Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in relationships, attraction, success, and fulfillment. Now, here's your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast. I'm David Tian, your host. This is Part 3 of our book analysis of the best-selling book, Good Inside: A Practical Guide to Becoming the Parent You Want to Be by Dr. Becky Kennedy. If you like this episode, when you get to the end of it, I highly recommend you listen to Parts 2 and 1, which are the previous two episodes.
So, why are we, in the Masculine Psychology Podcast, looking at a book on parenting? While I went into this in more detail in Part 1 of this book analysis two episodes ago, but just to briefly recap, if you've done any research at all into psychotherapy or clinical psychology, you'd understand how important our formative childhood years are to understanding how we are now as adults. [0:01:05.8]
Most of the books that I recommend in my current recommended reading list on my website, which I will be updating soon and will add a whole new category on parenting, in the current recommended reading list, almost all of the books on adult psychology explain adult psychology by reference to what happened in our formative childhood years, especially in terms of our family of origin—that is, the family that we were brought up in, our parent figures and our siblings—and then in our adolescent years, our peer group, our classmates become more and more important to forming who we became.
So, almost all of our psychological issues, barring extreme trauma, like you might experience in war or a horrific accident, or rape in our adulthood, barring those more extreme cases, all of our psychological issues in adulthood have their roots and sources in our childhood years, our adolescence and youth, our most formative periods. [0:02:06.8]
All the psychological literature, including the classics in psychology, psychotherapy, clinical psychology, explain what happens to us when things go badly in our childhood. There's lots of description of how childhood traumas and micro-traumas impact later life—and in my recommended reading lists, there are some great books that explain all of this in great detail, including the mega bestseller, one of the best-selling books in nonfiction and psychology, Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score, which I highly recommend. It’s at the top of my reading list and will probably stay there because it's so accessible.
But, also, any of the books on IFS therapy, all the good books on psychotherapy, including Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child, John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that Binds You, and the book Toxic Parents, as well as the classics of psychotherapy by Carl Jung and Freud, and also Karen Horney, Neurosis And Human Growth and Karen Horney’s Our Inner Conflicts, the books by Carl Rogers and Alfred Adler. [0:03:11.3]
All of these great books on psychotherapy and psychology, clinical psychology, have great explanations of how traumas or micro-traumas in childhood lead to psychological issues in adulthood, but they seldom explain what good parenting would look like or should look like. What could or should our parent figures have done instead? And this is a really important question for us to answer, because in the therapeutic process that I’ve been recommending pushing for since pretty much the beginning of this podcast, this necessary therapeutic process includes and indeed requires reparenting as part of the process.
That is, you, from a state of your higher self, goes to these inner-child parts that are carrying the wounds, the pain that are the most vulnerable parts of us, witnesses the pain that they've been carrying as a result of suboptimal, subpar parenting, and shows or explains what should have been done for the child instead. [0:04:14.0]
Then even after the burdens of the emotions or beliefs that the child part of us took on as a result of the mini-traumatic or traumatic experience, even after those burdens have been lifted and let go of, this inner child now is still looking for you as your higher self to take care of it, to protect that part of you, that inner child, the vulnerable inner child in you—and that requires that you become your own parent. That is, your higher self now stands in as the good parent, the mature, loving, compassionate, confident, courageous parents, who prioritizes connection.
In order for you to take care of this inner child or these inner-child parts of you well, you're going to need to understand what to do, and that's why it's so important to learn about good parenting and what that looks like, because it's a necessary phase of the therapeutic process. [0:05:09.5]
Now, I know I have a lot of single guys listening to this podcast, and if that's you, you may be thinking, Kids, that's so many steps removed from where I am right now. Yes, someday far in the future maybe I will be open to having kids, but right now I'm just trying to get a date. So, what can I take away from this?
If you're still listening, kudos to you, and you're really taking in these lessons, and prioritizing your own growth and healing, and happiness and fulfillment and love, and that's awesome, so I want to applaud that right off the bat. Here's what I will tell you: your attractiveness as a man is inversely proportional to your neediness. And when do you have neediness? Neediness comes up when you're unable to fully meet your own needs yourself, and you're unconsciously looking for a woman—or women—to meet those needs for you, whether it's your needs for significance or love or connection. You're unable to do that for yourself. [0:06:00.3]
Underneath the surface of what's happening with neediness is that we have inner-child parts that are in need of love or connection or approval, or even just attention, that are trying desperately to get that through external sources that resemble the promise of love that were our parent figures.
But we had to adapt or adjust, or we believed we had to adapt or adjust, how we were in order to get that attention, approval, love, connection, and care from our parents, which resulted in our early protector parts coming online of the Rebel or the Recluse, or the Pleaser or the Achiever, or the Joker, or something along those lines, and you might have many of those managerial parts in you that are protecting or exiling, or covering up, your more vulnerable parts.
That neediness is most acute, most concentrated in our vulnerable inner-child parts, what IFS therapy calls “exiles”, and that neediness will always be there until and unless your higher self—first, you have to access more and more of your higher self—until and unless that higher self and you can meet fully the needs for love, connection and significance of your inner-child parts. [0:07:13.3]
That's a much more accurate and sophisticated, and thorough explanation for what “love yourself” ought to really mean, and insofar as you can love yourself in that sense—reparent yourself, and meet the emotional needs of your inner-child parts—insofar as you can do that your neediness will go down and, naturally and automatically, your attractiveness, in terms of your personality, will go up.
Okay, so even for single guys, it turns out, it's really important to understand what good parenting is and looks like, because in order to fully address your neediness, you're going to have to go through a phase of the therapeutic process called reparenting. Okay, so that was a much more thorough recap than I had expected, but I'm going to let it stand because I think there are some important points that I covered there. [0:07:57.6]
Okay, so this is Part 3. In case this is the first time you're listening to this book analysis, I suggest that everybody go not only get this book, obviously, but also follow Dr. Becky on Instagram. I think that's her main platform. I get absolutely nothing out of recommending this personally. I have no affiliate relationship with her or her company at all. I just think it's great and maybe you'll thank me later.
In the last episode, I mentioned that I had skipped, overlooked this whole section on boundaries, and let's dive into that now. Chapter 3 is entitled, Know Your Job. And by the way, in Parts 1 and 2, especially in Part 2, I explored Dr. Becky's central theme of “good inside” and the assumption that we and our children are good inside, and why that's so important, so make sure that you eventually get to Part 2. I recommend that you finish this. Since you’ve already started this, finish this episode, and then jump back to Part 2.
