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Becoming a Person Through Psychoanalysis

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What Neville Symington is attempting to do in this book is to trace the pathway along which he has travelled to become a person. This has run side by side with trying to become an analyst. The author has made landmark discoveries when reading philosophy, sociology, history, and literature. Learning to paint, learning to fly a plane, and also the study of art and of aviation theory have opened up new vistas. This account is only a sketch. The completed picture will never materialize. It is therefore autobiographical but only in a partial sense. It is always emphasized that one's own personal experience of being psychoanalysed is by far the most significant part of a psychoanalyst's education.

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CHAPTER ONE: John Klauber, Independent clinician

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“Though force may coerce the body, it also has the effect of embittering the mind. He who uses it, though in the defence of the right, may, in the hour of victory, shut his heart to pity, and in doing so render himself or his children liable to the terrible penalties which the gods sooner or later inflict on the arrogant”

(Bryant, 1969, p. 68)

John Klauber died on 11 August 1981, while on holiday with his wife in France. I believe that he made a very distinct contribution to psychoanalysis, and yet I believe that it is underestimated and in danger of disappearing unnoticed. He may be partly responsible for this because he was a modest man and did not see himself as breaking new ground in the way that Balint and Winnicott did. Yet his contribution was in that area of psychoanalysis that, to every clinician, is the most important: in the clinical practice. He was, however, a deeply thoughtful man, so his technical innovations were backed with a theoretical structure (see pp. 19-22, ‘Thoughts thirty years after’, for a statement about this).

 

CHAPTER TWO: The patient makes the analyst

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“All right,” said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained for some time after the rest of it had gone. “Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,” thought Alice; “but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life”

(Carroll, 1974, pp. 63-64)

I had finished my analysis. My two training cases had satisfied I both my supervisors and the Education Committee of the I British Psychoanalytic Society so now I was a qualified analyst. I had changed greatly in my own analysis, so I knew from personal experience that psychoanalysis is able to bring about profound changes in the personality. That judgement was made from the vantage point of my emotional life at the time. Then I was confronted with someone my analysis had not equipped me to deal with.

She came to see me hot on a hallucination in which, while merged with her mother, she was strangling her boyfriend. She had been turned down by two prestigious psychoanalytic clinics before being referred to me. I was working at the time in a little-known psychotherapy centre. She was angry at not being taken on by either of these clinics and realized that I was her last resort. If she turned me down she knew that no other treatment would be available for her. She was extremely poor and private treatment was out of the question. So, there she was, stuck with me, whom she found cold and severe, but what options did she have other than accept what had been dished up to her? Oliver Twist did not get on too well when he asked for a second bowl of soup.

 

CHAPTER THREE: The analyst’s act of freedom as agent of therapeutic change

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“Freedom is, I am assured, the pearl of great price for which, if we are wise, we shall be prepared to sell all our possessions, to buy it. The ancient and widespread belief that the supreme good of human life is happiness—for all its persuasiveness—is false. Freedom has a higher value than happiness; and this is what we recognise when we honour those who have been ready to sacrifice happiness, and even life itself, for freedom’s sake”

(Macmurray, 1949, p. 2)

In this paper I intend to explore a phenomenon with which all analysts are familiar. I will first describe it and then examine what its implications are for theory. I shall refer to it as the “x-phenomenon”. I shall start with some clinical examples.

I was charging a patient whom I shall call Mary a little more than half what my other patients were paying. She had been a clinic patient and I used to sigh to myself and say inwardly “Poor Miss Mary, £X is the most that I can charge her.”

I did not, in fact, articulate it as clearly as that. In my mind it was like an acknowledged fact that everyone knows, like the unreliability of the English weather. It was part of the furniture of my mind and I had resigned myself to it in the same way that I reluctantly resign myself to the English weather. So the analysis went on and on with that assumption as its unquestioned concomitant until one day a startling thought occurred to me: “Why can’t Mary pay the same as all my other patients?”

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Phantasy effects that which it represents

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“Suspicion creates its own cause;
Distrust begets reason for distrust”

(Thompson, 1913, p. 3)

Phantasy creates a response in the social environment and this is a constituent part of it. When the social environment ceases behaving in a particular defined and familiar way then the phantasy is no more. It has passed into non-existence; it has been worked through. It no longer blocks the healthy psychological act in the subject. I am going to give some examples.

