Before we begin, just to note, I will be writing a whole bunch more about how internet and smartphone technology and programming can negatively affect human health, across all three levels of body, mind and soul. Getting educated about the real dangers involved with the internet is a huge part of finding the inner strength and resolve necessary to start to implement some of the practical things I’m talking about below.
But this post is much more about easy, practical things you can do right now to start to reclaim your happiness, brain and eye-balls from the internet. So, let’s begin:
STAGE 1: LEARN MORE ABOUT THE DANGERS OF BEING ‘PLUGGED IN’ 24/7
As mentioned, I’ve started to write up this stuff here on spiritualselfhelp.org, and a few good places to start the education process about how human health really works are the following articles:
The main things to bear in mind is that human biology is enormously affected by exposure to electromagnetic frequencies and energy waves. Every electric appliance - from the simple lightbulb on up - emits some sort of energy.
Some things ‘vibrate’ at a frequency that is very close to the innate vibration of the human body, and these things can have the biggest effect on our hormones, biological functioning and brain waves.
Guess what? Internet, TV, FM radio and cell-phones all vibrate in a range that effectively turns the human body into a living ‘antenna’, and can potentially severely disrupt our bio-cycles and brainwaves on just about every level.
This can lead to a whole bunch of negative mental and physical health issues including:
And all this is really just the tip of the iceberg! I am working on getting more and more of the science together to solidly back these statements up, but in the meantime, you can sum it up like this:
The more time we spend online, the greater the potential risks to our mental and physical health.
And that goes double for our kids, whose brains are still developing and getting ‘hardwired’.
So learning about how human health really works, and the real effects of internet and smart-phone use on human physiology is stage 1.
Some books you may want to read on the subject include:
STAGE 2: FOCUS ON MINIMISING THE SMARTPHONE USE FIRST
Smartphones are particularly problematic because as THIS article shows, where a simple cell phone only emits the problematic energy waves when a person is actually talking on it, smartphones emit this potentially dangerous energy ALL THE TIME, even when you’re just carrying it around in your purse or pocket.
Smartphones also enable addiction to the internet in a much more drastic way, because we take them around with us everywhere, and so we can get stuck checking our emails, or news sites, literally every couple of minutes.
So the first priority is to try to get the smartphone use down as much as possible.
Clearly, the best way of doing that is to switch over to a simple phone, and that really might be an option that could work for some people, and especially for children. The more parents stand firm on this issue, the easier it will be for other parents to stop buying their children smartphones.
But many people today feel that they need things like Whatsapp, or that they need to be able to check their emails for work, etc. So what can those people do, to try to minimize the smartphone problem?
Here’s some suggestions:
Again, you can learn far more about tagging by going HERE.
I don’t have a smartphone myself, so if you, dear reader, have any other helpful suggestions for how to minimize its use, please feel free to share your tips in the comments section, below.
STAGE 3: SET LIMITS TO HOW MUCH TIME YOU LET YOURSELF SURF EVERYDAY
One of the best ways of doing this is to oust wi-fi from your home and to use an internet stick instead, so that your computer is not automatically connected to the internet whenever you switch it on.
If that’s not practical - and for a lot of people, especially if they have a lot of people with their own computers in the home who want to be online simultaneously, it isn’t - then explore some of the following programs that let you set times when the wifi signal is turned OFF on your PC, so you can use it without being able to surf:
STAGE 4: MINIMISE VIEWING ON-LINE
The more pernicious effects on a person’s mood and mental state occurs when we actually watch moving images online.
A person who’s reading things on the internet will still be affected by the technology’s energy waves, but far less than a person who’s actually doing things like viewing movies and other video clips.
Images, and particularly moving images, impact our brains in a much more dramatic, and often negative, way. But if you still want to view things you find online, here’s some practical suggestions for how to minimize the problem:
STAGE 5: LOOK TO MOVING MORE OF YOUR LIFE OFF-LINE AND INTO THE REAL WORLD
While I’m sticking this here, as the last stage, it’s really the main way of overcoming internet addiction at its root.
We become addicted to checking the news, or Facebook, or watching movies on Youtube etc because on some level we’re using virtual reality as an escape from our real lives, and in particular, from facing up to our often painful inner reality.
The more frustration, loneliness, self-hatred, repressed feelings, difficult relationships etc a person has - the more time they’ll spend online.
Practically speaking, you might want to consider:
It also requires a strong connection to God, because we only run away from ourselves, and our lives, and our relationships in the first place because we find them so difficult to deal with, and emotionally overwhelming and painful.
We need to firmly hold God’s hand to really have the strength to face up to our ‘reality’, and to accept it, and to deal with it.
Take a look at this book:
The How, what and why of talking to God - for some practical tips on how to start talking to God on a regular basis.
SUMMING THINGS UP:
Minimizing our time online, and particularly our smartphone use, is the main challenge facing our generation, and it’s really a huge problem that realistically can’t be solved overnight.
It’s a good time to point out here that the technology itself is profoundly addictive, and is having an enormous impact on human physiology.
THAT’s why it’s so hard to kick the surfing habit! And what makes this even more complicated is that the industry itself - and the scientific community it funds - is misleading us all about the true dangers involved with the unfettered use of this technology, which is effectively electronic crack.
So, please go easy on yourself, don’t beat yourself up AT ALL if you’re struggling to move things more offline, and keep just asking God, our ‘Higher Power’ for help.
Pick whatever things you think you can do from the list of stuff to try above, and then pat yourself on the back for even just wanting to do things differently. This is an enormous challenge for all of us in 2017, and even a tiny step you take in the right direction can potentially start to change everything around.
One of the more curious things with the internet and all the stuff that comes with it, like i-Phones, Youtube, Facebook et al is that while the research I’m presenting here on spiritualselfhelp.org clearly suggests that the electromagnetic frequencies that this technology is operating on must have a direct, deleterious impact on the user’s mental and physical health, there is precious little official evidence that suggests that’s the case.
Or so it looks at first glance.
But if you start to dig a little deeper, and cast the net for research a little wider into countries like China, South Korea and Taiwan, you quickly find that there is actually a mountain of evidence that’s already accumulating around what’s now being termed ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’, or IAD for short.
Now, if you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll already know that I really don’t buy in to all the ‘disorders’ and mental illness labels the psychiatric establishment is so fond of pasting on to everyone.
