Are You The Family Symptom Bearer?

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What Is A Family Symptom Bearer?

In psychology, the term ‘family symptom bearer’  essentially refers to a scapegoat in the family who displays psychiatric problems brought on by the extreme dysfunction, especially with regard to communication, of the family as a whole.

In other words, the family symptom bearer is a kind of conduit through which the psychological problems of the whole family unit are expressed.

It is also suggested that the dysfunctional family of the family symptom bearer is unconsciously motivated to ensure his/her status as the mentally ill member of the family is maintained and that his/her mental illness does not improve…

But why should this be?

One theory is that identifying one family member as ‘the mentally ill one’ detracts attention from the psychological problems of the other family members, of which they may feel ashamed or wish to conceal for other reasons (perhaps wanting to put out the coded message : ‘we’re not the problem, s/he is!’).

Often, however, the family symptom bearer is the least psychologically disturbed of the family on many levels and may have the greatest insight into the disturbed family’s extreme dysfunction – making him/her a kind of ‘family truth revealer’, in effect.

The psychiatrist RD Laign suggested that certain family members may have an unconscious need to take on and maintain a caretaker role, due to their own inadequacies, which motivates them (again, on an unconscious level) to prevent the family symptom bearer from recovering. Furthermore, the focus on the family symptom bearer helps to avoid a focus on, and analysis of, the toxic interactions of the family as a whole.

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It is also suggested that the family symptom bearer is, in effect, acting out and representing in a tangible manner the whole family’s psychological problems.

The family may frequently deny that the family symptom bearer’s psychiatric problems are a representation and expression of the whole family’s pathological interactions, scapegoat him/her, deem him/her a destructive influence, troublesome and difficult and even exclude him/her from the family, thus evading their own culpability.

The family symptom bearer’s response to the dysfunctional family is, however, unwilled, non-deliberate and unconsciously driven – often, too, s/he is the most sensitive and vulnerable of all the family members.

Frequently, the family symptom bearer has suffered abuse from his/her family and will have unprocessed trauma issues; s/he is also at increased risk of developing problems relating to excessive alcohol and/or drug consumption.

It is important to note that the family symptom bearer’s problems are the RESULT OF WIDER FAMILY PROBLEMS, NOT THE CAUSE OF THEM.

It is therefore vital that the family symptom bearer’s psychiatric difficulties are analyzed in the context of the dysfunctional family dynamics responsible for their genesis ideally by the means, in most cases (if the family is amenable), of intensive family therapy.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2016 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Forgiveness And Its Health Benefits

 

Why Is Forgiveness Beneficial For Our Health And Prospects Of Recovery?

If we have suffered childhood trauma as a result of our parents’ abusive behavior or neglect, we may grow up feeling angry and resentful towards them. Furthermore, as a result of our childhood experiences, our own behavior in the past may have been dysfunctional and self-destructive and we may feel angry with ourselves about this.

Feeling angry towards our parents and/or ourselves, though, can act as a very major impediment to our recovery from the effects of our childhood trauma – so this is one vitally important reason why forgiving ourselves and our parents can be an extremely positive and helpful thing to do ; after all, feeling constantly bitter, angry and resentful is an exhausting and painful frame of mind to endure (in most cases simply harming ourselves rather than anybody else; this idea is pithily encapsulated by the well known aphorism that (to paraphrase) being filled with anger, vengefulness and resentment is akin to drinking poison and expecting our enemy to die. 

In short, being preoccupied with feelings of resentment keeps us trapped in the past and prevents us living in, and enjoying, the present.

Physical Benefits Of Forgiveness :

Also, the act of forgiveness, assuming it is freely chosen and authentic rather than something we have reluctantly forced ourselves to do, is most important for our physical health and I briefly explain why below :

  • being constantly angry locks our nervous systems into the ‘fight or flight’ state; this results in various physiological changes in our bodies which, in turn, makes us more susceptible to heart disease / attacks; it follows, therefore, that letting go of our anger and practicing forgiveness will make us less likely to experience such heart problems
  • chronic anger also increases our risk of diabetes
  • chronic anger increases the risk of high blood pressure

Also, according to research carried out by The John Hopkins Hospital, practicing forgiveness can:

  • help to alleviate feelings of depression and anxiety
  • improve sleep
  • lower levels of cholesterol

Compassion :

Forgiving ourselves and others are acts of compassion and research shows that developing compassion can help us to overcome the adverse effects of childhood trauma; in relation to this, you may wish to read my article on compassion focussed therapy.

Resources :

LEARN TO FORGIVE | HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

FORGIVE YOURSELF | HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Feelings Of Dissociation : How Do We Overcome Them?

