow the mind to acknowledge it and let it flow by.

Unlike depression and grief, which can trigger catastrophizing thoughts, mindfulness helps us feel calm and relaxed. We focus on the here and now rather than asking what if.

We can also try a mindful walk outside. During our walk, we can do a mental inventory. First, focus on what we see for one minute. Next, spend a minute focusing on the sounds we hear. For the next minute, focus on a physical sensation—like touching a tree, rubbing our fingers on a leaf, or taking off our shoes and walking through the grass. Then focus on the smells in the air, like the scent of flowers, trees, cars, even someone's cooking as we walk by. Repeat this sensory inventory for the duration of the walk.

2. Get Creative & Cerebral

Another way to deal with emotional pain is to focus on stimulating our brains in other ways. Therapy can often be part of the cerebral or cognitive approach (hence, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). During CBT or talk therapy, we often identify negative thinking patterns and counter them with a more positive perspective.

But in addition to therapy, engaging our brains in other positive pursuits can help us deal with emotional pain in a positive, forward-focused way. When we're learning about a new subject, reading a book, or attempting something new, we use a different part of our brain. We do not forget the subject of our grief (which is often a fear during a loss—we don't want to "get over" someone we love). Instead, we're shifting our brains a little to allow ourselves a rest and to focus on other thoughts.

Journaling can be another technique to help us get our creative juices flowing and start to help us deal with emotional pain. Write out feelings, compose a letter to someone, or look for journal prompts that can help us explore some of the complicated emotions we’re experiencing.

Other outlets such as drawing and coloring, playing music, dancing, or photography can also be excellent ways to work through emotional pain and sadness. While something like dancing may feel challenging (or even impossible) at first, we can channel some of the frustrations and energy into our movement.

Exercise is a great coping tool and can have other benefits for our bodies as well. Again, the thought of going for a jog may seem absolutely out of our range at the moment. But slipping on comfortable shoes and taking a brisk walk around the block, or even doing some jumping jacks in our bedroom can help us start to see positive benefits and boost our mood.

3. Supplement Support

Grief, sorrow, depression, and emotional pain often feel very lonely. We may believe that no one will understand what we're going through; we may feel guilty like we can't offer emotional support back to our friends, or we may feel like we're worthless and people don't want to be around us.

When our brain is experiencing emotional pain, these irrational thoughts can feel very real and insurmountable. But it’s crucial that we find a support system. A therapist or counselor is an important part of the journey, but friends, family, and other people can help too.

We can look through the people in our lives and choose a few key people who might provide a sense of support and empathy. It's important to remind ourselves that we aren't a burden. Part of feeling better is asking for and accepting help to get us through this difficult time. Eventually, we can pay it forward when we're feeling more up to it.

If we can’t readily identify a friend who could support us, consider a family member, a teacher, a coworker, or someone from church or our religious practice. Emotional support can come from many different places, so explore social circles to find a connection.

Even talking to and hugging a pet can be therapeutic and helpful to get us through a difficult time. We can walk the dog or play with a cat and feel less alone. Animals can also remind us to be mindful—after all, they live in the moment, and it can be an excellent example of how we can shift our thinking too.

Most importantly, realize that if you aren’t sure how to deal with emotional pain, you don’t need to go it alone. There are ways to get the support you need to help you move forward to a brighter future. Reach out today to schedule with one of our practitioners. We're ready to listen and help you find ways to feel like yourself again.

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The Best Way to Fight With Your Teenager

The Best Way to Fight with Your Teenager

As children and teens and college students are home from school this summer, conflicts and bending and challenging the rules is more apparent. No parent looks forward to fighting with his or her teenage child. But the friction that comes with raising adolescents might be easier to take when we see it as an opening, not an obstacle.