Clinical examples

A female patient had the phantasy that men just use women as objects to satisfy their sexual impulses. When psychoanalysis was recommended in the consultation she believed that the analyst just wanted to gratify his own narcissism. She had a prolonged affair with a man who lived in another country but came to London on business about once a month or once in six weeks. He used her sexually on each visit. She was furious about it but continued with the affair. After some years a moment occurred when she believed that the analyst wanted her welfare and did not only want to gratify his narcissism. She finished with her intermittent lover; she began to feel more feminine and then some time later developed a fully satisfying love affair. The phantasy that men just use women as sex objects evaporated.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: Maturity and interpretation as joint therapeutic agents

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“I always have a distrust of something I can do easily”

(Henry Moore, in Jones, 1966, p. 93)

In a previous paper (1983) I said that an inner act of freedom on I the part of the analyst led to beneficial changes in the patient. One analyst was very critical of this as she felt it devalued interpretation. This has led me to study more closely the relation between the emotional state in which acts of freedom take place and interpretation. I shall call this emotional state “maturity”. Maturity is not to be understood as an achieved state of affairs but a developmental process that is named by its final cause.

To say that maturity in the analyst leads to therapeutic change in the patient is threatening, because when an analyst is blocked, it implies there is underdevelopment in the analyst that frustrates the process. It means that the analyst has to wait for the maturational process in him to develop. The analyst is subordinate to this process and is not in possession of it. This can be galling to self-esteem. He feels particularly under pressure when a patient is attacking him for his immaturity. Much aggression from patients is attributable to their perception of real areas of diminishment in the analyst. I believe it is a mistake to ascribe it too readily to transference. An analysis is central to a psychoanalyst’s formation because its goal is to liberate the patient from fixations so that the maturational process can develop unhindered. Analytic societies recognize that this is necessary in an analyst because his or her therapeutic work is deficient without it. Yet, despite this, interpretation is thought by many to be the central agent of change, but logically there is an inconsistency here. I believe that there are two reasons for this inconsistency. First, there is a resistance to the truth that maturity is an agent of change, and second, there is a desire to stress the importance of interpretation. In this paper I want to look at this resistance and explore the reasons why interpretation is so important.

 

CHAPTER SIX: The response aroused by the psychopath

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“How can I be substantial if I fail to cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole; and inasmuch as I become conscious of my shadow I also remember that I am a human being like any other”

(Jung, 1984, p. 40)

What do we mean by “psychopath”? We need to know this before we can understand the response that he arouses. The term “psychopath” or “psychopathic” covers a wide range of observable phenomena but there is one common denominator: the overriding determination to attain certain goals, and these by flouting the values that society holds sacred. This was a point made succinctly by Edward Glover (1960): “Moral obliquity is in fact the hallmark of the psychopaths who engage the attention of the courts”.

It was, for instance, a value of this country to accumulate wealth by hard work and saving and correspondingly taboo to obtain this by robbery or fraud. But this alone would mean that all revolutionaries are psychopaths, so there is another important diagnostic criterion: the criminal psychopath always acts in isolation. This is why Karl Marx saw the criminal as a reactionary and not a revolutionary.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: The origins of rage and aggression

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“Paradoxical as it may sound, I must maintain that the sense of guilt was present before the misdeed, that it did not arise from it, but conversely—the misdeed arose from the sense of guilt. These people might justly be described as criminals from a sense of guilt”

(Freud, 1916, p. 332)

It is a mistake to think that psychoanalysis has one theory. Psychoanalysis is a clinical methodology that encompasses a wide range of theories. Nowhere is this more evident than when psychoanalysts start to discuss the cause of aggression. At its most simple there are two theories. The first states that aggression arises when a human being’s basic needs are frustrated. This theory is based upon the homeostatic theory of motivation. This states that the organism has a built-in tendency to equilibrium, to homeostasis; when inner tension arises, the organism is programmed to reduce that tension through incorporating food, water, or finding an object that will satisfy a sexual need. Aggression arises when one of these needs is frustrated. Aggression is therefore a reaction to frustration.

 

CHAPTER NINE: Countertransference with mentally handicapped patients

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“If only Walter had been born a dog and not a human child, how easy it would be to end her sense of responsibility. A vet with a pill or an injection, administered while she protested love and kindness, could free her”

(Cook, 1978, p. 46)

At the time when I was conducting a workshop on the psychotherapy of mentally handicapped people at the A Tavistock we were all confronted one day with a very shocking piece of knowledge. It was a piece of knowledge that each of us possessed but it had not come to light until one particular session of the workshop. It was that we all treated mentally handicapped people with contempt and that we did not have this contempt towards “normal” people. I will explain the matter in more detail.