What Is Dissociation?

I have already discussed the phenomenon of dissociation in the article : Always Zoning Out? Dissociation Explained to recap very briefly, dissociation is a biopychological process that operates as a defense mechanism to prevent disturbing thoughts/memories/experiences from penetrating consciousness due to the unbearable burden of stress they would bring about were this mechanism not in place.

In so doing, dissociation can function to protect us from potentially highly potent emotions such as helplessness, fear and shame.

What Does Being In A State Of Dissociation Feel Like?

Feelings of dissociation can be seen as lying on a continuum : relatively mild dissociation involves feeling mentally ‘hazy’,’foggy’ ‘ numb’ and somehow ‘not fully present’ nor fully engaged with reality ; at the other end of the continuum, dissociation can involve complete loss of conscious memory of a highly traumatizing event / series of events / periods of one’s life (I describe my own experiences of dissociation in the article linked to above).

Depersonalization And Derealization :

Two important types of dissociation are :

a) DEPERSONALIZATION : this state involves cutting off from one’s own thoughts and feelings so that they do not feel like one’s own but those of somebody else. Individuals in this state can feel like an ‘observer of themselves’, as if they were watching themselves on a film screen.

b) DEREALIZATION : as the word implies, this refers to a feeling of ‘unreality’ – as if what is going on around one is unreal, surreal or dreamlike even when it is, objectively, ordinary and quotidian.

Overcoming Feelings Of Dissociation,

According to Dr Harold Kushner, author of Healing Dissociation, in order to overcome feelings of dissociation / dissociative disorders it is necessary to :

– gradually, as part of a therapeutic process, to come to terms with, and accept, the reality of one’s traumatic childhood experiences (as opposed to being in denial about this, repressing it or suppressing it)

– firmly recognize the traumatic experiences are now over and in the past

– firmly recognize that because the traumatic experiences are over and in the past, how one feels, behaves, thinks and acts no longer has to be constricted by these experiences – one is free to start making fresh choices and take on a new, more positive approach to life

– come to an acceptance that injustice, pain and suffering are inevitable parts of life and that what is of greatest importance is how one responds adapts to this inescapable fact.

– find meaning in one’s experiences of suffering, such as how it has developed one as a person and how it can lead to posttraumatic growth.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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Complex PTSD Risk Factors

 

We have seen from other articles published on this site that if we have experienced significant and protracted trauma in childhood, we are at risk of developing complex PTSD as adults. However, there are many different factors at play which help to determine whether or not we actually will develop complex PTSD following a disturbed and dysfunctional childhood; I list and explain these factors below :

FACTORS THAT HELP TO DETERMINE WHETHER OR NOT WE DEVELOP COMPLEX PTSD :

  • GENETICS: There is no gene for complex PTSD but research suggests that some individuals may be biologically predisposed to suffering from anxiety which, in turn, may make them more likely to suffer from complex PTSD as a result of growing up in a stressful environment.

 

  • IN-UTERO EFFECTS : Research has shown that if a mother is under severe stress whilst pregnant her baby is at risk of being born with elevated levels of CORTISOL (a hormone involved with the stress response).

This hormonal imbalance can lead to the baby being difficult to calm and soothe whilst distressed which, in turn, can lead to difficulties regulating emotions in later life and ultimately increase susceptibility to development of complex PTSD.

  • THE DURATION, SEVERITY AND TIMING OF THE TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE :

It will come as no surprise that :

a) the longer the time period/s over which the traumatic experience/s persist

and

b) the more severe the experiences,  the greater the probability is that the affected individual will go on to develop complex PTSD

Also, at which stage/s of one’s young life the traumatic experience/s occur are also of great significance. Two stages of life during which the individual is at particular risk of psychological damage are :

a) From birth until about the age of three years – this is such a vulnerable stage as our nervous systems are particularly delicate and fragile during this period and the way in which our brains physically develop at this very young age is particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of environmental stress.

b) Adolescence : we are especially vulnerable to psychological damage during this period of our lives as it is the stage at which we are forming our identity.

  • FAMILY DYNAMICS : Parents interact with different children within their families in different ways. For example, in a family with two children, one may be the favoured child whilst the other is treated as the family scapegoat. In my own case, my stepmother used to lavish attention upon her own biological son, whilst ignoring me ; indeed, step -families are at particular risk of having dysfunctional, inter-familial dynamics.

 

  • ADHD : A child with ADHD is at greater risk of being abused by his/her parents as the behaviors that are symptomatic of his/her condition may be misinterpreted (in a negative way) by them causing them to treat the child with ADHD negatively and damagingly rather than with understanding and compassion.