Okay, so here we're in Chapter 3, which is entitled Know Your Job, and here I’ll read out some excerpts to give you a flavor of the book and to entice you to get the full book, and starting here on Page 30. [0:09:02.4]
“The other day, a mother in my private practice told me this story: I walked into the playroom to see Raina and Kai playing nicely with their toys. They set up a whole scene of trucks and blocks and little figures. Then, of course, it was too good to be true and they got into an argument about what should go where, and Raina picked up one of the figures and threw it at Kai, and then she threw another. I told her, ‘Raina, stop throwing, right now,’ but she didn't listen. She took another and then another. It was such a mess.
“Nothing is wrong with this parent. Nothing is wrong with Raina or Kai. What's going on here? Well, a boundary was never set. Boundaries are not what we tell kids not to do. Boundaries are what we tell kids we will do. Boundaries embody your authority as a parent and don't require your child to do anything.” [0:09:57.7]
And this reminds me of why I always Just make a point of, whenever I give the simple definition of healthy boundaries in relationships, especially, that is, you are responsible for your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and you are not responsible for any other adult’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors, which also means no other adult is responsible for your own thoughts, feelings and behaviors. I always emphasize the adult as an important qualifier, because when you're a parent, part of your job is being responsible for them, for your children. Now let's look more closely at the boundaries between the parent and the child.
“Boundaries embody your authority as a parent and don't require your child to do anything. In the case of Raina and Kai, a productive intervention might have looked like their mother stepping between them, moving the figures from Raina's reach and saying, ‘I won't let you throw these toys.’ Or maybe if she didn't want to upset the thoughtfully-laid-out figures in the playroom, she would pick Raina up and go sit with her in another room. These are boundaries. Saying, ‘Stop throwing right now,’ though a natural reaction for most parents, is not.” [0:11:14.8]
Some other examples of boundaries, and here I’ll read out three examples in bullet points that she set out.
‘I won't let you hit your brother,’ as you walk between your daughter and her brother, and position your body in a way so the hitting doesn't happen again.
‘I won't let you run with scissors,’ as you place your hands around your child's hips so that movement is impossible.
‘Screen time is over now. I'm going to turn off the TV.’ You turn off the TV and place the remote somewhere it cannot be reached by your child.
Here are examples of not boundaries, but instead ways we essentially ask our kids to do our jobs for us. In these scenarios that I'm going to read out now, despite our attempts to shut down a behavior, it usually escalates further, not because our kids don't listen, which, listening, for many people who are triggered, means obey. Not because our kids don't listen, but because their bodies feel a lack of containment. The absence of sturdy adults keeping them safe is more dysregulated to them
than the original issue. Here are some examples. [0:12:21.4]
‘Please stop hitting your brother.’
‘Stop running. I said to stop running. If you keep running with those scissors, you're not going to get dessert.’
‘Didn't we say you’d be done after this show? Can't we be done? Why do you have to make this so hard?’
“In each of these examples, parents are asking their kids to inhibit an urge or desire that, frankly, they are developmentally incapable of inhibiting, especially toddlers. We cannot tell a child who is hitting someone to stop hitting or a child who is running to stop running, or a child who is complaining about wanting more TV to stop complaining.”
But we can. I am someone who says all these things, too. [0:13:00.4]
“But these pleas won't be successful. Why? Because we cannot control someone else. We can only control ourselves. And when we ask our child to do our job for us, they are more likely to get further dysregulated, because we are essentially saying, ‘I see that you're out of control. I don't know what to do here, so I'm going to put you in charge and ask you to get yourself back in control.’ This is terrifying for a child, because when she is out of control, she needs an adult who can provide a safe, sturdy, firm boundary. This boundary is a form of love.”
I also would call this healthy limits, and that is a universal human need.
“It's a way of saying, ‘I know you're good inside, and you're just having a hard out-of-control time. I will be the container you need. I will stop you from continuing to act in this way. I will protect you from your own dysregulation taking over.’ [0:13:55.0]
“Of course, our jobs don't stop at protecting our children's physical safety. We're also their emotional caretakers. This is where two other important job duties come in: validation and empathy.”
This is also very important in a relationship, in an intimate relationship, because when one of you is triggered, what's happening when you're triggered is that an inner-child part is taken over and is freaking out, and this will necessarily happen in an intimate relationship as part of the growth process of an intimate relationship, the connection, then disconnection, and then into repair, so you have to have the disconnection in order to have the repair, which is required for growth.
So, not only is learning about good parenting good for you, as your higher self, reparenting your inner child, but it's also necessary for you to succeed in an intimate relationship, because a big part of that growth process of that going from disconnection back into connection is coming to your triggered partner's inner-child parts, the triggered inner-child parts, and coming to them with the proper response, which is a reparenting response from your higher self. [0:15:04.4]
So, now your higher self is relating to her inner-child parts that have become triggered, and that's yet another reason to learn about good parenting. You're not only reparenting your own inner-child parts, you're also going to, eventually, in an intimate relationship, that's a loving relationship, going to be the secondary caretaker, reparenting her inner-child parts as well. Then, of course, if you ever have kids, obviously, this will come in handy.
Okay, so validation and empathy. Starting again here on Page 32 of my edition.
“Validation is the process of seeing someone else's emotional experience as real and true.”
By the way, as an aside, something I went into more detail in the previous episode, Part 2 of this, her use of the word “true” here is not, strictly speaking, accurate. “Valid” is actually accurate. So, validation is the process of seeing someone else's emotional experience as real and valid. [0:15:57.0]
“Rather than seeing someone else's emotional experience as something we want to convince them out of or logic them away from, validation sounds like this: ‘You're upset. That's real. I see that.’”
By the way, there's nothing illogical about that.
“Invalidation, or the act of dismissing someone else's experience or valid viewpoint would sound like this: ‘There's no reason to be so upset. You're so sensitive, come on.’ Remember, all human beings, kids and adults, have a profound need to feel seen in who they are, and at any given moment, who we are is related to what we are feeling inside.
