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3 Attacks to Anticipate When Leaving Abuse

by | Abuse Literacy

3 Attacks to Anticipate When Leaving Abuse

When those light bulbs of reality start to go off, and you begin taking steps to move toward safety, every ounce of wisdom is helpful on your journey toward peace.

Elizabeth is back on the BTR podcast, sharing 3 attacks to anticipate from the abuser and their flying monkeys as you begin to separate yourself from abuse.

Remember, you don’t have to make the journey to safety alone. BTR is here for you.

Anticipate The Abuser Refusing to Respect Proximity Boundaries

Overwhelmingly, Sheroes in the BTR.ORG community, including Elizabeth, experienced the terror and frustration of the abuser refusing to respect proximity boundaries. This may look like:

  • The abuser refusing to move out.
  • The abuser refusing to “allow” the victim and/or children to move out.
  • The abuser stalking the victim once she has moved out.
  • The abuser contacting the victim using other phone numbers after she has blocked his phone number.
  • The abuser using flying monkeys to contact the victim using various modes of contact.
  • The abuser violating court orders to make contact with the victim and/or children in person or over the phone.

These violations are abusive and often dangerous. At BTR.ORG, your safety is our priority. If your safety is threatened, please contact law enforcement and seek legal help.

Don’t Forget the Abuser’s Mommy (And Other Flying Monkeys)

In-law abuse is all-too common for victims of psychological and emotional abuse.

Abusers’ mommies sure do love to turn on victims the moment that victims start standing up for themselves, as was the case with Elizabeth:

[The abuser] called his mom crying and she came over and was basically like, ‘You know, you’ve gotta do… what he wants you to do. You need to stop this silliness [of standing up for yourself].

Elizabeth, BTR.ORG Community Member

Victims experience intense betrayal when in-laws and mutual friends, whom they experienced close personal relationships with, turn on them and side with the abuser. Especially when they witnessed the abuse and know that the victim could be in danger.

Anticipate The Infamous “Smear Campaign”

These family members and mutual friends, also known as “Flying Monkeys” are often involved in the abuser’s infamous “Smear Campaign”.

Victims can anticipate that the abuser will do everything in his power to make the victim look really bad. To everyone.

This is a manipulative, power-over move to discredit the victim and paint the abuser in the best light possible (often, the “victim” light).

Smear Campaigns can be humiliating and devastating.

Please seek support if you are experiencing the effects of an abuser’s Smear Campaign.

BTR.ORG is Here For You

BTR.ORG Group Sessions are a safe place to process the trauma of leaving an abusive relationship. Join our Group Sessions to share your experiences, ask questions, and find a community of women who get it. You deserve validation and support as you begin your courageous journey toward safety.

Full Transcript:

Anne (00:00):
Welcome to BTR. This is Anne.
This week, Elizabeth is back on the podcast. If you didn’t hear the beginning of her interview, please go back to last week, we were talking about sexual coercion and how a lot of people coerce victims into doing certain things, making dinner, looking a certain way, exercising, whatever. And they say, if you do all these things, then he’ll love you. That’s a very common Christian refrain and it’s not true. You cannot get someone to love you by complying with abuse and by complying with coercion because they don’t love you. And they’re not going to love you. So we’re gonna jump into the conversation at that point.

“I Had To Make Sure I Did Everything Perfectly”

Elizabeth (04:04):
So I was always reading marriage books. A lot of them were from a Christian perspective and looking back now, I just see how naive a lot of them were coming from. And just a place of you do this and this is what’s going to happen. The problem was, it never worked for me. It always talked about, if you respect your husband then he’s going to love you in the way that you need. I was really focused on my part. I had to make sure that I did everything perfectly. I met his every need. I was always there for him whenever, however, and whatever he needed, which was a lot. If I was reading a book and he came into the room, my attention was on him, but it just never worked. He would treat me with disdain. And when there were issues that would come up, inevitably we could never get them resolved because he would never take responsibility for himself.


And there was occasions where I would elevate things like, okay, I know for certain that what he did or what he said was not okay. I just know it. And I would bring that to him. Well, he would start stonewalling me. He would ignore me for days on end until I finally relented and apologized for whatever my part was and had to let go of whatever had actually been going on with him and his behavior. I was always the problem. And I internalized that message. And a lot of times just felt distraught that I was such a failure as a wife and just a lot of times just felt very discouraged.

“I Didn’t Even Feel Like I Was A Human”


And that just left me really vulnerable because I was looking for affirmation from outside sources all the time of like, am I even acceptable? And it got to the point where I didn’t even feel like I was a human. I felt like I was something different. And that was something obviously I struggled with throughout my life, just feeling like somehow outside of mainstream society. And this was, you know, along that same vein, like I was somehow worse or different or my problems had no solution. And he would talk about how he didn’t believe in feelings, like emotions are not logical. You know, they serve no purpose. So how you feel doesn’t matter. I got that message a lot. So like, if I would say, hey, the way that you did this hurt me in this way, and it would be completely disregarded and mocked because he would say that I was so emotional and that it didn’t matter.


And I needed to be more like him – stoic and just such a leader and so strong. And I just needed to do what he said. There was also a lot of triangulation that went on. He would point to other women and just basically kind of be a fan of them, especially about like news reporters on the TV, like local news reporters. And he knew that that, at one point, had been a dream of mine to be on a broadcast, you know, I’d studied a journalism in college and everything. And so he would be like a fan of these local reporters. And like, you know, when they’d inevitably move on to another station, he would be like grieving. And I was supposed to be like supportive or something, but you know, obviously it just made me feel like I was lesser than.