No matter how good your overall family relationship is, fighting with your teens is a constant battle of wills.  How disagreements are handled at home actually shapes both adolescent mental health and the overall quality of the parent-teenager relationship.  Also, the nature of family quarrels can also drive how adolescents manage their relationships with people beyond the house.  So how do we raise teenagers who see disagreements as a challenge to be resolved?

4 Ways Teens Fight Back at Their Parents

Research that suggested teenagers approach disputes in four distinct ways:  Attacking, Withdrawing, Complying and Problem Solving.

Adolescents who favor either of the first two routes — escalating fights or stubbornly refusing to engage in them — are the ones most likely to be or become depressed, anxious or delinquent.  But even those teenagers who take the third route and comply, simply yielding to their parents’ wishes, suffer from high rates of mood disorders. Further, teenagers who cannot resolve arguments at home often have similar troubles in their friendships and love lives.

In contrast, teenagers who use problem solving to address disputes with their parents present a vastly different picture. They tend to enjoy the sturdiest psychological health and the happiest relationships everywhere they go, two outcomes that would top every parent’s wish list.

So, how do we raise teenagers who see disagreements as challenges to be resolved?

Compelling new research suggests that constructive conflict between parent and teenager hinges on the adolescent’s readiness to see beyond his or her own perspective. In other words, good fights happen when teenagers consider arguments from both sides, and bad fights happen when they don’t.

Conveniently, the intellectual ability to consider multiple outlooks blossoms in the teenage years. While younger children lack the neurological capacity to fully understand someone else’s point of view, adolescence sparks rapid development in the parts of the brain associated with abstract reasoning. This leads to dramatic gains in the ability to regard situations from competing viewpoints. There is also evidence that parents can make the most of their teenagers’ evolving neurobiology by being good role models for taking another person’s perspective. Adults who are willing to walk around in their teenagers’ mental shoes tend to raise teenagers who return the favor.

While all this is good information, research findings rarely translate cleanly to the realities of family life. Conflict comes with heat, and we can only contemplate another person’s viewpoint when heads are cool. Imagine an adolescent announcing his plan to spend Saturday night with a former friend known for serious wrongdoing. Any reasonable parent might respond “Absolutely not!” and trigger an eruption, retreat or gloomy submission in a normally developing teenager.

An interaction that ends here is an opportunity lost. But hard starts can be salvaged and first reactions can give way to second ones. The parent in this scenario might soon find a way to say, “I’m sorry that got ugly. I need you to help me understand why you want to spend time with Mike when you don’t even like him that much. And can you put words to why I’m so uncomfortable with the idea of you hanging out with him?”

No parent or teenager can, or needs to, turn every dispute into a thoughtful consideration of opposing outlooks. And some families weather toxic battles that go far beyond the squabbles inherent in raising adolescents. Still, the balance of research suggests that garden-variety disagreements offer the opportunity to help young people better understand themselves and others, building in them the lifelong skill of finding room for civility in the midst of discord.

(Information in this article is attributed to The New York Times “Well Section” March 16, 2016)

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Dealing with Difficult People

How to Deal with Difficult People

Some people are easy to be around and some are not. Difficult people can range from those who are a mild annoyance to those who can make life seem nearly intolerable, at times. Those at this negative end of the continuum, especially if we have contact with them on a daily basis, can jeopardize our mental and emotional wellness over time, particularly if we lack the tools for responding to them in an adaptive way.

Who Are The Difficult People?

Despite the fact that defining a “difficult person” depends on our own tolerances and abilities to respond adaptively to them, there are some people who have personality characteristics which many people find disagreeable. Here are some examples:

  • People who dominate conversations and never give anyone else a chance to talk – or people who seem to have no interest at all in what you have to
  • People who constantly berate themselves and others. Everything they say about themselves and others carries a negative message
  • People who can’t make a decision – and when there is any sort of conflict they hide out until they feel it is safe to reemerge. This behavior makes it difficult to work out the normal conflicts inherent in many
  • Gossips who seem more interested in everybody else’s business rather than their own. It is difficult to reveal anything about yourself if you feel that it may be taken out of context and spread to others. This leads to guarded and superficial
  • People who manipulate you into doing what they want. They seem to thrive on control, and you sense that your opinions or feelings don’t
  • Dependent people who seem unable to do things for themselves.
  • Angry people who seem ready to explode at any moment. Their “jokes” may carry an aggressive message and their passive-­‐aggression my lead to a lack of trust.
  • People who lie all the time.
  • The expert on Rather than talking they lecture – and they leave others with the feeling that their knowledge is insignificant. They seem to be in a constant state of competition.