In the workshop we had decided in one term to try to differentiate our psychodynamic technique with the mentally handicapped from that used with “normal” people. Thus, we investigated our manner of interpretation, the nature of the transference in this category of client, and the anxiety attending on change. The question of countertransference also came under review. It was then that the discovery I have alluded to was made. On the level of consciousness we had sympathy towards mentally handicapped people, which had in part instigated the formation of the workshop. We had also come to realize the painful isolation that many mentally handicapped people live in. Therefore, on the level of consciousness, we were passionately devoted to our work with these people, had a self-righteous self-regard, and felt critical towards those colleagues of ours who would only consider people suitable for psychotherapy if they had a university level IQ. Our contempt then had been below the threshold of awareness. This is how the shocking story of our inner attitudes came about.

 

CHAPTER TEN: Independence of mind: attachment and the British Society

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“Nothing creates such untruth in you as the wish to please”

(Hazzard, 1981, p. 209)

It is nearly six years1 since I was working as a psychoanalyst in London. Until shortly before the time of leaving in 1985 I was closely involved in the administrative and emotional life of the Society. I felt with passion about many of the theoretical issues and had participated, along with my wife, in most of the Scientific Meetings for a period of years. Since being in Australia I have no longer shared in the close workings of the Society, but have continued my association through reading the bulletin, visits to London, and conversations with colleagues.

When in London I knew there were certain things wrong with the British Society, but I was too closely involved to be able to see them properly. I could not see the wood for the trees. Since being in Australia I have arrived at certain insights and perspectives that I will try to outline.

One thing I knew for certain: that analysts defend with passion the views and outlook of their own analyst. If they did not defend specifically the view of their own analyst, they defended the particular school to which their analyst belonged and behind this the figures who had become the icons of each particular grouping. So, those who had been trained and analysed within the Kleinian group defended in particular the views of Melanie Klein and, to a lesser extent, the views of some of the senior figures within the Kleinian group. In a similar way members of the Contemporary Freudian Group would defend the approach and outlook of Anna Freud, and finally, although members of the Independent Group tended to eschew erecting icons, yet Winnicott and, to a lesser extent, Balint and Fairbairn had become the icons of that group. There was the sense that analysts were defending the emotional viewpoint of the icons in their School and that if one of them were attacked they would rush to his or her defence.

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN: Migration from the Tavistock: impetus for mental change

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“There are tumults of mind, like the great convulsions of nature, all seems anarchy and returning chaos, yet often, in those moments of vast disturbance, as in the material strife itself, some new principle of order, or some new impulse of conduct, develops itself, and controls, and regulates, and brings to an harmonious consequence, passions and elements which seemed only to threaten despair and subversion”

(Disraeli, 1845, p. 284)

I worked at the Tavistock as a senior staff member in the Adult I Department from 1978 to 1985. I had for two years prior to 1978 given a series of lectures to social workers. So I worked at the Tavistock for a period of nine years in total. During that time I acquired a very unfortunate reputation: that I was believed to be good at public speaking. On the basis of that reputation I was asked to give a series of thirty lectures on “Psychoanalytic theory” to mental health professionals from the three departments of the Tavistock. My credentials at the time were minimal and my acceptance of the offer can be put down mainly to ambition and grandiosity. Grandiosity forbade me to refuse offers to speak. I remember in one year counting that, in addition to the standard thirty lectures at the Tavistock, I gave a further seventeen in different places, reaching a total of forty-seven lectures in a single year. The inability to say “No” to these ever-increasing requests meant that the reservoir was almost empty. An academic once confided to me that he was living on capital—intellectual capital, that is—and my position was not dissimilar. I knew the reservoir had to be refilled so, with wife and family, we moved camp across the world to New South Wales. On the way we stopped for eight months at a staging post in the south of France in the little village of Seillans, nestling in the hills of Provence. So, in that idyllic spot with our two boys at the local village school, we refilled the reservoir and more.

 

CHAPTER TWELVE: The struggle to achieve independence of mind in the British Psychoanalytical Society

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“One of the most difficult matters in all controversy is to distinguish disputes about words from disputes about facts: it ought not to be difficult, but in practice it is”

(Bertrand Russell, 1985, p. 124)

There are in the British Psychoanalytical Society three groups: the Contemporary Freudian Group, the Group of Independent Psychoanalysts, and the Contemporary Kleinians, and they have been in being since the end of the Second World War. All committees within the British Psychoanalytical Society have to have these three groups represented, and the Presidency of the Society has to rotate through these three groups.