“Empathy, the second part of a parent's emotional caretaking job, refers to our ability to understand and relate to the feelings of another person, and our desire to do that comes from the assumption that someone else's feelings are, in fact, valid. So, validation comes first (my child is having a real emotional experience), and empathy second. I can try to understand and connect with these feelings in my child, not make them go away. Empathy comes from our ability to be curious.”
By the way, and that's one of the traits of your higher self—curiosity. [0:17:12.1]
“It allows us to explore our child's emotional experience from a place of learning, not judgment. When a child receives empathy, in fact, when any of us receives empathy, it makes them feel like someone is on their team, almost as if that person is taking on some of their emotional burden. After all, feelings come out in behavior only when these feelings are unmanageable inside, when they're too big to regulate and contain.”
Skipping over to Page 34 now.
“One of the primary goals of childhood is to build healthy emotion regulation skills, to develop ways to have feelings and manage them, to learn how to find yourself amidst feelings and thoughts and urges, rather than have feelings and thoughts and urges overtake you. Empathy and validation from parents are critical ingredients in helping a child develop regulation skills, which is why we should not think of them as soft or mushy factors, but as qualities that hold weight and seriousness.” [0:18:07.6]
“Now that we have the full picture, let's revisit our earlier examples of boundary-setting to see how we can incorporate validation and empathy.
“‘I won't let you hit your brother,’ as you walk between your daughter and her brother and position your body in a way so the hitting doesn't happen again.
“‘I know you're frustrated. Having a brother who can crawl and get into all of your stuff is so hard. I'm here. I’ll help you figure out how to keep your block structure safe.’
“Another example: ‘I won't let you run with scissors,’ as you hold your child gently and firmly in place. ‘I know you want to run, run, run. You can put those scissors down and run, or finish your project and run around later. Which would you rather? Oh, you want to do both? I know, sweetie. I won't let you do anything dangerous, even when you're mad at me about it. I love you that much. You're allowed to be upset. I get it.’” [0:19:03.0]
“Here's another example: ‘Screen time is over now. I'm going to turn off the TV.’ You turn off the TV and place the remote somewhere it can't be reached by your child. ‘You wish you could watch another show, I know. Stopping TV time is so hard for me, too. Want to tell me the name of the one you want to watch tomorrow? I’ll write it down for us so we don't forget.’
“Why do boundaries validation and empathy help a child build regulation skills? Boundaries show our kids that even the biggest emotions won't spiral out of control forever. Children need to sense a parent's boundary, our ‘I won't let you’ and our stopping them from dangerous action.”
Okay, so I call these healthy limits and these are universal needs that all human beings have, healthy limits.
“Children need to sense a parent's boundary in order to feel deep in their bodies this message. This feeling might seem as if it will take over and destroy the world. It might seem too much, and yet, I'm sensing in my parent’s boundary that there's a way to contain it. This feeling feels scary and overwhelming to me, but I can see it's not scary or overwhelming to my parents. Over time, children absorb this containment and can access it on their own.” [0:20:15.6]
And this is actually what a good therapist will do for you, basically reparenting your inner-child parts, especially in the early period when you don't have full access or a lot of access to your higher self yet. It's what classical psychotherapy would call corrective emotional experiences, where you had a bad emotional experience that led to the formation of neurotic coping strategies or parts that engage in activity they don't really like, in order to stave off some fear that they developed as a result of that event or those events. [0:20:49.0]
The fundamental fear that they're worried about is that the emotions that they're trying to stave off or try to hold back that they're trying to cope with are too overwhelming for them even now as adults to handle. Part of what a good therapist can provide is a calm, courageous, confident, strong, yet still connected and compassionate presence that demonstrates that those emotions aren't so scary or overwhelming that you can handle it—and that containment here that Dr. Becky is referring to is that holding of the space for the client to be able to be with those feelings.
There's a lot of techniques that you can use to check in with the client, if it's too much for them at this very moment, and you can help them with different grounding skills. Or you can ask those exiled parts or the parts that are sending these overwhelming feelings to titrate that to send them at a lower intensity, at a more manageable one.
Okay, so continuing on Page 35.
“Validation and empathy, on the other hand, are how children find their goodness under their struggles. As we know, we have to feel good inside in order to change.”
This is a very important point to all of the striving achievers and the kind of toxic self-help out there. I’ve made many episodes on the toxicity of most self-help, and a lot of it is for this reason, so I’ll repeat the sentence. [0:22:08.4]
“As we know, we have to feel good inside in order to change. It's common to think, I need to change, and once I do, I will feel worthy and lovable. But the directionality is precisely the opposite.”
And I will just nuance this here by saying it is possible to force change from the belief that unless you achieve that thing, only then will you be worthy. But that only works in the short term for a quick burst of motivation. It is not sustainable in the long term, and the change won't be lasting. Okay, so continuing.
“Our goodness is what grounds us and allows us to experience difficult emotions without having them take over or become our identity. And when parents get in the habit of validating a child's experience and empathizing with it, they're essentially saying to that child, ‘You are real. You're lovable. You're good.’ Now you have your job description, keep your child safe, emotionally and physically, using boundaries, validation, and empathy.” [0:23:07.3]
Now, staying with the boundaries theme, we're jumping ahead to Page 111 here, the chapter called Self-Care, which is Chapter 10. Dr. Becky actually addresses a question that I get asked a lot from guys, including single guys and guys in relationships, and this is the Subsection 3, Getting Your Needs Met and Tolerating Distress.
“I want you to say the following sentence aloud, preferably in front of a mirror, and then observe how your body responds. ‘I am allowed to have things for myself, even if they inconvenience others.’ Now pause. Does your body want to accept or reject what you just said? What's your natural reaction to that statement? Do any memories or images come to mind? The only goal here is to learn about yourself. One reaction isn't better than another. All data is good data.” [0:24:02.8]
“Now, what did you notice? Were you uncomfortable? Did you feel an immediate need to correct yourself? Were you able to say it with conviction or was it hard to believe the words coming out of your mouth? Many of us have trouble asserting ourselves and tolerating someone else's being inconvenienced by those assertions, whether we're asking for help, taking time for ourselves, or even relegating childcare to our partner.”
And as an aside for the guys who ask me this question, it's often in the context of having friends that are no longer serving them or not growing as they are, or when they're speaking to their parents or their extended family that is asking them to do things that they don't want to do. Okay.