Methods For Dealing With Difficult People

1. Staying Centered

When you are in the presence of a person who is driving you to desperation, try some “self-­‐talk.”   Think about your own strengths and your own capabilities to like and validate yourself. Understand that it is the other person who has the problem, but your responsibility to understand why you are unable to deal with this person.

2. Assertiveness

Assertiveness is not an expression of anger, but rather an affirmation of your rights as an individual. In response to the dependent persons constant pleas for help, rather than being driven to frustration, you might say, “I would feel more comfortable having some equality in our friendship, so I am going to ask you to call the restaurant yourself, just as I called the last time we went out for dinner.”

3. Confrontation

Sometimes an angry tone in our voice is the most effective way of responding to difficult behavior. Some people can hear loud and clear messages only when emotions are involved. “I asked you before not to gossip about me, yet it has happened again. I am angry about this! I don’t want this to every happen again!”

In a sense, we should be grateful that there are difficult people in our lives. Difficulties are an essential part of life and they give us opportunities to learn, to adapt and to achieve wisdom.

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Why Can’t My Child Make Friends?

Why Can't My Child Make Friends: Common Reasons Kids Have Trouble Making Friends

A pretty 10-year-old girl sat across from me in the office tearfully struggling, “I don’t understand why I don’t have friends. Amanda’s (another girl in her class) teeth stick out like mine, but the kids will play with her, so it isn’t that. I am smart like Brad (another boy in her class) and he has friends, so it isn’t that. I just don’t know?”

Why can’t some children make friends? This can be a difficult question to ask yourself, but if your child rarely gets invited on play dates and spends most of his time alone at home, it can be hard not to wonder—and worry.

For kids of all ages, friendships offer the acceptance, approval and sense of belonging they crave. If your child struggles to connect with other kids and form friendships, it can be a blow to his self-esteem. It can leave him feeling alone and frustrated.

What Can Cause Trouble With Making Friends

If your child has a hard time making friends, it may have nothing to do with his personality. Trouble with forming friendships can be the result of learning and attention issues. Sometimes communication skills or listening comprehension skills are lacking, which can make conversation difficult and sometimes there are a variety of other behaviors that can get in the way of making friends.

ADHD: Kids with ADHD may lack self-control, be overactive, talk too much, talk without thinking or not pay attention to what other people are saying.

Executive functioning issues: Children with executive functioning issues may have trouble sharing, taking turns, controlling emotions and accepting other viewpoints.

Nonverbal learning disabilities (NVLD): Kids with nonverbal learning disabilities may miss social cues like body language, expression and tone of voice. They may not understand humor or sarcasm and may take what others say too literally.

Language disorders: Children with language disorders may not understand the rules of conversation or may have trouble finding the right words. They may avoid talking when around other kids.

Auditory processing disorder (APD): Kids with Auditory Processing Disorder may miss the point of what others are saying, miss words in conversation or have trouble following the directions in games.

Trouble Making Friends: A Common Problem

Not all kids with learning and attention issues struggle to make friends. For some kids, social skills are their strength! But if it’s a trouble spot for your child, he’s not alone. Kids with learning and attention issues often face social challenges. When compared with their peers, studies have shown they’re more likely to be:

  • Poorly accepted by their peers
  • Socially alienated from teachers and classmates
  • Viewed by teachers as lacking social skills
  • Not chosen to play or join in group activities
  • Willing to conform to peer pressure

Kids can feel that they don’t “fit in” at school or at outside activities. They may even feel that way at home with siblings.