It should also be noted that if children who do not currently have ADHD are abused by their parents they are more likely to go on to develop it due to the adverse effects the stress of the abuse has on the physical development of their brains.

  • FAMILY CYCLE OF ABUSE : If a child is mistreated by a parent and this makes him/her feel threatened (physically, emotionally or both) the child’s fight/flight response may be repeatedly triggered. If this results in the child acting aggressively towards the parent/s (a completely normal defense mechanism) this may provoke the parent further thus setting up a vicious cycle.

Families at risk of developing such a vicious cycle include families in which a parent has PTSD, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic disorder, alcoholism or is a drug addict.

  • RESILIENCE : If a child is mistreated within the immediate family but has solid, dependable emotional support from a non-abusive family member (e.g. aunt, grandparent etc) or from outside the family, such as a youth leader or counselor, s/he is likely to be more resilient to the adverse psychological effects of this mistreatment.

To read my article on complex PTSD treatments, click here.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc;PGDE(FAHE)

 

 

 

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Right Brain Therapy : Is It More Appropriate For Trauma Survivors?

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Why is it that right brain therapy may be more appropriate for trauma survivors as opposed to therapies that concentrate largely upon the left brain?

Right Brain And How We Relate To Others :

One of the main symptoms of complex posttraumatic stress disorder (from which we may suffer if we experienced significant and protracted childhood trauma) is having problems relating to others.

The brain is made up of two halves, called hemispheres : the left hemisphere (or, left brain) and the right hemisphere (or, right brain). It is the right brain that plays a vital role in how we relate to others because it is intimately involved with many functions that affect how we get along, or, don’t get along, with other people. These functions include :

– our ability to empathize with other people

– our ability to trust others

– our ability to identify with others

– our ability to read the emotions of other people from their facial expressions

– our ability to form healthy attachments with others

– non-conscious communication

Because these functions can be impaired if we have complex PTSD, and because they are controlled largely by the right brain, it follows logically that therapy to restore these functions to their optimum levels should, too, concentrate on the right brain.

Why Do These Functions Reside In The Right Brain?

This is because, in the first two years of life, according to psychodynamic theory, our interactions with our primary caregiver very significantly lay the foundations of our emotional life, including our expectations regarding relationships with others ; these expectations are encoded, on an unconscious level, in the right brain.

Right Brain Therapy And Self-Esteem :

Those with complex PTSD also frequently have significant problems in relation to their sense of self-esteem and therapy for this, too, is also likely to be especially effective when it concentrates upon the right brain. Again, according to psychodynamic theory, this is because the foundations of our self-esteem are (and it is worth repeating) acquired in our first two years of life and are encoded, on an unconscious level, in the right brain.

It follows, therefore, that if our interactions with our primary caregiver in the first two years of our lives are dysfunctional in a way that leads us to believe others do not regard us as of value and worth, we are at high risk of developing into adults who have an ingrained, deeply embedded, unconscious set of negative expectations with regard our relationships with others and our self-esteem.

In other words, such poor expectations regarding our relationships with others and low self-esteem have their foundations in a set of unconscious beliefs, stored in the right brain, that were laid down during the first two years of our lives.

Right Brain And Our Sense Of Safety :

Another feature of complex PTSD is that of a constant feeling of being unsafe and under threat. Research conducted by Schorre (2003) suggests that the sense of how safe, or unsafe, we feel is largely dictated by the right brain.

How Does Right Brain Therapy Work?

Right brain therapy can work by modifying behavior patterns encoded on an unconscious level in the right brain.

Right Brain And Implicit Memory :

Memories stored in the right brain before the age of about two years are known as IMPLICIT memories. This means we are unable to articulate them in words as they are not stored at a linguistic level. Therefore, such memories can only make themselves known to us in ways that are non-verbal (e.g. via our feelings, body sensations and mental imagery).

However, when these memories are triggered and give rise to these feelings, body sensations and mental images we are unaware of their origin for the very reason that they derive from these unconscious/implicit memories in the right brain.

Only right brain therapy then, that can modify these implicit memories on an unconscious level, may be truly effective as left brain therapy, relying on language, is unable to effectively connect with such non – linguistically stored memories.

Examples Of Right Brain Therapy :

These include :

– Art therapy

– Play therapy

– Hypnosis

– Mental imagery
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

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Effects Of Childhood Trauma

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The effects of childhood trauma can be devastating and, in the absence of effective therapy, can last well into adulthood or even for an entire lifetime.