“We find it so difficult that we often end up undoing our requests saying, ‘Never mind, I can just do it myself,’ or ‘I guess I can walk with my friend at a different time,’ or ‘Okay, fine. I'll get up in the morning with the kids.’ These comments often come up at the end of a pattern. First, you want something for yourself. Next, you suggest or ask for it. Then a partner or a friend seems inconvenienced. Finally, you take back your request and don't get your need met.” [0:25:13.8]
She put “inconvenience” here which is quite soft. It could just as easily be “Then a partner or a friend seems displeased or disapproving.”
“It's time to change this pattern, but we can only do that when we accept that we can't avoid someone else's inconvenience or distress. It's not our job to make sure someone else is happy, and it's not someone else's job to cheerlead us as we assert ourselves.”
So, here is a great illustration of healthy boundaries between adults.
“We need cooperation from others but not approval. I regularly remind myself that in order to get what I need, someone else might have to be inconvenienced or annoyed, and this is okay. Someone else's distress shouldn't be a reason why I can't meet my own needs.” [0:26:00.5]
“Understanding and accepting this allows me to, say, go for a walk on my own without guilt. If my partner seems annoyed, I try to greet that feeling with him, ‘Ugh, I know it's hard to be with the kids on your own, I hear that,’ and still walk out the door. It allows me to remember that I can choose where the family is ordering dinner from, even if one of my kids complains. If I really want sushi and not pizza, I have to be willing to tolerate my son's pushback.
“Many of us were raised to take in another person's distress as our responsibility, so when we see our partners or friends or kids get upset when we assert ourselves or say no, we backtrack. Taking a breath and remembering that, often, the only way we get our needs met is by simultaneously tolerating others’ distress, helps prevent us from losing ourselves.”
Okay, so she has a section here called How to Do It. She has two points.
“Tell yourself, ‘Someone else is allowed to be upset when I assert myself. This doesn't make them a bad person, and it doesn't make me unable to uphold my decision.’”
Here's the other point. [0:27:07.0]
“Visualize yourself on one side of a tennis court and someone else on the other side. Remind yourself, ‘I am over here. I have my need and my decision on my side. He is over there on his own side. His feelings about my decisions, those are on his side of the court, not mine. I can see them. I can even empathize with them. But I didn't cause them, and I don't need to make them go away.’”
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Ah, it's so powerful, so beautiful. I know some guys might get triggered by this, especially if you have toxic parents and have been enmeshed, and have been forced or conditioned to take responsibility for the feelings of others, especially if you were a child forced to take responsibility for the feelings of your parents. This is very common, especially in Asian cultures or conservative cultures, and you will really need to get the context for this and why it's so important to not lose yourself—and I recommend her whole book, but especially that chapter for you. [0:29:02.2]
Then you can dive into the assertiveness category or section in my recommended reading list and get into classics, like When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, and learn about the connection between toxic shame and lack of assertiveness or problems with boundaries.
Okay, so now we move ahead to the next chapter, Chapter 11, Building connection capital, and I'm going to skip ahead to a section called Change The Ending on repair, and this is super important because repair is actually required for growth in a relationship, whether that's in a relationship between a child and a parent, or the relationship between a husband and wife.
Just like when it comes to physical fitness or health, growth comes from a recovery after disrepair, after a disconnection, after a kind of micro-tear we're tearing. For those couples who are too afraid of fighting or have conflict, they're never actually going to grow. Similarly, for a parent and a child. So, starting here from Page 137 of my edition. [0:30:02.0]
“Change the ending. We all mess up. You do. I do. The perfect parent on Instagram does. We yell. We react. We take out our own stuff on our kids. We blame. We label. We do all this not because we're bad parents, but because we're normal humans. So, when we have moments with our kids that feel awful, what should we do next? Repair.
“As we discussed in chapter five, repair offers us the opportunity to change the ending to the story. Instead of a child's encoding a memory where she felt scared and alone—and, remember, even if a child doesn't bring it up, the memory is stored in the body—she now has a memory of her parent’s returning and helping her feel safe again. This is everything.
“I often think that healthy relationships are defined not by a lack of rupture, but by how well we repair. All relationships have rough patches, and yet, these moments can be the greatest sources of deepening connection. A rupture moment occurs because both people are in their own experience and they're unable to temporarily put that experience to the side to understand and connect to the other person. So, we need to get better at repair.” [0:31:13.8]
“And, yes, there's a difference between repairing and apologizing. Often, apologies attempt to shut down a conversation, like, ‘I'm sorry I yelled, okay? Can we move on?’ but a good repair opens one up. A repair goes further than an apology, because it looks to reestablish a close connection after a moment when someone feels hurt, misunderstood or alone. The words ‘I'm sorry’ might be part of a repair, but they're rarely the entirety of the experience.”
Okay, now she gives you a structure for changing the ending, and I’ll just read it out. There are four parts to it.
“1. Share that you've been reflecting.
2. Acknowledge the other person's experience.
3. State what you would do differently next time.
4. Connect through curiosity now that things feel safer.
“Here's an example of a repair with all four components.”
Okay, then she gives this example. I'm going to skip this sort of longish section. If you are interested in this structure and learning exactly the details about how to do it with examples, get her book. Now skipping over to Page 139. [0:32:15.4]
“Now, let me be clear, I don't always go through all four components with my own kids.”
“So, of course, feel free to repair in a way that feels right to you. Some repairs will be shorter and others longer. Overall, the key is to take ownership and tell your kids that they aren't responsible for causing your feelings or fixing your reactions.
“When kids are alone with tough feelings, they turn to self-blame, like, ‘I'm a bad kid,’ and self-doubt, like, ‘Maybe I overreacted. Maybe that wasn't a yell. Maybe this is how I should just expect to be treated by others.’ When we repair, we ensure that kids don't default to these explanations, which helps to preserve their confidence and sense of safety in the world. And, remember, nothing feels as awful to kids as the painful feelings they are left alone with. Repair replaces this aloneness with connection and this should be the ultimate trade up for all of us.” [0:33:15.3]
Now I'm going to read this whole section on emotional tantrums from Chapter 13, because it's so important for most guys who have trouble with women and assertiveness, and being strong and confident, and they've exiled into the shadows, the parts of them that are comfortable with intense or extreme emotions. Okay, so Page 149, Chapter 13, Emotional Tantrums. I'm going to start with a vignette that she starts within the box at the top.