The basis of all mental illness is a fight-flight-freeze-fawn stress response that’s got stuck, or stuck in permanent ‘on’ mode, typically due to some sort of chronic or massively acute trauma and / or neglect that was experienced in childhood.
THE BRAIN IS PLASTIC
The brain is plastic, and just as it was ‘trained’ by the traumatic experiences to start reacting in an unhelpful ‘mentally-ill’ way, it can be retrained via self-awareness, self-education, selc-compassion and a whole load of prayer to start operating again in a much healthier fashion.
But what the preliminary research from Internet Addiction Disorder appears to be showing is a couple of very disturbing things:
1) People with pre-existing issues like feelings of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem (aka ‘toxic shame’) and difficult interpersonal relationships are much more drawn to excessive internet use to boost their mood, escape from their problems, and ‘ease their pain’ - in exactly the same way you’d use any other substance or addictive past-time, like gambling, for example.
2) Being online all itself is also causing people to feel far more depressed / anxious / yucky / socially disordered / hostile, and is literally training the brain to re-act in ‘mentally ill’ ways that stimulate the more dysfunctional ‘primitive’ parts of the brain - and cut a person off from the types of activity that will strengthen their frontal lobes.
If you forgot why healthy, frequently-used frontal lobes are crucial for good mental health, here’s a quick infographic to remind you:
The long and short of it is, the more time a person spends online, the less time they have to devote to the sort of self-nurturing, self-developing activities described on the infographic, that will strengthen their frontal lobes and start to tame the more primitive parts of the brain responsible for an out-of-control stress response and addictions.
Even more strangely, is that while Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is getting so much attention amongst health professionals that a whole group of them were pushing to have it included in the latest DSM 5, the Western governments are surprisingly mute about the obvious and growing public health problem that is addiction to the internet, particularly amongst our teens.
Here’s some snippets of some of the latest scientific literature on Pubmed to show you that IAD is a real and growing problem, regardless of society’s attempts to completely ignore it.
The following is excerpted from:
Internet Addiction: A Brief Summary of Research and Practice
Hilarie Cash,a,* Cosette D Rae,a Ann H Steel,a and Alexander Winklerb
THE OFFICIAL DEFINITION OF INTERNET ADDICTION DISORDER:
“[IAD] is accompanied by changes in mood, preoccupation with the Internet and digital media, the inability to control the amount of time spent interfacing with digital technology, the need for more time or a new game to achieve a desired mood, withdrawal symptoms when not engaged, and a continuation of the behavior despite family conflict, a diminishing social life and adverse work or academic consequences.”
HOW TO DIAGNOSE THE DISORDER:
“[T]he following five diagnostic criteria are required for a diagnosis of Internet addiction:
(1) Is preoccupied with the Internet (thinks about previous online activity or anticipate next online session);
(2) Needs to use the Internet with increased amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction;
(3) Has made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use;
(4) Is restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use;
(5) Has stayed online longer than originally intended.
Additionally, at least one of the following must also be present:
(6) Has jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet;
(7) Has lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet;
(8) Uses the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression) (emphasis mine).
HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED?
There’s a crazy variation in official estimates, ranging from .3% to 38%.
I’m inclined to think that the 38% is much more realistic, for a number of reasons. Firstly, as I’ve been sharing with you here, this technology is profoundly affecting us at the physiological level, and can stimulate the mind and body - or relax it - in exactly the same sort of ways as chemical substances.
It’s addictive, mamash - and for people who want to make money, the best way of keeping their customers and punters queuing up and coming back for more is to make your offering addictive, physiologically (just ask the Columbian crack barons.)
The second reason I think the higher estimate is more realistic (and probably still not even really reflecting the true extent of the problem) is that you only have to look around your house, your family, your office, to see everyone is addicted to their devices.
This is not rocket science, but simple, every-day observation.
And the last reason I think the higher number is closer to the mark is because there’s a number of additional studies that suggest that is the case, some of which I’ll bring here:
SOME MORE RESEARCH ABOUT THE PREVELANCE OF IAD
“Internationally, up to 15.1% of intensive Internet use among adolescents is dysfunctional.”
It should be noted here that ‘dysfunctional’ use is classified as more than six hours of non-work related internet / gaming / online use a day. So any kid who is only spending 5 hours online every single day wouldn’t be classified as ‘dysfunctional’, in this study.
Effect of Gender and Physical Activity on Internet Addiction in Medical Students.
(The mind boggles as to how much internet you’d have to consume a day to qualify for an ‘extreme’ addiction…)
EVIDENCE THAT USING THE INTERNET IS SERIOUSLY AFFECTING OUR MOODS AND PHYSIOLOGY
Again, I’ve already been laying out the scientific basis for how electromagnetic fields can and do severely affect how the human mind and physiology reacts and behaves, affecting everything from hormones to stress levels and even, the amount of oxygen in the blood.
Western medicine is still a long way behind the curve of accepting something as out there that internet use (and its associated electromagnetic frequencies) could be stuffing up human health and giving people heart problems, headaches, and other physical symptoms of major subliminal stress and tension.
But here’s what some of the studies have to say between the links between internet use, and mental and emotional disorders:
“Poor self-rated health, unhappiness, and depression were significantly related with Internet addiction in male and female teens. Depressed girls had a much higher risk of internet addiction than boys who were experiencing similar feelings of depression.”
This last one is more than 12 years' old now. I can only imagine how 'bad' the picture would be today, when i-Phones are everywhere.
SUMMING THINGS UP
I could carry on writing this for another three years (as excessive research online is also another symptom of chronic internet addiction...), there’s just so much stuff out there making direct links between things like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, hostility, ADHD, self-harm and a whole bunch of other emotional issues and spending a lot of time watching the big (and small…) screen.
Remember, the baseline for ‘excessive use’ is fixed at anything over six hours a day - which makes the true scope of the problem much, much greater than anything that is being formally recognized or dealt with even by the people who are publicly talking about the so-called ‘Internet Addiction Disorder’, or IAD.
As a society, we have a huge problem on our hands. The more time we spend plugged in, tuned in, wired up, addicted to our screens, the more the hard-wiring of the brain and the body’s delicate physiological systems are being impacted, and messed-up.