This website contains over 700 articles, all written by psychologist, writer and educator, David Hosier, BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE), himself a survivor of childhood trauma, on the effects of childhood trauma and closely related topics.

The most well known study on the effects of childhood trauma is called The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Study.

The main findings of this extremely important study were as follows :

Those who experience significant childhood trauma are at increased risk of:

  • And, if you explore this website, you will discover that the above list is far from exhaustive when enumerating the myriad effects of childhood trauma.

What Types Of Childhood Trauma Did The Study Focus Upon?

The study focussed upon the following types of childhood trauma :

  • Abuse (emotional, sexual or physical)
  • Living in a household within which a family member who was an alcoholic or drug addict
  • Living in a household within which the mother was physically abused
  • Parental divorce/separation
  • Neglect (emotional or physical)
  • Living in a household in which a family member went to prison
  • Living in a household within which a family member suffered from mental illness

NB The study found that the more of these adverse childhood experiences the child suffered, and the more intense and long lasting they were, the greater the child’s risk of developing the problems listed above.

This website takes the ACE study as its starting point and, if you choose to explore it, you can find a wealth of information about :

UNLOVED AS A CHILD? | HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS  : CLICK HERE

LET GO OF THE PAST | HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS : CLICK HERE


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2017 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Enabling Fathers And Narcissistic Mothers

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Parents can hurt their children both by acts of commission (what they do) and by acts of omission (what they don’t do). We have seen already how narcissistic mothers can profoundly damage their children, and, if the father does nothing to intervene to prevent such damage occurring it is an act of omission; fathers who commit such acts of omission are often termed ‘enabling fathers’ or, more simply, enablers as, by failing to intervene or take preventative or protective measures, they are enabling the mother to continue her emotional onslaught against the child with impunity, unabated.

It is not unreasonable, then, to such noninterventionist fathers as complicit in the mother’s harmful behavior, whether this be due to fear of the mother, weakness of character, simple neglect, ignorance, complacency, moral cowardice or laziness (confronting such a situation requires considerable mental energy, after all).

Indeed, my own father was one such ‘enabler’ and, for the vast majority of the time, could not, or would not, confront my narcissistic mother, preferring instead to try to humor, placate or pacify her (although he did once hit her so hard she was knocked over and heated rows were far from uncommon) and effectively challenge her about her behavior, no matter how disturbing and extreme it became.

In the end, though, unable to tolerate her any longer, he left the family home when I was eight years old and divorced her (on the grounds of her adultery – indeed, she used to taunt my father by telling him he could not satisfy her sexually) not long after, leaving me, as it were, in the lioness’ den (and, to extend the metaphor a little, the den of a lioness who was soon to savagely turn on her very own cub).

It is not at all unusual for fathers to leave the narcissistic mother, as forming a stable, healthy relationship with a narcissist is not a realistic prospect (unless the narcissist undergoes therapy ; however, it is notoriously difficult to persuade narcissists to seek therapy as they tend not to accept there is anything wrong with them  – in their minds it’s everyone who’ve got the problem).

Some fathers, however, do remain living with the narcissistic mother, but not in a relationship which is healthy ; rather, they tend to have enmeshed / codependent / highly dysfunctional relationships with the mother.

Also, if the narcissistic mother is emotionally abusive towards the child, some fathers may take the side of the mother against this child even if they know the mother to be in the wrong so as not to ‘rock the boat’ and have an easier life. This, of course, amounts to complicity. Some such fathers may even agree to physically beat the child at the mother’s behest.

Resource :


DEALING WITH NARCISSIST BEHAVIOR | HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS : CLICK HERE


 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Basic Needs Of Children And Effect Of Their Denial

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If we have suffered significant childhood trauma we will, inevitably, have been denied some of our basic needs. But, what exactly are the basic needs of children, and what is the effect of their absence?

The main basic needs of children include the following :

  • a sense of emotional connection to significant others
  • a sense of safety
  • a sense of their own positive qualities
  • the freedom to exercise authentic self-expression
  • an appropriate degree of autonomy
  • appropriate limits

Let’s look at each of these six basic needs of children in a little more detail :

1) A SENSE OF EMOTIONAL CONNECTION WITH SIGNIFICANT OTHERS :

Children need loving, warm, trusting relationships with significant others with whom they are able to be open about, and share, their thoughts, feelings and experiences.

2) A SENSE OF SAFETY :

Children need to live in an environment within which they feel safe including the presence of reliable and dependable parents/primary carers.

3) A SENSE OF THEIR OWN POSITIVE QUALITIES :

Children need to be able to appreciate themselves / feel good about who they are in order to be able to develop healthy self-esteem.