“Three-year-old Ezra comes into the kitchen and asks his mom Orlie for ice cream for breakfast. Orlie says kindly, ‘Ice cream? No, sweetie, that's not an option. How about a waffle?’ Ezra demands, ‘Ice cream now! Only ice cream. I need it now!’ Then he drops to the floor, crying and screaming seemingly endlessly for ice cream.” [0:34:02.6]
“Okay, tantrums are normal. In fact, they're not only normal, tantrums are healthy. Of course, that doesn't mean they're fun or enjoyable, or particularly convenient. They are none of these things. Tantrums are challenging and exhausting for everyone involved, and yet they are a part of healthy child development. Tantrums, those moments when children seem to lose it, are a sign of one thing and one thing only: that a child cannot manage the emotional demands of a situation.
“In the moment of a tantrum, a child is experiencing a feeling, urge or sensation that overwhelms his capacity to regulate that feeling, urge or sensation. That's an important thing to remember. Tantrums are biological states of dysregulation. They're not willful acts of disobedience. Tantrums often begin when a child wants one thing, like ice cream, and something else or someone else, like a parent, gets in the way of them getting that thing.” [0:34:59.5]
“Having a desire thwarted is one of the most difficult human experiences for kids, but also for adults. Tantrums are a child's way of saying, ‘I still know what I want, even when you say no. My whole body is showing you that I know this desire and I'm frustrated in not having it realized.’
“Do we want to limit dangerous behaviors mid-tantrum? Absolutely. Do we want to stay calm ourselves? For sure. Is our goal to stop a tantrum in his tracks or stop them from happening entirely? No, it's not. Here's why. We want our kids to want for themselves. As parents, we want our kids to be able to recognize and assert their desires to be able to hold on to the idea ‘I know what I want, even when people around me tell me no.’ But we cannot encourage subservience and compliance in our kids when they're young and expect confidence and assertiveness when they're older.”
This is worth repeating. It's also in bold in her book. “We cannot encourage subservience and compliance in our kids when they're young and expect confidence and assertiveness when they're older.” For the guys who have been having trouble with confidence and assertiveness and boundaries, this might be why, so listen up. [0:36:15.4]
“We cannot encourage subservience and compliance in our kids when they're young and expect confidence and assertiveness when they're older. It just doesn't work that way. Imagine your child is 25 years old. Do you want your child to be able to say, ‘No, that's not okay with me,’ when someone asks her an inappropriate question? Do you want her to be able to ask for a raise, to be able to tell her partner, ‘I need you to talk to me more respectfully’? If we want our kids to be able to recognize their wants and needs as adults, then we need to start seeing tantrums as an essential part of their development.”
Okay, skipping over to the next page.
“The strategies I'm about to offer will help you with this recognition and they can be applied when a child is having a pure emotional meltdown without any physical aggression, like hitting, spitting, biting, kicking, or throwing. Tantrums that involve physical aggression and boundary violations require some different approaches, which I detail in the next chapter.” [0:37:11.5]
“These strategies all have the same goal: help a child build emotion regulation skills. They're not intended to end a tantrum. When our intention is simply to stop the yelling or crying, kids feel it and learn only one lesson.”
And listen up, because almost all parents have been making this mistake, and sometimes myself included. So, backing up here.
“When our intention is simply to stop the yelling or crying, kids feel it and learn only one lesson: ‘The feelings that overwhelm me also overwhelm my parent. My parent is trying to end this, which means my emotions truly are as bad as they feel.’ Our kids cannot learn to regulate a feeling that we, the adults, try to avoid or shut down.”
And this is what I see happening over and over and clients over a decade, where they're afraid of and unable to handle their own feelings, and so they repress them, and as a result, they're unable to access those emotions, indeed, almost any emotion. They have a pretty one dimensional emotional life, which makes it really hard to connect with women or to create any level of deep intimacy. [0:38:15.3]
They also go on, as adults, often afraid of anger and fear, and sadness, because they don't know how to handle them and they believe that they're not handleable, that they would overwhelm anyone. So, that bears repeating.
“When our intention is simply to stop the yelling or crying, kids feel it and learn only one lesson: ‘The feelings that overwhelm me also overwhelm my parent. My parent is trying to end this, which means my emotions truly are as bad as they feel.’ Our kids cannot learn to regulate a feeling that we, the adults, try to avoid or shut down. Our goal during a tantrum should be to keep ourselves calm and keep our children safe. After that, we want to infuse our presence so that children can absorb our regulation in the face of their dysregulation.” [0:39:01.2]
Then she gives a whole bunch of strategies. I'm just going to read the titles of these.
“Remind yourself of your own goodness.”
“Two things are true.”
“Name the wish.”
“Validate the magnitude.”
You're going to have to get her book to read what these are. Okay, so then at the end of this chapter, she caps off the vignette.
“How does this play out for Orlie and Ezra? Orlie watches Ezra fall to the floor and reminds herself of her job during her child's tantrum. ‘My job is to keep my body calm and my child safe, not to end the tantrum.’ This allows her to take a deep breath and see Ezra is having a hard time, not giving her a hard time.
“She remembers that this meltdown is likely a sign that multiple emotionally-taxing moments have been building up in Ezra, moments that didn't feel good and required him to hold it together, and now in this ‘ice cream for breakfast’ moment, it's all spilling out.” [0:39:54.0]
“Orlie tells herself, ‘Nothing is wrong with me. Nothing is wrong with my child. I can cope with it.’ Then she tells Ezra, ‘Two things are true. Ice cream is not an option for breakfast, and you're allowed to be upset about it. I get it. I love ice cream, too. When you're ready, we can find something else yummy for breakfast.’”
“Ezra seems to pause a moment when he hears this, but then goes back to crying and screaming for ice cream. Orlie sits on the floor next to him and says, ‘You really wish you could have ice cream, I know. You want it as big as this whole kitchen. As big as this house. It's so hard to want something that much and not have it.’ She waits out the tantrum, and, eventually, it ends. Orlie is exhausted and Ezra is, too, but Orlie reminds herself she did her job and did it well.”
On this note about tantrums, skip over to the next chapter and this is entitled Aggressive Tantrums (Hitting, Biting, Throwing). This is a great chapter. I'm just going to point out a couple of sentences from this.