There was a vicious dispute between Anna Freud and Melanie Klein and their respective followers. Anna Freud believed that in the analysis of children it was necessary to “educate” the child into the treatment situation before interpreting its anxieties, whereas Melanie Klein believed it was necessary to interpret the child’s anxieties from the start of treatment. Melanie Klein believed there was a rudimentary ego from the start of life, whereas Anna Freud believed that the ego only developed later in infancy. Melanie Klein believed that the child related to objects from the start, whereas Anna Freud did not. These apparently small differences became the foci of a violent dispute. The place where these disputes become most turbulent is in the matter of training. Just as parents are attached to values that govern how they want their children to be brought up, so also analysts are equally anxious to make certain that their analysands are “reared” according to their own sets of values. Both Anna and Melanie wanted to ensure that their analysands were educated according to a certain set of principles. The Freudians and Kleinians agreed, therefore, to have their own training programmes within the British Psychoanalytical Society. There were, however, some analysts who did not want to commit themselves to either position. They were the Pig in the Middle and so were called The Middle Group, but in more recent times known as the Group of Independent Psychoanalysts. This latter group wanted to be free to find its own path. In its early days it asserted itself against the position of the Classical Freudians and in latter years has taken up a position against the Kleinians. This is the briefest sketch of the present structure1 of the British Psychoanalytical Society.

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Narcissism: a reconstructed theory

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“Mr. Luzhin was morbidly fond of admiring himself. He had a tremendous respect for his own intelligence and abilities, and sometimes, when alone, he spent hours admiring himself in the looking-glass”

(Dostoyevsky, 1966, p. 322)

Introduction

In a recent book I have sketched the outline for a new theory of narcissism. In that book I give many clinical examples, ideas on how narcissism can be reversed, and the relation of my theory to those of some others. I also make extensive use of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina to illustrate some of the central phenomena of narcissism. n this short article all this has been mercilessly cut out and I give here only the skeleton of my theory. What the reader will get from this article is the structure of the theory.

Resolution of contradictions in psychoanalytic theories

Within psychoanalysis there is a strong reluctance to throw out any theory. The result of this is that when a new theory is proposed that is in contradiction to an accepted theory the two are left, one superimposed upon the other. We operate then with a split that leads to obfuscation. There are numerous examples of this, but I shall just give one. Fairbairn radically re-cast Freud’s libido theory and in his model he rubbed out the Id in Freud’s Structural Theory. Many analysts who follow Fairbairn accept his model without rejecting Freud’s Structural Model. This means that Fairbairn’s theory has not been understood. To make sense of the theory that I am proposing, and if it is to be effective in clinical work, it is necessary to ditch several aspects of received theory. A reader may disagree with my theory, or part of it, and reject it—that is all right, but if you accept it then you will have to do a lot of work in letting go of some theories which are contradicted by what I am putting forward.

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: Narcissism as trauma preserved

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“The night is darkening round me
The wild winds coldly blow
But a tyrant spell has bound me
And I cannot cannot go”

(Emily Brontë, 1996).

I had noticed in my clinical work the concurrence of trauma and narcissism. I had observed that the most narcissistic people were those who had undergone severe childhood trauma, so I knew that the two were connected. However, one day I realized that narcissism is the traumatized state. Let me start by giving you a simple example.

Alphonsus is crossing the road one day and is hit by a car and rushed to hospital. He has broken a leg, ruptured his pelvis, broken his collar bone and some ribs. For a few days he is in a precarious state. While in that state someone comes and asks him if he would like to take out a subscription to the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds. All Alphonsus can do is moan and cry pitiably, pointing to his chest and leg. The representative from the Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds goes away disappointed that he does not have a new subscriber. In fact, he complains to a colleague that Alphonsus does not seem at all interested in birds, nature, conservation, or the state of the planet and says, “Alphonsus seems to be entirely preoccupied with himself.”

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Corruption of interpretation through narcissism

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“I know how great is the effort needed to convince the proud of the power and excellence of humility, an excellence which makes it soar above all the summits of this world, which sway in their temporal instability, overtopping them with an eminence not arrogated by human pride”

(St Augustine, 1972, p. 5)

That which is most desired and most resisted is an interpretation. It is desired because it is a gateway to freedom; it is T resisted because freedom is terrifying. As a free being I become responsible for the passions of my soul. This is agonizing, and I struggle to escape from such a hell. I know with a deadly certainty that I resist interpretations. I only accept an interpretation after a dire struggle. I will try every other avenue rather than the one where I accept freedom and myself. Wilfred Bion (1967, p. 112) says development depends upon a crucial decision: whether to evade frustration or to modify it. For “frustration” I would substitute the word “agony”. I believe that what applies to myself is true for all human beings. I have evidence to support this belief from observation of a limited group of people who have come to me for psychoanalysis. This evidence, however, will not convince someone who believes that we are fashioned entirely by our genetic inheritance and our micro and macro-social environment. Those who espouse this view will classify an interpretation as a conditioned stimulus and will therefore disagree with the foundations upon which this paper is based: that an interpretation confronts me with my own freedom. This is the metaphysical presupposition that underpins the clinical problem that I want to put before you (Collingwood, 1969).