4) AN APPROPRIATE LEVEL OF FREEDOM TO EXERCISE AUTHENTIC SELF-EXPRESSION :

Children need to be allowed and encouraged to develop and express their own views, feelings and attitudes.

5) AN APPROPRIATE DEGREE OF AUTONOMY :

Children need to be gradually encouraged to develop a sense of autonomy as they grow up so that there are eventually able to take care of, and support, themselves independently.

6) APPROPRIATE LIMITS :

Despite children’s need to to be allowed to exercise self-expression and autonomy when appropriate (see above), they also need to learn to over ride these needs when necessary in order to integrate into society and to function effectively within it ; in order to accomplish this, it is also necessary for them to learn to tolerate feelings of frustration.

What Can Be The Effects Of Such Needs Not Being Met?

If the child fails to have these needs met, for example, due to dysfunctional parenting styles, then this child is at increased risk of developing a large range of psychological difficulties depending upon which need/s were not met and the manner in which this deprivation interacts with the particular child’s temperament ; I provide some examples below :

  • The child who grows up without being given the opportunity to develop his/her autonomy may grow up to be overly dependent upon others.
  • The child who is perpetually criticized and seldom/never praised will not develop a healthy sense of his/her own positive qualities which, in turn, is likely to result in poor self-esteem
  • A child who does not grow up feeling safe will be at increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder.

Generally speaking, the more needs that are not properly met, and the greater the extent to which they fail to be met, the more psychologically damaged the child is likely to become. In the most serious cases, the child may be put at risk of developing, in later life, such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) or complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD).

RESOURCE :
MEET YOUR HUMAN NEEDS | HYPNOSIS DOWNLOADS
 

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Above ebooks now available on Amazon for instant download.

Click here for more details.

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Don’t Doctors Ask About Childhood Trauma?

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Why don’t doctors ask about childhood trauma? The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) study, and a very large body of research besides, has demonstrated beyond all reasonable dispute that if we have suffered significant childhood trauma we are at increased risk of suffering a large range of psychological problems and mental illnesses as adults.

So, if our psychological condition has been significantly contributed to by our childhood trauma, why, say, when we go to the doctor presenting with problems like severe depression or anxiety are we not asked about our childhoods as a matter of course? Surely the CAUSE of our problem has SIGNIFICANT IMPLICATIONS AS TO THE BEST WAY TO TREAT IT?

I myself saw numerous doctors and psychiatrists for years with extremely serious psychiatric difficulties, including depression requiring electro-convulsive shock therapy (ECT) and several spells in hospital. But was I ever asked about my childhood? No.

Why I was too stupid to bring the matter up, I can’t say ; perhaps it’s because the expectation that patients will NOT talk about such matters is implicit within the (woefully limited) parameters of the treatment culture, which tends to concentrate on the medical model (i.e. medication and ECT) and, if one’s lucky, a bit of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) might be tossed into the mix.

I suppose I should be grateful that they no longer subject patients to frontal lobotomies (which, if you’re at all interested, used to be carried out by the brain surgeon/butcher inserting a small icepick type of implement into the brain through the patient’s/hapless victim’s eye socket).

RESEARCH INTO WHY DOCTORS DON’T ASK ABOUT CHILDHOOD TRAUMA :

Happily, some research has been conducted in this area that helps us to understand why doctors don’t ask about childhood trauma. I summarize some of the main findings below :

  • many doctors are uncomfortable talking about sensitive issues surrounding childhood trauma
  • doctors’ clinical training may not have prepared them to deal with issues surrounding childhood trauma
  • some doctors may fear that if they bring up the subject of childhood trauma they may inadvertently ‘plant ideas’ in their patients’ minds (especially in the wake of publicity about ‘false memory syndrome’).
  • there is insufficient ‘in service’ training about the effects of childhood trauma
  • many doctors feel that a discussion about childhood is an inappropriate subject for initial assessments as it may make the patient feel very awkward
  • studies have found when individuals are asked whether they experienced significant childhood trauma and the answer is in the affirmative, frequently they also report that this information has never been recorded on their medical records
  • often individuals do not volunteer information about childhood trauma if not directly asked
  • some doctors may be in denial about the significance of childhood trauma due to their own childhood histories or experiences of living in a dysfunctional family
  • if the doctor knows whole family of patient may fear ‘stirring up trouble.’

Certainly, if I was again at the beginning of my own treatment, I would make sure that the doctor I was seeing was aware of my childhood history. Had I done so, I may have been spared a great deal of trouble!

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

 

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