“The prefrontal cortex of the human brain, which is responsible for the development of language, logic, forward-thinking, and perspective, all factors that help us regulate and stay grounded, is extremely underdeveloped in young children. This is why they have such intense emotional explosions. Kids come into the world fully able to feel an experience, and yet not at all able to regulate the intensity of their feelings and experiences” [0:41:16.8]
Okay, and so there's actually a lot more in developmental neuroscience that helps you to explain what's really going on for children, and this is important for you to understand why you might have irrational reactions that you just think, Oh, I'm triggered, it's irrational.
But those are parts of you that are regressing into childhood, and to come to them to understanding what's developmentally or what they're developmentally capable or expected to be able to do at that age, and that understanding is very helpful in accessing the empathy to be able to reparent well to further help you understand what's going on when your inner child is having an irrational experience or when you feel too afraid to go to feelings that will overwhelm you. [0:42:03.3]
“Once you've confronted your own struggles with asserting authority, you still face the challenge of dealing with a child who is exhibiting out-of-control behaviors. It's important to remember first that these explosive moments happen because a child is terrified of the sensations, urges, and feelings coursing inside their body.”
Okay, so this is happening because a child is terrified of the sensations, urges, and feelings coursing inside their body. These are actually physical sensations that they're afraid of.
“When you think of your child as terrified, rather than as bad or aggressive, you'll be more able to give them what they need. Then remind yourself that your job during these tantrums is the same as your job in less explosive tantrums. Keep your own body calm, and keep your child safe.
“Keeping a child safe in this case means focusing on containment, because a child who is out of control needs a parent to step in firmly, put a stop to the dangerous behavior, and create a safer, more boundaried environment where the child can't continue to do damage. Don't try to teach or lecture, or build new skills with a kid in these explosive moments. Containment is the only goal. “I sometimes say over and over in my head, ‘Contain. Contain. Contain. I'm doing all I can. I'm doing enough. Contain. Contain. Contain.’” [0:43:16.5]
And this, in an intimate relationship, by the way, I see a lot of intellectual type guys, when their wife or girlfriend is triggered and she's super dramatic, he's like, I learned all this psychology. I'm going to start teaching her about it right now. Wrong, that's the worst time to do it. When she's triggered, or when anyone is triggered, is not the time to try to force them to access the prefrontal cortex and listen to reason.
If you have decided already ahead of time that you would like to keep this relationship, then your job is to hold the space and contain until their feelings become more in control or manageable, or at least, it’s not overwhelming them.
More importantly, notice the feelings coming up in you that are causing you to do this teaching, and often, that's a last-ditch effort or some kind of Hail Mary pass to stop this emotional maelstrom from coming, and notice your reaction to those of dramatic emotions that are coming up, and that's your responsibility. [0:44:13.8]
Now we'll skip ahead to Chapter 16 on Rudeness and Defiance, and I’ll begin on Page 180 of my edition.
“Let's say you tell your seven-year-old son, Hunter, that he can't play video games this morning. Then when you walk into the family room after breakfast, you see him playing Madden. When we use a lens of disrespect, we think, I said no. Do my words hold no weight? Hunter just does whatever he wants. He has no respect for adults.
“Feeling disrespected can be very triggering, so most of us would have an urge to yell or punish. Not because that would necessarily give Hunter a newfound respect for us, but because, as adults, we cannot tolerate the uncomfortable disempowered feelings in our own bodies, so we assert ourselves through punishment to make ourselves feel better.” [0:44:58.4]
“But when we look at Hunter’s behavior through a lens of emotional dysregulation, we might think, Hunter really wanted something. I said no, and he couldn't tolerate the feeling of wanting and not having. I have to work on that with him. Also, I wonder if something's off between us in our connection that played out in not obeying me.”
“As we know, kids don't have great emotion regulation skills. The bigger and more intense the feeling, the less able they are to manage it well. So, instead of talking through the feeling, or taking a deep breath or a moment to collect themselves, all those things you might want an adult to do when having a big feeling, a child's big feeling might come out in the form of, in Hunter’s case, blatant defiance, or in Farah’s case, an ‘I hate you’ or ‘I hope you drown.’”
And that's from an earlier vignette.
“And the bigger and more intense the feeling, the more likely it is to manifest in these kinds of statements or behaviors, which often lead to a parent’s pushing a child away. ‘You can't say things like that to me’ or ‘Go to your room this instant.’ Now we're in a vicious cycle. A child's rudeness is met with a parent's reactivity, which leads to the child's feeling more misunderstood and alone, which exacerbates the intensity of the child's feeling. Remember, it's not the feeling as much as it is the aloneness in a feeling that feels so bad and leads to a more dysregulated behavior in words.” [0:46:17.8]
I see this mistake happening all over the place, parents who are saying, “Don't hit,” and they're hitting their kid as they're saying, “Don't hit others,” and they're just hitting them, hands, the butt or whatever, and then also “Stop yelling . . .” a parent, telling a child to stop yelling by yelling. And that is the vicious cycle, right? A child's rudeness is met with a parent's rudeness. Okay.
“As parents, we must try to separate our kids’ underdeveloped regulation skills, which, because they're still limited, can surface as rudeness or defiance from their very real, very normal feelings, like anger or sadness. We must learn to look under the expression and see the words as a desperate plea for understanding the bigger picture, and we must unlearn the idea that if we don't punish the original behavior, it will be more likely to happen again.” [0:47:07.1]
“We don't reinforce bad behavior by skipping punishment. The idea that if we let a child get away with this, they will somehow learn it's okay to talk to their parents like that, well, this assumes a very negative view of human behavior, one that I don't buy into.
“Let's imagine on-the-surface rudeness in our own life. You had a rough day, and your partner asked if you've unloaded the dishwasher. You react. ‘I’ve done a million things. No, I didn't get to the dishwasher. Can you just do one thing by yourself?’ Instead of biting back or scolding you for your on the surface rudeness, picture your partner saying instead, ‘Wow, that was rude, but, sweetie, you must be feeling overwhelmed to have reacted that way. That's more important than your tone. So, let's start there. What was today like? I want to understand.’” [0:47:57.8]
“How does this feel? Afterwards, are you more or less likely to be rude to your partner? And how would you feel if instead your partner responded, ‘I won't tolerate your rudeness. No TV for you for a week’? I think we all know this scenario doesn't end well for anyone. The same principle holds true for our kids. Meeting their rudeness with empathy and kindness will make them feel seen and help inspire kindness in return.”