If you look for the research to back this statement up, you’ll find it in reams.
But what you won’t find is any real solution to the problem, not least because most people are blissfully unaware of just how much internet use is directly impacting their physical and mental health.
So it falls to each of us, as individuals, to begin to turn this tanker around by turning off as much as possible, and actively looking for ways to scale back our unnecessary activities online.
It’s much easier said than done, as the internet is truly addictive, and breaking free of it is not an easy proposition. But it can be done! And BH, in the next post I’ll share some practical steps you can start to implement to minimize your time online as painlessly as possible.
Seeing as most of us are probably coming off a week or two of vacation and ‘family time’, I thought it would be timely to devote a post to ‘family outing flashbacks’.
From my experience, these tend to take two main forms:
1) An urgent need to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE at any price, and to avoid spending time as a family unit in the claustrophobic area called ‘your home’.
And / or
2) A violent dislike of going anywhere with your family, even for short day trips out.
Family outings contain the seeds of so many potentially traumatic triggers because there’s a lot of factors in the mix that can be very challenging for C-PTSD people, especially around the issues of controlling / being in control, and having to be in close proximity to others who may trigger feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, being invisible, and anger and depression (amongst other things).
And that’s just if you’re the kid!
If you’re the parent, there’s also the big risk that you may find yourself controlling, bossing other people around and ‘laying down the law’ in a way that suits you and what you want to do, but that severely curtails the healthy self-expression of other people in your family.
So, how can we traverse the potential minefield of taking a family outing and still avoid all these C-PTSD-inducing triggers? Here’s some suggestions:
1) Accept that flashbacks are going to happen - As soon as you realize you’re going into a meltdown about your family vacations being a mess, and your family life being stressful, and that you’re not a good enough mother or parent, etc, and that everyone is going to grow up so warped and unhappy because you DID or DIDN’T do [fill in the blank] on vacation…. press pause and acknowledge you’ve gone straight back into flashback mode, and aren’t thinking rationally.
Only proceed with your vacation plans once you’ve calmed down, followed these steps and have moved out of flashback mode.
2) Make decisions as a family and be prepared to compromise - Easier said then done, I know, but healthy interactions are based on the art of compromise. No-one can have it all ‘their way’ all of the time unless they’re a dictator, narcissist or psycho, so be prepared to back down on some of your own preferences.
10 common areas that require compromise and that should be discussed and clarified beforehand include:
3) Figure out WHY you want to go on an outing.
This maybe sounds obvious, but so many people do family outing because they think they SHOULD, and not because they really want to. If after discussing all the details it becomes clear that a family outing is just not really workable or doable at the moment, then don’t do it! If a kid really doesn’t want to go, don’t force them!
If there’s something you really hate doing but you’re feeling pressured into it - either find a way to make it acceptable, or don’t do it.
4) Allow yourself to not go on a family outing.
So many of us have C-PTSD issues around family outings as adults precisely because we often experienced some very difficult, horrible situations while we were meant to be ‘enjoying’ the family time.
If it’s not going to build your relationship with your family, or if it’s going to put you and others under tremendous amounts of emotional stress and pressure, skip the outing and do something else less intense and more productive.
I know ‘everyone else’ is still doing it - but you only have to take one look at the long faces, the stressed expressions, and the arguments and tension going on around all these family outings to realize that often, it’s a much nicer idea in theory than it really is in practice.
One of the most challenging things of coming to terms with C-PTSD is the knowledge that you will almost certainly pass at least some of your issues over to your children.
This happens for a few different reasons, like:
1) You often aren’t aware of all the ‘stuff’ that you’re doing wrong, or not doing right as a result of your own C-PTSD for years and years, which means you pass along a lot of funny ideas, fears, knee-jerk reactions and unhelpful behaviors to your kids before the penny even drops that something is not quite right, here.
When many people start to make the link between their own experiences in childhood and their C-PTSD tendencies as adults, it can hit them like a hammer-blow to realize that they’ve been treated their own children in many of the same unhealthy, C-PTSD-inducing ways.
2) The C-PTSD itself causes us to lose perspective about ‘how bad’ we’re really doing, as parents.
Don’t forget that C-PTSD is often characterized by:
So then on top of dealing with our own C-PTSD, we often then get caught in a double-bind of having to deal with searing guilt, shame and self-loathing about the fact that we may have not treated our children 100% perfectly, and passed many of our C-PTSD tendencies on to them.
SO HOW CAN WE DEAL WITH THIS IN A SANE WAY, AND GET PAST THE OVERWHELMING FEELINGS OF PARENTAL GUILT AND SHAME?
Here’s what’s worked for me:
1) Put God firmly in the picture.
There are no ‘accidents’ going on here. Everything is planned down to the smallest, minute detail, and God has designed the situations that both we and our kids needs, in order to really meet our full spiritual potential.
(Clearly, this doesn’t give you a ‘get out of jail free’ card to abuse your children whenever you feel like it, as part of their ‘spiritual tikkun’. There is a huge difference between trying and wanting to treat our children properly and occasionally falling down (like we all do) and making absolutely no effort to acknowledge and tackle our negative character traits, and how they are impacting our children.)
Just like our C-PTSD issues ultimately brought out the best in us, and helped us to develop some humility and hopefully also a much stronger connection to God, it will do the same thing for our kids, too.
2) Accept the reality of the situation without running away.
This is to counter our ‘extreme perfectionist’, who wants everything to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time, and who gets very upset with us (and our children….) if we can’t deliver that on the parenting front.
Again, perfectionism is a key C-PTSD-induced trait. Real people aren’t perfect. Being ‘imperfect’ is 100% fine, as long as we don’t start blaming ourselves for being awful people and beating ourselves up all the time for ‘ruining’ our kids.
If / when we fall into those tendencies, we’ll start feeling even more frustrated, angry and bad-termpered, which will ironically cause us to lash out a whole bunch more at our kids (and ourselves…).
So accept your imperfection as happily as you can! ‘Perfect’ parents are the ones who are doing the MOST damage to their kids.
As a general rule of thumb, if you can admit your imperfections to your children and regularly apologize to them when you’re out of order, your kids will grow up emotionally healthy, even if you’re not a 100% ‘perfect’ parent.
3) Identify how much of your parental guilt is justified, and how much is a C-PTSD-induced emotional flashback.