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: The core of narcissism

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“Don’t take yourselves too seriously. Take life seriously. Take God seriously. But don’t, please don’t, take yourselves too seriously!”

(Hume, 1979, p. 26)

In my book on narcissism (Symington, 1993) I said that the core I of narcissism lay in an unconscious refusal of life. I referred to this in objectified terms as the lifegiver. I have since come to believe that this is too narrow a view. I continue to think that it is a core component but, rather than see it as the cause of narcissism, I see it as one of its manifestations. I see that this emotional act of refusal is something that we shall always come up against in narcissism. It is also true that when narcissism begins to dissolve then one of the cardinal signs of this dissolution is the appearance of acts of emotional generosity. But what enables the act of generosity? Why the refusal? The answer I come up with now is less simple but, I believe, closer to the truth. I see it now that the act of refusal is the natural outcome of a structure of which the key components are the following: god, worm, jelly, addictive dependency, a theory of emotional action, narcissistic objects and a theory of freedom. In addition to this I believe that if we are to get a focus upon narcissism it is necessary to have a different ontological foundation to what exists at present. I am going to start with the jelly as I have to start somewhere. I am reminded of Bion’s comment at the beginning of his book Elements of Psychoanalysis:

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: The influence of Wilfred Bion on my clinical work

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“There are many who set great store upon having seen one or another distinguished world-historical personality face to face. This impression they never forget, it has given to their souls an ideal picture which ennobles their nature; and yet such an instant, however significant, is nothing in comparison with the instant of choice. So when all has become still around one, as solemn as a starlit night, when the soul is alone in the whole world, then there appears before one, not a distinguished man, but the eternal Power itself. The heavens part, as it were, and the I chooses itself—or rather, receives itself. Then has the soul beheld the loftiest sight that mortal eye can see and which never can be forgotten, then the personality receives the accolade of knighthood which ennobles it for an eternity. He does not become another man than he was before, but he becomes himself, consciousness is unified, and he is himself. As an heir, even though he were heir to the treasure of all the world, nevertheless does not possess his property before he has come of age, so even the richest personality before he has come of age, so even the richest personality is nothing before he has chosen himself, and on the other hand even what one might call the poorest personality is everything when he has chosen himself; for the great thing is not to be this or that but to be oneself, and this everyone can be if he wills it.

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: Bion and trauma transformed

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“Chronic mental stress, a state related to processing in numerous brain systems at the level of neocortex, limbic system and hypothalamus, seems to lead to over production of a chemical, calcitonin gene-related peptide, of CGRP, in nerve terminals within the skin. As a result, CGRP excessively coats the surface of Langerhans cells, an immune-related cell whose job it is to capture infectious agents and deliver them to lymphocytes so that the immune system can counteract their presence. If completely coated by CGRP, the Langerhans cells are disabled and can no longer perform their guardian function. The end result is that the body is more vulnerable to infection, now that a major entryway is less well defended. And there are other examples of mind-body interaction: sadness and anxiety can notably alter the regulation of sexual hormones, causing not only changes in sexual drive but also variations in menstrual cycle. Bereavement, again a state dependent on brainwide processing, leads to a depression of the immune system such that individuals are more prone to infection and, whether as a direct result or not, more likely to develop certain types of cancer. One can die of a broken heart”

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN: Envy: a psychological analysis

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“It is not likely that anybody can truly appreciate the wheat, who cannot also reject the chaff”

(Muller, 1904)

Since the advent of Envy and Gratitude in 1957 the word “envy” has flooded the clinical literature within psychoanalysis. It S has been particularly profuse within the Kleinian School but this has overflowed into the clinical descriptions both of the Independent Group and that of the Freudians. What I attempt here is a psychological analysis of envy because we assume that we all know what we mean by it. I think the meaning that we attribute to it is something like the following: envy is hatred of another for having a treasure I do not possess.1

The focus of this definition is upon the other. This, I believe, derives from folk religion and throws no light upon why this entity is damaging to the author of the envy. Is the psychoanalyst’s concern the emotional health of the patient or the comfort-zone of those with whom the patient lives out his life? If a psychoanalyst is asked “Why should I not envy another?”, I believe the questioner will be given a moralistic answer: “It is harmful to another person to hate him for a treasure that he possesses. Therefore it is bad.”

 

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