Then she gives several strategies here. I’ll just read out the titles.
“Don't take the bait.”
“Embody your authority without punishing or being scary.”
“State the truth.”
“Connect and build regulation when everyone's calm.”
Now skipping way ahead to Chapter 24, almost at the book, to the chapter entitled Tears, and maybe here I am saving the best for last, and starting from the vignette at the top.
“Abdullah, father to seven-year old Yousef, just received an email saying that Yousef did not make the travel baseball team. Abdullah approaches Yousef and tells him, ‘Hey, kiddo, you didn't make the travel team. You're still on the other team, so that's great, right? You can play with all your old friends.’ Abdullah notices that Yousef is starting to tear up. He isn't sure what to say or whether to distract Yousef with something positive to take away the hurt.” [0:49:12.0]
“Okay, here's a quick multiple-choice check-in. Imagine you're talking to a friend and you notice totally unexpectedly that you're about to start crying. How do you feel about your tears? What thoughts come up for you?
a) There's no reason I should be crying. This is ridiculous.
b) This is going to make my friend uncomfortable.
c) I wonder what my body is trying to tell me. There must be something important.
“There's no right answer here, only information. What do you notice? Are you feeling critical of yourself for crying? Are you concerned about your friend’s reaction? Or do you feel curiosity, respect and compassion? We can learn so much about our personal histories from how we feel about our tears.”
And, by the way I’ve mentioned over and over in this podcast, and especially in all my content, the foundational, fundamental emotion of healing and growth is sadness, and if you're uncomfortable with that, you're not going to mature beyond a very adolescent stage of maturity. [0:50:11.8]
“In just that single multiple-choice reflection, we begin to understand how crying was treated in our own families. After all, while tears are universal, our reaction to tears is highly specific and based on the circuitry we developed early on. Tears operate in our attachment system as a signal that we need emotional support and connection from others. They're a sign of how we feel and of the sheer strength of that feeling. I sometimes imagine my tears talking to me, saying, ‘Something so big is happening inside that I'm literally a liquid coming out of your eyes in an attempt to get you to pause and notice.’
“The tears are also a visceral manifestation of a child's vulnerability, and that can be very triggering for parents. Remember, our triggers tell us what we learned in our early years to shut down in ourselves. So, shame around crying is often passed down through the generations.” [0:51:03.3]
“A child cries because they need a parent's emotional support. The parent is triggered because they learned to shut down their own support needs when they were young. The parent then responds to a child the way they were responded to and the cycle of shaming connection continues. Or on the flip side, tears may trigger guilt inside a parent, because they assume their child's distress is their fault or a sign of their parental shortcomings.
“Let's be the generation that changes this. Let's be the pivot point. Let's remind ourselves of this truth: Bodies never lie. Tears are the body's way of sending a message about how someone is feeling. I don't have to like my or my kid’s tears, but I have to respect them.”
I'm going to skip ahead to the end of this chapter.
“How does this play out for Abdullah and Yousef? Abdullah takes a deep breath and remembers that tears are not the enemy. Sadness is not the enemy. Vulnerability is not the enemy. Aloneness in our feelings, this is the true enemy.” [0:52:02.0]
Also add toxic masculinity’s typical reaction to sadness and crying is fear, so they're not such tough guys after all, but they're reacting out of fear of the vulnerability. Okay, so sadness is not the enemy. Vulnerability is not the enemy. Tears are not the enemy. Aloneness in our feelings, this is the true enemy.
“This is the most painful thing of all. So, Abdullah tells the story of what just happened to Yousef, remembering that his presence, not his solutions, will give Yousef comfort. ‘You really wanted to make that team. It's so disappointing, I know.’ He then pauses and talks to the voice in him that learned to judge his own tears. He says to himself, ‘Tears are okay. Tears are important.’ And then more naturally to Yousef, ‘Our tears tell us that something important is happening in our body. In this family, we like to know important things, so let those tears come out. I'm here with you. I'm right here.’ Yousef cries and Abdullah himself feels some tears well up inside him as well. This is a powerful father-son moment, the kind that Abdullah wishes he had more of with his own dad.” [0:53:09.6]
Okay, that was powerful. To the next chapter, Chapter 25, Building Confidence.
“Six-year-old Charlie is running around the backyard with his friends playing tag. His mother, Clara, notices that he keeps getting tagged and is a bit slower than his more athletic friends. As soon as Charlie's friends leave, he starts crying and says to his mom, ‘They're all faster than me and I always get out. I’m the slowest kid in my grade.’ Clara hates seeing her child in such pain. She wonders if she should tell Charlie that he just had an off day or remind him that he's great at chess and art.
“Kids are often taught that confidence means feeling good, feeling proud, or feeling happy with themselves. It doesn't. I know that might seem like a bold statement, but I firmly believe it's time to reframe the discussion around confidence. When we define confidence as feeling good about ourselves, we end up trying to convince our kids out of their distress, out of their disappointment, or out of their perception that they're not very good at certain things. This is unfortunate, because I believe this pathway of reassurance and propping up actually destroys confidence.” [0:54:15.8]
“Hear me out. For me, confidence is not about feeling good. It's about believing, I really know what I feel right now. Yes, this feeling is real, and, yes, it's allowed to be there. And, yes, I'm a good person while I'm feeling this way. Confidence is our ability to feel at home with ourselves and the widest range of feelings possible, and it's built from the belief that it's okay to be who you are, no matter what you're feeling.”
Skipping ahead here.
“It's incredibly common for well-meaning parents to hear a child's pain and then invalidate it. Maybe not by saying, ‘Don't be a baby,’ but in a sneakier way, like trying to convince a child to feel happy when she's sad or feel proud when she's disappointed. When we try to convince a child to feel any other way than how they're currently feeling, a child learns, I guess I'm not a good feeler of my own feelings. I thought I was upset, but here's my most trusted adult telling me it's not such a big deal. I can't trust my feelings inside. After all, I’ve learned that other people have a better idea of how I feel than I do. Eesh, that's scary.” [0:55:21.0]
“When we think about the adults we hope our kids will become, I'm pretty sure most of us want our kids to have a strong internal compass, a gut feeling they can locate inside their bodies. This is what allows adults to make decisions amid uncertainty to turn down social plans because they feel exhausted and need a good night's sleep, or to speak up to a colleague who left them out of an important meeting.