When you start blaming yourself for ‘ruining’ your kids, or start feeling toxic shame or guilt for being a ‘bad’ parent, it’s crucially important that you recognize that this reaction is a C-PTSD-induced emotional flashback, and needs to be dealt with accordingly.
You can read more about emotional flashbacks HERE, but the main thing to remember is that the horrible feelings we feel when we flashback are usually NOT related to the situation we’re dealing with in the current moment.
Sure, we FEEL like a monster, like a disgusting human being, like a piece of trash, because we forgot to pick the kid up on time, or had a ‘rage fit’ at them for spilling the juice. But really, we just ‘flashed-back’ to the overwhelming feelings we had from childhood, that are now ‘dressed up’ in the present situation.
The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we can move out of the ‘flashback’ space, calm down, apologize, and get on with life in a much more equitable manner.
One of the hardest things for a C-PTSD parent is that we’re often governed by instinctive, and intense knee-jerk reactions to situations that then also traumatize and sensitize our own children in an unhealthy way.
To give a common example of this: C-PTSD people are usually hyper-vigilant and ‘on edge’, fearing danger and disaster around every corner.
A C-PTSD parent can easily freak-out about the danger of broken glass, for example, in a way that then creates a lot of trauma around ‘broken glass’ for the next generation.
And so it can continue….
The key is to separate the REACTION from the SITUATION, and to try to calm things down as quickly as possible. This is definitely work, but it can be done, and even just having the mindfulness that you’re freaking out irrationally can be very helpful to recognize, and also to share with your children.
4) Don’t forget that kids are our mirrors.
And then use that knowledge to have more compassion for yourself. Inside, you still feel like a confused, lost, lonely small kid sometimes, especially when you’re caught in a flashback. Use that knowledge to have compassion on yourself when you’re losing it.
Recognise that when you’re yelling at your kid, or blaming them, or guilting them, or whatever it is - you’re really still just yelling at yourself.
The more compassion you have for yourself, and your human frailties and issues, the more compassion you’ll naturally start to have for your kids, too.
If they’re struggling, that’s a sign that on the inside, you’re also still struggling. And it’s not your fault or their fault, it’s just a ‘message’ from Upstairs that there’s still some work to do to fix the problem.
So the main person to work on and worry about is YOU, not your kids. Once you’re nicer to yourself, you’ll automatically be much nicer, gentler and more accepting of your kids, too.
5) Don’t fall into despair.
Don’t give up! These issues are very difficult, and have been going on literally for generations. But when God is in the picture, EVERYTHING that’s broken can be fixed, albeit with a lot of struggle and prayer.
Again, the rule of thumb is that if you believe YOU broke something, believe YOU can fix it. When it comes to our children, we CAN fix it, but sometimes we have to eat a lot of humble pie, and do a lot of apologizing and a lot of acknowledging our flaws and issues before we get there.
Our children are very forgiving, and they genuinely love and accept us. The problem usually is that WE are not forgiving of ourselves, and we don’t genuinely love and accept ourselves.
That’s the C-PTSD reality.
But don’t despair of having a good relationship with your children. Sure, they will have their problems and struggles as a result of our imperfect parenting - that’s the way God made the world.
We are all down here to work on ourselves and to fix our character flaws.
But don’t let the inner critic tear you down for that, because it’s a normal and natural part of the world that every parent will mess up their kid in some way.
If you can show your kids how to practice acceptance, awareness, humility, and self-compassion, and how to connect back to God when the ‘troubles’ strike, then you are giving them the biggest present of all.
In our superficial world, so many of the people who should know better - like fitness instructors, naturopaths, and other ‘alt-health experts’ - like to make a very big deal about healthy eating. On the one hand, they are absolutely right that the quality and quantity of the food we eat does profoundly affect our feelings of health and well-being.
MSG, for example, is known to strip the myelin sheaths from nerves in the brain, which can literally lead to brain damage. Also, if we aren’t absorbing enough B-vitamins (which is not the same thing as just eating enough B-vitamins), that can also leave us feeling very tired, depressed and overwhelmed.
So yes, eating healthy is definitely a good thing, and should be followed as much as possible without developing any fanatical food tendencies.
But here’s the thing: no part of the body is more responsive to emotional stress, and particularly trauma-induced emotional stress, than the stomach and the alimentary canal. That means that repressed emotions are nearly always at the bottom of eating issues, so ‘willpower’ by itself simply can’t fix the problem at its root.
I’ll set out a little of the science explaining what is going on physiologically in the body and why at the end of the post, but first, let’s take a look at some of the common ways this link between eating habits and C-PTSD can play out.
EMOTIONAL NEGLECT AND OVER-EATING
If someone grows up in a home with emotionally-absent parents, it’s very unlikely that any expression of strong, negative emotion (especially by the child) will be tolerated. This is usually because the parents themselves are disconnected from their own negative emotions, and find themselves being triggered into a very distressing fight-flight-freeze-fawn response when faced with their child’s strong emotions.
Their inner critic (aka the evil inclination) will also waste no time piling on a whole bunch of toxic shame and fear on the triggered parent, causing them to react in a very harsh way to their child’s display of negative emotion.
If the parent is a ‘fight’ type, they’ll lash out with angry words, fists, or both. If ‘flight’, they’ll literally run away from the kid, and remember something ‘urgent’ they have to do. If ‘freeze’, they’ll turn their music / movie up to full volume, or do whatever else they need to do to ‘drown out’ the problem like pouring a whisky or popping a pill. And if they’re ‘fawn’ types, they’ll nip next door to go and baby-sit for their poor, struggling neighbour instead of dealing with their own poor, struggling kid.
Point is, when a kid gets taught that feeling strong emotions, and especially strong negative emotions, is somehow dangerous, bad, ‘wrong’, or will unleash punishment upon them, they quickly learn to stop doing that.
There are many ways that strong negative feelings can be pushed down, or ‘repressed’, but two key habits are holding the breath, and trying to ‘self-soothe’ the negative feeling with food, instead. But because the feeling is being pushed down, instead of being acknowledged and aired-out, it can sometimes take an awful lot of food to try and keep it ‘under the surface’!