It’s a very real issue because many kids with learning and attention issues do stand out sometimes. They may require additional time and attention from teachers, parents and others. They may call negative attention to themselves by asking inappropriate questions, seeming uninterested in other kids’ conversations, and interrupting or moving around a lot at the wrong times. Other kids may react badly or turn away.

How Social Troubles Can Impact Your Child

Your child may be resilient and bounce back from social setbacks. Or he may enjoy spending a lot of time alone. But for many kids, difficulty making friends can have negative effects. It can hurt their self-esteem, wear down their confidence and keep them from trying new activities. They may feel self-conscious, sad, angry, helpless or hopeless.

It can be hard for kids to manage these intense feelings and find ways to cope. Encouraging your child to talk about his feelings can help him feel better about himself. Just knowing he can come to you for support and comfort can make a big difference.

Ways You Can Help

If your child feels his learning and attention issues are making him stand out, there are ways you can help.

  1. Talking to your child’s teacher is a good first step. The teacher may be able to find ways to put your child in positive group experiences or match him up with classmates who are more accepting and share his interests.
  1. At home, you can work on changing the dynamic between your child and his siblings. You can also try to change the way you respond so your child isn’t singled out as much. And you can take steps to make social events like playdates, sleepovers and birthday parties more successful for your child.
  1. If you see that your child is struggling with his emotions, you might want to consider counseling. Counseling can help your child build communication skills, improve social cues and become more resilient. Strengthening those skills may give him the confidence to try new ways to connect with other kids.
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Don't Worry, Be Happy

Don't Worry, Be Happy: How to Cope with Life

As we all know, some people worry too much.  Rather than solving a problem, too much worry becomes the problem.  Not only does excessive worry create much personal suffering, but it also affects the people around the worrier.  I wonder if a lot of our worrying in life is like this:  constant, spontaneous and effortless focus that gets dislodged by distracting external events or our own change of perspective.  Now, I think that anyone who does not worry is just living on a different planet; yet, as we know, just worrying about the weather does not make it rain.

9 Tips for Coping with Life, from a Psychologist

After 31 years of working in the field of psychology, I know a few things make a difference in coping with life.

  1. Pay Attention to the Important Things, More than the Urgent.  Sometimes the only way to get the important done is to stick it between the urgent things that drive our days. Worry is often related to disorganization.  Make a list of things to do each day and cross off tasks once they are completed.  Leave early enough to make appointments on time.  Put your keys in the same place every time you come home.  Keep your house straightened up.  When things are under control, there is less to worry about.
  2. Take Action on What You Want To Do And Figure Your Results As A “Prototype”. A handy friend of mine told me how he approaches building things.  He considers the first version as his working model.  Although I have two left hands with tools, I always thought I had to get it right the first time.  My combination of ridiculously high expectations and little tolerance for error was a deeply frustrating workshop ethic to follow.
  3. If You Do Not Know How To Do it, Ask For Help.  Most of us just need a little guidance or a resource with whom to check out our experience.  We all need support and positive feedback from time to time.  Other people may have solutions to problems that we haven’t thought about.  For reassurance, find people who know how to give it.  Many of us spend a lifetime looking in all the wrong places for approval.
  4. Try To Do The Right Thing.  Maintain your sense of integrity whenever you do something.  Tell the truth. Obey the law.  Keep to your promises.  Let your conscience be your guide.  Granted, we might tell an occasional lie or break a promise, and this is fairly common – but it can also set the stage for worry.  We may think sometimes that we can get ahead in the world the easy way – but the price we pay could be excessive worry, among other penalties.
  5. Minimize Catastrophic Thinking. Some people find it difficult to keep perspective when faced with even a minor stressor.  Not every mole means cancer and not every bill is going to lead to bankruptcy.  Test out the reality of these situations by talking them over with a trust friend.
  6. Limit Your Exposure to the News. Although there is value in keeping up with the latest news, understand that the media focus on bad news since this tends to sell best.  We seldom hear about the good news in the world on TV or newspapers.  Constant exposure to negative events increases our tendency to worry.  Instead, look for what is good in life.
  7. Sleep, Eat Properly, Exercise.  Lack of sleep and a bad diet can make us irritable, distracted, and anxious – all condition which set the stage for worry.  (Try to be mindful of the problem of overeating as a way of making our worries disappear.)  Exercise helps us dissipate the anxiety that often accompanies worry.
  8. Avoid Substance Abuse.  Drugs and alcohol may give the illusion of comfort for the time being, but using them has negative long-term consequences.  They increase depression, cloud judgment and may give you something to really worry about later.
  9. Learn How to Let Go of Worries. This is a skill that might require some practice and each of us will have our way of doing it.  Some people do this by allowing themselves perhaps half an hour a day of worry time – and at the end of the allotted time period, they will be free of worrying until the next day.  Some people give up their worries by writing them down on a piece of paper and then tearing them up.  Some people prefer to hand them over to a higher power.