“This kind of confidence comes from trusting your instincts, from a self-belief that states, ‘I have learned to trust my feelings.’ And when it comes to kids, I want mine to be able to say, ‘I know I'm upset about what happened with my friend. But she's trying to convince me I'm overreacting and that it's not a big deal. But, wait, how could she know how I feel? I know how I feel. I'm the only one who could know that.’” [0:56:05.8]
“Confidence comes when parents allow and connect with the feeling their child is already having, and when you connect about the tougher stuff—emotions like sadness, disappointment, jealousy or anger—you get an even bigger bang for your confidence-building buck, because you're setting your child up to feel like they can be themselves, no matter what, across a wide range of feelings. What a gift.”
Then there's a great section here on internal versus external validation. Skipping to the next page.
“Now, here's the thing. We all seek external validation and we all like external validation. This is okay. The goal isn't to make a child impervious to other people's approval or input, but rather to build up a child's interiority, meaning, who they are on the inside, so that they don't feel empty and confused in the absence of outside input.
“Plus, confidence cannot be built from external validation or praise. Sure, these comments feel good, but they never stick. Rather, they disappear almost as quickly as they land, leaving us desperate for the next bit of praise so that we can feel good about ourselves again. This isn’t confidence. This is emptiness.” [0:57:11.6]
“Now, a quick praise caveat. Commenting on what's happening inside a child, or a child's process and not product, orients a child to gaze back in instead of out, comments like, ‘You're working so hard on that project,’ or ‘I noticed you're using different colors in this drawing. Tell me about this?’ or ‘How did you think to make that?’ These support the development of confidence, because instead of teaching your child to crave positive words from others, we teach them to notice what they're doing and learn more about themselves.”
And as with all of the chapters, she ends with strategies, in this case, “lead with validation,” “how to think” to “inside stuff over outside stuff”—these are all really good—“you really know how you're feeling and it's okay to feel this way.” Then I’ll read out, “How does this play out for Charlie and Clara?” and remember, this is the vignette about being slow and being tagged. [0:58:01.7]
“Clara remembers that confidence comes from being okay with however you feel, not from erasing or distracting from distressing feelings. She says to Charlie, ‘Running around playing tag felt really hard today. Getting tagged all the time, ugh, that stinks. I know, sweetie. I'm here.’ She pauses. Charlie moves closer to her and cries some more.
“After a little while, Clara feels an opening and shares, ‘When I was your age, playing basketball was so tricky for me. The other kids could make baskets and I couldn't even get the ball to the hoop. Ugh, gym class would feel so bad.’ Charlie takes a few moments, then asks to hear more about his mom's experience, as if her story gives him permission to be feeling the way he does. Clara feels a little unsure after this conversation. It didn't seem to offer any solutions, but she also acknowledges that it just felt right and she decides to trust that.”
Okay, the final point. I’ve really got to wrap this up. I'm not going to do a Part 4. This is it. Chapter 26, Perfectionism. [0:59:05.8]
“What's going on for kids who need things to be just right, who can't tolerate good enough, who shut down unless things go exactly the way they imagined? Well, underneath perfectionism is always an emotion regulation struggle.”
Then she gets into this whole section detailing that. I'm just going to skip to the next page.
“Kids who are perfectionistic are also prone to rigidity. They have extremes to their moods into their reactions, so they often feel like they're on top of the world or at the bottom of the barrel. Their self-concept is exceptionally fragile, which means there's a relatively narrow range in which they can feel safe and happy with themselves. Anything outside of that range is seemingly bad. This is why these kids shut down after things don't go the way they want. A shutdown, like, I won't do it or I'm done, or I'm the worst, isn't a sign that they're stubborn or spoiled, but that they can't access good feelings about themselves in that moment.” [1:00:00.3]
“The goal as parents is to widen the range to help perfectionists live in the gray so that the highs and lows of their self-worth aren't so extreme. We want to help the perfectionist child feel good enough rather than cling to the need to be perfect. Part of this inability to live in the gray comes from the fact that perfectionistic kids often can't tolerate or simply can't understand nuance.
“For perfectionists, behavior is an indicator of identity, because they're unable to separate the two. This is true when perfectionists feel good about themselves and when they feel bad about themselves. For example, reading a page of a book perfectly (behavior) means ‘I'm smart’ (identity). While mispronouncing a word (behavior) means ‘I'm stupid’ (identity), trying to tie your shoe and succeeding the first time (behavior) means ‘I'm great’ (identity), while messing up the loops (behavior) means ‘I'm awful’ (identity).” [1:00:56.7]
“To help kids with perfectionistic tendencies then, we want to show them how to separate what they are doing from who they are. This is what gives kids the freedom to feel good in the gray, to feel capable inside after their first attempt at tying shoes doesn't work or when they're struggling to read. Perfectionism steals a child's and an adult’s ability to feel good in the process of learning, because it dictates that goodness only comes from successful outcomes. We need to show perfectionist kids how they can find their good-enoughness and their worth outside success.”
“One more important note on perfectionism. Parents should aim to help their kids see their perfectionism, not get rid of it. So many parents think they have to make their kids not perfectionist, but anytime we shut down a part of a child, especially when we do so harshly, we're sending the message that the part of them in question is bad or wrong.
“Instead, we want to help our kids get into a better relationship with their perfectionism so that they can recognize it when it comes up, rather than have it take over the control tower and dictate how they feel and what they do. After all, there are components of perfectionism, drive and strong-mindedness, and conviction, that can feel really good, and we want to help our kids harness these traits without collapsing under the immense pressure perfectionism can add.” [1:02:17.1]
Okay, so believe it or not, I had all these other points that I did not cover and I’ve chosen not to cover. I am not going to give into that perfectionism there. We're already way over time and I want to thank you so much for listening. If you like this, you definitely have to get into Parts 2 and 1, if you haven't already. Those are the previous two episodes.
Thank you so much for listening. Like, subscribe, and leave a comment or feedback. I'd love to get feedback. Let me know what you thought of this. Of course, if you liked it, go and get Dr. Becky's book. Go follow her on Instagram. And go listen to the previous two episodes as well. If this helped you in any way, please share it with anyone else that you think could benefit from it.
Thank you so much again for listening. I look forward to welcoming you to the next episode. Until then, David Tian, signing out. [1:02:59.5]
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