When this same ‘negative feeling’ is triggered in someone with C-PTSD as an adult, they will automatically reach for the cake / chocolate / carbs to continue trying to keep it ‘down’. It has nothing whatsoever to do with willpower, and everything to do with a triggered reaction to stress that causes a ‘negative feeling’ to emerge, that the person has learnt must be squashed at all costs.
Once the person with C-PTSD slowly learns how to acknowledge the negative feelings they are repressing, and learns safe ways of expressing those feelings in a way that won’t overwhelm them, the need for the food disappears by itself.
LOSS OF APPETITE AND FEAR
Another very common trauma-based reaction to eating occurs when a traumatised person loses their appetite. This is a physiological reaction to fear, and again, people with C-PTSD are often hair-triggered to over-react to perceived threats in their environment.
While someone who doesn’t have C-PTSD won’t be taken out by their boss’s bad mood, a traumatised person may well take it as a sign that the boss doesn’t like them, and that their job is on the line etc, with all the attendant fear and stress that will then trigger internally.
FOOD IS THE FIRST ATTEMPT TO ‘SELF-SOOTHE’
I’m giving just two of the more common ways C-PTSD can affect our eating habits here, but psychiatrist John Bradshaw really summed things up when he said: “Almost everyone who grows up in a dysfunctional family has an eating disorder.”
The main point of this post is that if you’re having serious issues with food, it’s almost certainly a sign that there were aspects of your childhood and your family dynamics that left you traumatised, and with some form of C-PTSD to deal with.
Food is the first way we were able to try to ‘self-soothe’ when we felt abandoned, bewildered, lost, hurt or terrified as a very small child. As adults, we need to try to unclog all the negative feelings that are hiding underneath our issues with food, and to teach ourselves how to ‘self-soothe’ in healthier ways.
(At the end of this series on C-PTSD, I will do a post, or even a couple of posts, discussing the practical ways to do this, BH.)
FOOD, STRESS AND THE VAGUS NERVE
Ok, so now we’re ready to understand a bit more WHY the digestive system can get so out of whack when we’ve been traumatised. The plain English version is that when we get stressed / fearful / threatened / attacked our bodies tense up as a result, and the first place that ‘tenses’ is the alimentary canal.
That’s why people can get butterflies in the stomach, stomach aches, or diarrhoea when they feel stressed / scared / anxious.
Biologically, there’s a long nerve in the body called the VAGUS NERVE that connects the brain, lungs, heart, stomach and intestines. This vagus nerve governs the body’s viscera, and it reacts very strongly to the cues we’re given from the external environment, such as faces, expressions, body language etc.
Researcher Stephen Porges first coined the term: ‘neuroception’ to describe the physiological process of evaluating the relative danger and safety we feel in our environment that primarily occurs in what’s called THE VENTRAL VAGAL COMPLEX, or VVC.
When we’re socially engaged with others in a positive, healthy way, the Ventral Vagal Complex sends messages to our heart and lungs to slow the heart rate and breathe more deeply, helping us to feel calm, peaceful, happy and relaxed.
But, if we experience some sort of ‘threat’ or danger, the first place that registers is on our faces and in our voices: we start sending out ‘help!’ signals to our environment, to see who is going to respond, step in, and help us to feel safe again.
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
If no-one responds to our first cries for help – in whichever way they manifest themselves – then the body’s Fight or Flight response comes online next.
This is regulated by the Limbic System, and is under the jurisdiction of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The heart beats faster, we breathe more shallowly to innervate our body with oxygen, preparing us to run away from the problem or fight it off.
If this next stage doesn’t work to solve our problem and help us escape the ‘danger’ or threat we’ve identified, then the last ‘emergency’ physiological reaction (FREEZE) kicks in, which is governed by the body’s: DORSAL VAGAL COMPLEX. This system of nerves goes down below the diaphragm, to the stomach, kidneys and intestines.
It dramatically reduces the body’s metabolism, leading to a state of FREEZE, dissociation or collapse. To quote Bessel Van der Kolk, writing in The Body Keeps the Score:
“This system is most likely to engage when we are physically immobilized, as when we are pinned down by an attacker or when a child has no escape from a terrifying caregiver…Once this system takes over, other people and even we ourselves, cease to matter.”
THE BIOLOGY of C-PTSD
When someone is being traumatized, or when they are having a ‘flashback’ to an experience of being traumatized, as very commonly happens with adults with C-PTSD, this is how the body responds:
First, the frontal lobes of the brain shut down, which is what’s sometimes called ‘disengaged executive functioning’. At the same time, the body’s pituary gland starts sending out messages to the whole of the body that it has to be primed to defend itself, and protect itself at all costs.
These messages are sent to:
1. The facial muscles – that contort into a threatening, angry expression designed to ‘scare off’ attackers.
2. They thyroid gland.
3. To the heart, lung and larynx, priming these organs to start producing more oxygen (shallow breathing) ready for fight-or-flight.
4. To the stomach and GI tract – effectively stealing the energetic ‘juice’ required for non-essential digestion of food, causing the stomach processes to slow down or stop completely.
5. To the adrenal glands – triggering the release of stress hormones. All of this causes some severe disruption to the body’s healthy functioning, leading to any number of unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even unbearable physical sensations, feelings and issues.
The traumatized person can be so busy trying to ‘manage’ their physiological symptoms and pain – which have often been going on for years and years, so that they often don’t even register their ‘permanent stomachache’ etc consciously – that it leaves very little energy over for anything else, both physically and emotionally.
Again, to quote Bessel van der Kolk: “Attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in a whole range of physical symptoms, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and other autoimmune diseases….
“Being able to move and do something to protect oneself is a critical factor in determining whether or not a horrible experience will leave long-lasting scars.”
And of course, small children are the least able to move or do something to protect themselves, which is why so many of the people who grow up in dysfunctional families develop C-PTSD, and why so many people with C-PTSD have eating disorders and other digestive and physical issues.
A person who’s been traumatized enough to develop C-PTSD generally behaves and reacts in a very different way from a person who isn’t traumatized.
Again, if we take a look at our 4 main ‘stress’ responses (below), we’ll see that depending on which stress response the person with C-PTSD has got stuck in, they’ll either react to perceived danger, threats and ‘abandonment’ by others by:
The problem comes when we get STUCK polarized in one particular stress response, and when that stress response is repeatedly triggered by very bland, inane and minor things that truly don’t pose any real danger or threat to us.