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardships as the pathway to peace, taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will, that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

As this year continues, on behalf of the psychologists in the practice, I want to thank you for recommending us to others.

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Communication Dead Zone

The Communication Dead Zone: What to Do When Your Partner Refuses to Talk

I don’t want to talk about it.”  Few sentences conjure up as much feeling for the listener as hearing this refusal to talk.  Such a commitment to silence often dooms a relationship, whether between a husband and wife, or child and parent.  The listener feels so very frustrated in not knowing what to do next.

4 Tips to Break a Communication Deadlock

The following are several suggestions to change this communication deadlock.

1. The listener needs to drop the desire to pursue the refused topic.

No jackhammer or psychological technique will open up someone committed to silence on a particular area. If the listener realizes the topic itself is far less important than the reasons for not talking, it is easier to move away from a concentration on whatever the “it” is.

2. It is logical and important to focus on the reasons for not wanting to talk. 

The listener is advised not to badger the other, but rather to offer several possibilities as a way of learning what is stiffing communication. It is worth exploring whether there is a conviction on the silent one’s part that talking about it just won’t do any good. There are many people who really believe that talk is unnecessary because actions speak louder than words. This confusing logic suggests talking is not a behavior.  More importantly, though, how has the conviction that conversation is futile been reached?  Usually there are some specific experiences that have driven this point home and talking about those experiences may help resolve and offer a different perspective to the present decision to remain silent. Others believe that silence is golden if the alternative is to hurt someone’s feelings. It is up to the listener to determine if he or she would rather be ignorant and blissful or learn some painful bad news.  Ordinarily knowing what is wrong is easier to deal with than being left in the dark. Another possibility is that the refusal to talk is in reality a statement of anger.  If this is the case, then asking the speaker to elaborate on his resentment becomes the pertinent topic.  A final possibility is that the speaker is unclear and unsure of what exactly his or her reasons are to avoid discussions.  The listener can reassure the other that he or she is willing to be tolerant of the fuzziness or the lack of eloquence in the spoken word because the message itself is worth working on no matter how plainly and/or foggily put.

3. The listener can promote communication, even with this deadlock, by talking about his/her reaction to this impasse. 

It is natural that the first response to being closed out is an angry one, but it becomes important to go beyond that to elaborate on the sense of hurt that this isolation brings.  There is nothing as persuasive to opening up as the experience of seeing another person sincerely reveal himself or herself.

4. The listener concluding this interaction with a willingness to listen at another time, at least puts in the other's mind the chance that a time for talking is possible in the future. 

Sometimes fatigue or stress can make it difficult to open up.

In summary, gentle focus on “I don’t want to talk about it,” remains important.

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