So now we come to today’s topic: why traumatized people make mountains out of molehills.
Most people with C-PTSD get that way because they grew up with emotionally-absent parents (who may or may not also have regularly mistreated them in some additional, more tangible, way too.)
When a small child doesn’t have an adult in their life they can trust to ‘watch their back’, or help to soothe and calm them when they’re going through their tough times, or when they are left to fend for themselves and to solve their own problems, this creates a lot of anxiety, panic and fear in their internal landscape.
Imagine how scary even something simple like crossing a road is for a small child, if they’d be left to do it all by themselves without age-appropriate instructions, guidance or support. Small children are naturally full of fears, and it’s the job of the parents to help them to navigate through life, and to learn the skills and acquire the knowledge they need to manage new tasks and situations, and then to thrive.
Even from our own lives, we all know how much easier something is to learn when we have someone on hand to show us, and to answer our questions about what’s going ‘wrong’, or not working problem.
For example, a few years’ back, I tried to teach my self to sew some basic stuff on a borrowed sewing machine, using a ‘how to sew’ book for instructions. Dear reader, it was mostly an exercise in mental torture. I felt so anxious about not knowing how to thread the needle propet knowing how to get the zig-zag stitch to work, where to place the foot of the sewing machine, how to leave enough of a hem - and that’s even before getting down to actually making something! After a couple of months, I gave up.
A few weeks’ ago, I decided to try again but this time, I found a sewing teacher to go to - and it’s made all the difference in the world! Why? Because whenever I hit a snag with the cotton, or the material, or the sewing, I can ask for experienced, patient help to resolve it. I’m not on my own trying to figure everything out, so nothing feels like the unmitigated disaster it used to when I was trying to sew alone.
And the same applies to traumatized people with C-PTSD.
When we’re small, if we don’t have a caring adult to reassure us that the cut on our finger really isn’t serious, we panic that it’s going to go green and fall off.
If we go through a ‘down’ and we don’t have someone sharing their experiences of how this is just a normal, temporary (if unpleasant…) stage in life that everyone goes through, we start to believe that we’re always going to feel this depressed, or bad, or lonely.
If there is no-one there to give us the right perspective about our inevitable failures and mistakes in life, and worse, who even punish us, shame us, blame us and criticize us for making normal mistakes and having normal failures, we will be fear-stricken whenever trying something new, or something we could concievably ‘do wrong’.
(Of course, the trouble is this applies to pretty much everything!)
To put this into ‘real world’ terms, these feelings of panic, anxiety, overwhelm and depression can hit you as an adult whenever:
Once again, the world IS objectively a very scary place for a young child to have to fend for themselves in, so those feelings were 100% normal at that point in time.
But now, that fear, panic and anxiety has hardwired itself into your brain, and is being triggered by even the smallest issues you experience as an adult.
Depending on what your main ‘stress response’ is, you’ll find yourself fighting, running away, shutting down, or trying to frantically buy affection as a result.
THIS is why people with C-PTSD so often find themselves reacting to molehills as though they were mountains. They’ve ‘flashed back’ to a young, immature part of themselves who was never taught how to put things into proper perspective, or how to self-soothe in a healthy way and calm themselves down, and they are stuck reacting to the world in that mode even as a grown up.
So how can we overcome this particular aspect of C-PTSD? Stay tuned for the next post, when I’ll set out some practical ideas for you.
I was going to try to list all the different ways we can mess up our kids, but then every time I tried to post that particular article up, my site crashed....
After the eighth time, I finally got the message: focus on SOLUTIONS, not problems. So i'm shifting the focus of these posts from now on, to describe the problems as gently as possible, and to put the emphasis much more on how to solve them.
This post was going to be about 'emotional neglect', but given the above, we now going to talk about 'emotionally-absent' parents instead, and what you can do to make sure you're present, and giving your children the emotional nurturing they need to grow up happy and well-adjusted - even if you didn't receive that yourself.
When a parent is emotionally-absent from their child’s life, then their kid generally experiences very little in the way of parental warmth and love. When a child has an emotionally-absent parent, they often perceive the situation as the parent disliking them, somehow.
That’s because the parent appears to not want to spend time with their child, and acts as though they don’t really enjoy their company, and has very little to say to them. An emotionally-absent parent may still ask perfunctory questions like: ‘How was your day?’ but their heart isn’t really in hearing the answer, or helping their child to deal with any of their other fears, issues or problems.
As with all ‘absences’ of good, it’s easier to describe what’s missing than what is actually happening.
When a parent is EMOTIONALLY AVAILABLE and EMOTIONALLY NURTURING, they do the following sorts of things for their children
I’ll stop there for now, but the single best way to find out if your parent(s) were emotionally-absent or not is to go down this list, and tick the ones that apply. By the end of the exercise, if you’re looking at a lot of ticks - that’s a reasonably-trustworthy indication that you had ‘good enough’ emotional nurturing and support.
If you’re not looking at a lot of ticks, then it’s a fair bet that your parent(s) were emotionally-absent, and that you probably have some ‘inner work’ to do to rectify the fall-out from that. Emotional neglect is often described as being at the ‘core’ of C-PTSD, because it can leave you with very deep feelings of being alone, uncared for and unimportant.
When small children are left to fend for themselves emotionally, it can literally cause them to experience the most excrutiating feelings of gut-wrenching anxiety, panic and emotional overwhelm, instantly pinging them into a very strong ‘stress response’.
If that happens on a regular basis, then the fight-flight-freeze-fawn switch in the developing brain gets flipped ‘on’ permanently, even if no other form of obvious maltreatment occurs.
We’ll return to this topic again in a future post, but that’s hopefully enough of a basic introduction to the topic of emotionally-absent parents for now.
PS: If you went down that list and are now having a ‘parenting meltdown’ about all the things you should be doing and aren’t, take a deep breath, and press ‘pause’ on the self-flagellation. Everything can be fixed! Everything can be rectified! If you didn’t get this stuff yourself as a kid, then you didn’t even know what was missing.
Even just knowing what’s been missing changes everything. Sure, there’s a lot to pray for, but God’s in the picture, and everything can still turn out A-OK.
As with all cults, if you only had the cult-leader themselves to deal with, it theoretically wouldn’t be that hard for a lot of people to eventually shrug off their brainwashing, and return to being a fully productive, alive and emotionally-healthy member of the human race.
What gives cults their power - from the ‘big’ cult players like the Moonies and Scientologists right down to the small mom-and-pop family cults that we’re talking about in these posts - is the other cult members.
Going against one person, however scary, is doable if you have a bunch of like-minded people on your side. There really is strength in numbers. But here is where we hit a huge problem for the people who want to leave the ‘mini cults’ that develop in a narcissist’s family: if you leave the cult and stop seeing your parent as ‘perfect’, then it’s not only your parent who’s going to come after you; it could be your whole brainwashed family.
Remember, the parent is perfect. That’s the main and central tenet, or belief, of the personality-disordered cults that build up around narcissist parents. As soon as you challenge that belief, you become the cult’s Public Enemy One, and your sister, your brother, your dad, your aunty - pretty much everyone you know who is also part of the cult - is going to come after you, to try to get you to admit that you’re completely wrong about the cult leader.
This next bit sounds counter-intuitive, but the easier ‘cult members’ to deal with are the obviously poisonous and nasty ones. They are the ones that write you emails telling you that unlike the cult leader, you’re a bigoted maggot, and an evil and cruel person. They also like to threaten you with all sorts of consequences for disobeying the cult leader, like dying a lonely, miserable death because you’ve isolated yourself from all the people who ‘really love you’ by leaving the cult.
As it’s pretty obvious that you’re dealing with an unhinged, mentally-ill lunatic, it’s much easier to reassure yourself that you’re really not the problem, here (although this still takes some practice, as malignant narcissists excel in identifying your weak spots, and zoning in on them with their eviscerating comments. If you secretly fear you’re a bad mother, for example, that will be the area they zone in on, as they tell you ‘you’re incapable of raising your children’ and other pleasantries like that.)
By far the more difficult characters are the two-faced cult members who pretend to be on your side, while all the time working overtime for the cult leader. These are the ones who keep persuading you to go against your best interests, or keep telling you to get back in touch, or try to guilt you out of leaving the cult by making it clear that ‘mom is about to have a BIG operation!!!’ and other manipulative moves like that.
They’ll ‘explain’ how the cult leader, or other cult member only said those disgustingly awful things because you started it! You made them do it! You suggested the cult leader wasn’t perfect and broke the cult’s sacred commandment! It’s all your fault that things are such a shambles because you have a Jekyll-and-Hyde character, and you’re mentally ill, and everyone else in the cult thinks that mom is THE BEST MOM EVER! So clearly, you are the only one at fault and the only one to blame for the family not being perfect.
Because the more two-faced cult members are great actors, they can make it seem that they really get your complaints, and your pain, and your hurt, while still turning it all around on to you and deflecting the problem away from the cult leader. “You’re just saying things to make it seem like mom is bad,” they’ll explain. “You set dad up and got him to act like a raging animal, when really he’s always so kind hearted,” they’ll tell you. “Unlike you, I know that mom only cut you out of the will because she has your best interests at heart, and if you weren’t so greedy and selfish you would understand that, too.”
The two-faced ones are much, much harder to deal with, because part of you hopes that once you lay everything out for them clearly, they’ll also come around to a more realistic view of what’s going on in the family-cum-cult.
A BROAD RULE OF THUMB FOR DEALING WITH OTHER CULT MEMBERS
Here’s a broad rule of thumb for dealing with other family members who are in the cult:
Any family member who is a narcissist themselves will be 100% committed to preserving and protecting the cult of perfection. They will abuse, cajole, lie, manipulate, threaten, attack and evade the truth at all costs.
When a family member is in the cult, but not a narcissist themselves, they will experience some severe cognitive dissonance around you, and do their best to steer the topic away from your ‘subversive’ views, and troubling heretical statements about the cult leaders not being as perfect as they seem. But they will not attack and abuse you in defence of the cult leaders.
When a family member is not in the cult, and not a narcissist - they’ll be so relieved to finally hear someone else telling the truth about what’s really going on! But it can take years for non-narcissist cult members to get to this stage, if it happens at all.
In the next post, we’ll take a look at how best to deal with abusive family members who are trying to stop you from ‘leaving the cult’.
When people have a ‘Cluster B’ personality disorder like Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) they have an overwhelming need to be seen as perfect and whiter-than-white. They also siphon off other people’s attention and energy with one shameless manipulation after another; cannot empathise with or ‘see’ anybody else’s viewpoints or needs; and will lie shamelessly to cover up their own failings and flaws.
When the parents in a family have NPD, the family unit tends to function like a sort of ‘mini-cult’.
Remember that the main (but by no means only…) ‘issue’ for people with NPD is maintaining an external appearance of complete perfection. That means they can’t acknowledge any mistakes, bad behavior, bad character traits or anything else that will mar the appearance of perfection to the outside world.
Of course, narcissists are probably some of the most poisonous, toxic people to be around, particularly for their kids, as they’re full of anger, spite, vengeance, soul-destroying put downs, hatred and other types of emotionally abusive behavior.
For as long as you’re towing the narcissist’s line and not challenging them, the true extent of their mental illness isn’t obvious. It’s only when you start to challenge the picture of perfection that they’re painting for you (and everyone else) that the narcissist’s mask really comes off, and you get to see the scary monster lurking underneath.
Because narcissists can never admit to anyone, especially themselves, that their poisonous behavior and attitudes to others are the cause of so many of the difficulties occurring in their relationships, they fall back on two things to shore up their appearance of perfection:
It’s hard to appreciate just how big the lies get when you start challenging the narcissist’s false picture of perfection, if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Here’s a few examples to give you a flavor:
They’ll send you an email telling you that you’re nothing but a parasite, an evil person, and mentally ill - all the while claiming they have no idea ‘where all the hatred is coming from’ or why you want them to apologise for their awful treatment of you, because they’ve never done anything horrible to you, or said anything bad to you.
And yes, you’ll get both of these statements sandwiched together in the same email.
You get accused of all the terrible things they’re doing. So they’ll cut a child out of their will for daring to suggest they aren’t perfect, and in the same breath lecture that child that they still have so much to learn about unselfish giving that doesn’t expect anything in return.
And if the child reacts in any way other than being grateful for the narcissist’s timeless advice, they’ll be accused of being ‘mentally-ill’ and told to GET HELP!!! for failing to appreciate how AMAZING, kind and loving their parent really is.
Anything you say (or email) that doesn’t fit in with the narcissist’s view of themselves as perfect and infallible will be routinely characterized as ‘horrendous’, ‘disgusting’, ‘disgraceful’, ‘hateful’ - even if it contains nothing more offensive than asking for an apology for the hurt caused by the narcissist’s behavior, or pointing out the inconsistencies in what they’re saying.
Anything they say (or email) is always perfect, full stop. And this is true even if they’re saying the most soul-eviscerating criticisms, lies and insults.
If you try to point any of this rank hypocrisy out to them, you will be blamed for [whatever it is the narcissist is actually doing themselves]. I.e.: ‘destroying the family’, ‘acting like Jekyll and Hyde’, ‘emotionally-blackmailing’, ‘being completely unbalanced’, ‘causing nothing but pain and shame to the family’, etc etc.
Again, it’s hard to do this topic real justice in a few lines. Those unfortunate people who have experienced the deceit, warped logic and ‘projected blame’ that comes with narcissists know only too well what I’m talking about. And those that haven’t (or haven’t acknowledged what’s really going on with these people) are probably scratching their heads and pondering how on earth people could lie in such a blatant, brazen way and expect to get away with it.
But they can, they do, and that’s a big part of a narcissist’s mentally-ill behavior.
Which brings me on to the next subject: because you can’t get a narcissist to admit any ‘truth’, however obvious, that doesn’t accord with their self-image of being perfect, sooner or later you have to make a choice with enormous ramifications for your relationship with the narcissist:
So why do people continue to go with Choice 2, even when it causes them to disconnect from their souls and their own true selves? To put it very simply, when you are being raised by narcissists - the effective ‘cult leaders’ - you can’t go against them. If you try, you will be mercilessly tormented and punished until you fall back into line, and go back to believing that the narcissist parent is only ever completely perfect, and you are the one causing all the problems.
So Choice 2 is the ‘default’ option that nearly every child of a narcissist parent has to struggle very hard to escape from.
Children of narcissists undergo a sort of self-induced ‘brain-washing’ process where they literally jettison their own subjective sense of self, and disconnect from what they really feel and what they really know in order to ‘fit’ into the fantasy world created by the narcissist parent. It’s almost impossible for a child to go against their narcissist parent, as the parent is the one defining reality for that child.
Which is how you end up with a whole family of individuals, children and grandchildren, who are effectively part of a brainwashed cult that the narcissist has built up around them, with a central belief that ‘the narcissist is perfect, and can do no wrong.’
We’ll continue this discussion in the next post, where we look at the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ that occurs amongst the children of narcissists.
A few years' ago, we moved house a month before hayfever season, to a new neighbourhood in Israel. A few weeks' later, my eldest daughter woke up wheezing and struggling to breathe. We panicked, and like all good, responsible parents, we rushed her off to the emergency clinic (where else?). A couple of hours' later, she came back with a whole breathing machine, a face mask, a few packets of various drugs, and an official diagnosis of 'asthma'.
The doctor who diagnosed her was a genuinely caring, sweet, lovely religious man, which only underscores some of the enormous problems with modern medicine, because he was clearly trying to help us, and my daughter.
Yet no-one told us that asthma is often connected to stress, or emotional issues. No-one suggested that maybe, the asthma wasn't even really asthma, and maybe was just an allergic hayfever reaction, given the time of year (my daughter already had multiple food allergies, at that point).
We were just given a very fast diagnosis, a blue and a brown inhaler, and at the tender age of 6, my daughter turned into an 'asthmatic' overnight.
My daughter is very sensitive. Now she knew she was officially an 'asthmatic' with breathing problems, her stress shot through the roof, and her asthma worsened accordingly. She got stressed when she thought about exercising with asthma; stressed about school outings with asthma; stressed about doing exams with asthma - and as soon as she got stressed, on cue, the asthma would appear.
In all the years I've been refilling the prescription for the Ventolin, not one doctor ever explained to me that the same inhaler that was helping my daughter to breathe better in the middle of a crisis was actually also worsening the fundamental problem. It's scientifically proven that the more you use inhalers, the more asthma attacks you get. Why didn't anyone tell me that?
Why didn't anyone mention that people have died from over-using certain brands of asthma inhalers? I had no idea that inhalers were even remotely dangerous until a year ago when my daughter came back from a school trip with blue lips, and severe breathing issues, from using her puff 8 times in a row.
That's when I started to really research this amazing, safe, solution to my daughters' asthma, and I was shocked to see all the potential issues, side-effects and long-term problems associated with using inhalers (some of which have already been withdrawn from the market, as the stats on deaths from using 'beta agonists' are starting to stack up).
For example, a lot of the 'regular' (ie, not considered to be serious) side affects from inhalers show up in tachycardia, heart palpitations and tremors.
Three years' after my daughter's 'asthma' diagnosis, she went through a very stressful time in school, and was using her puff 4-5 times a day (well within prescribed limits). Within a couple of weeks of that episode, she was at the doctor with a bad case of flu when he listened to her heart, and told me I should go and take her for an EKG…
Baruch Hashem, nothing came of that. But only recently did I realise that what was causing the 'heart problem', whatever it was, was her asthma inhaler. How come the doctor didn't make that connection?
Last year, we started to make a concerted effort to get her off the puff, and thank G-d, her use is now way, way down. All this happened before I learnt energy medicine, so it took a lot of praying, a lot of essential oils and Su Jok, and a lot of massage - in that order.
We still have the inhaler (I got given four on my last visit to the doctor…) - but it's strictly for emergencies, now that we know that it's actually a dangerous drug. But as I said, the less we're using the puff, the less asthma my daughter actually has - and life's still been pretty stressful.
With hindsight, I don't think she had asthma in the first place. I think she had severe hayfever (she gets hayfever every year). By being so quick to diagnose asthma, that kind, caring doctor set my daughter on a path where she was scared to exercise (exacerbating the problem…); stressed about being away from her puff (exacerbating the problem…); and starting to get unexplained heart palpitations from her prescription medicine (exacerbating the problem…)
There has to be a better way, don't you think?
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