This Is Psychological & Emotional Abuse


Other times, I’d share my point of view. Like for example, our son was playing basketball. There would be like these really tense situations in the car on the way home where my son had not done something the right way in a game. And I would be like, you know, oh, maybe next time you can try this. And he would say, no, don’t even do that. That’s dumb. And then he would basically restate what I had just said. So it was automatically wrong. And it was almost like, it didn’t matter what I said that like another example of that is, you know, in dining rooms, the chandelier is lower because it’s supposed to be over the table. Well, he had been hitting his head on the chandelier and he just didn’t understand why.
And I was like, well, we just need to move the table back. And he just automatically said, no, that’s not it. And then he paused for a minute and he was like, oh, that was like one of the very few times I can remember that he actually realized like, oh, maybe there is something to what she’s saying. Normally it was just, I’m wrong. What I said was stupid. You know, I just needed to shut up. There was a lot of jokes about me and my physical appearance and like my teeth and I didn’t like it, but I also wanted to be seen by him as someone with a sense of humor.

Trauma Mama Husband Drama

Anne (08:54):
I’m gonna gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which also has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations, as well as infographics at the back.

The Double-Standard of Abuse

Elizabeth (09:55):
I was willing to go along with being self-deprecating, but it was really from a point of cruelty because it wasn’t affectionate. It was just very much putting me down. There was also a lot of double standards. So like one time, like if there was something that went wrong with our cell phones or something like my cell phone, like, oh, I accidentally dropped it and cracked the screen, that was like a crisis. There was something that was wrong. And I, it was my fault. Well, one time I remember his phone fell out of his pocket and he stepped back and stepped on it and shattered the screen. And he came home and he was just like, kind of disappointed. And I was like, oh, you know, like trying to be supportive. And then I realized like if I had done that there would’ve been hell to pay. I would’ve been berated for being so stupid and everything. And, um, of course I wouldn’t treat him like that, but I kind of brought that up to him, like trying to gently say, hey, you know what, what’s with this double standard. And this is an example of kind of being in his world. He said, well, I’m already harsh enough on myself. And so I punish myself, but you, you need to be told that that’s not okay by me because you don’t really think that way

“I Need to Teach You a Lesson”

Anne (11:06):
“I need to teach you a lesson.”

Elizabeth (11:08):
Exactly.

Anne (11:09):
Yeah. Abuser way of thinking of it.

Sexual Coercion in Marriage

Elizabeth (11:12):
Yeah. So yeah, there was, there was that double standard there all the time and he would always have a very convenient explanation for why it made sense. And eventually I just, I knew there wasn’t anything I could do about it. It didn’t make sense to me all the time, but if I tried to challenge him on it, it would escalate into an argument. And then him stonewalling me, ignoring me for days on end until finally I relented. And another angle of this, and it speaks to sort of the evangelical world’s view on sexual relationships between husband and wife, I had this view that I had to meet his needs in intimacy, like every three days, if I was not fulfilling his needs that way, I was falling short as a wife and as we’ve established, like I wanted very much to be a good wife.


And so he was all on board with that. And it was, you know, looking back now, it was just very mechanical. Like he wouldn’t kiss me. It was very much like there was a lack of intimacy in that part of our lives. And eventually he coerced me into doing things that I didn’t wanna do, but I was stuck between this place where I have to meet his needs. And if I don’t, I’m going to not be the kind of wife that I want to be. And he was so persistent and full of pressure to make me do things I didn’t want to do that. I eventually relented. And it was very traumatic for me. And that was actually towards the end. And I was starting to say, you know, to myself, this can’t be right. But I didn’t know what to think.

When Abusers Isolate Victims of Sexual Coercion

Anne (13:01):
Were you sharing it with anyone at the time? No. Okay. So it was, do you think that was part of why you didn’t know what to think was because you didn’t realize that he had isolated you?

Elizabeth (13:14):
Well, I knew that I was isolated. I had very few friends because we couldn’t make couple friends because people didn’t want to be around him. He had the same friends he’s had since high school. And they were people who were willing to go along with what he wanted. And he would always find some reason why other people I would try to bring into our lives, whether they’re from church or from people I knew in high school, like there was something wrong with them. And so, yes, I was very isolated. Now what ended up happening was I got connected with a group of a women through a friend that happened to be married to one of his friends from high school. And she got brought into our little circle. So she was ended up being a way out through this connection, to these other groups of friends.
And they were really the first people that I was able to connect with throughout my marriage.

When Victims Stay Silent to Avoid “Betraying” or “Disrespecting” the Abuser

But before that, it was just always, yes, very isolated. I would try to get like involved in our church, like volunteer or do some sort of Bible study, but there was always some reason why I shouldn’t do that. Like he wanted, you know, if we would drop our son off on Wednesday nights, he would wanna take me on a date or something like that. He would wanna do something with me. And so I was like, well, I’ve gotta, you know, if he’s initiating that, I’ve gotta, you know, do that and not go to the adult Bible study. Yes. It was very isolating. I would’ve never brought those things up to another person just because I didn’t wanna dishonor him. And I felt like I would be disrespecting him or betraying him if I brought those issues up his needs and his comfort and everything was much more important than whatever I was experiencing.


And also, I mean, looking back, I was so used to dealing with things alone and just not having very much support and just accepting things for what they were and not really knowing any different. I was definitely coerced in that way and didn’t know what to do about it. What finally broke everything wide open was that I had, as I said, been very involved in politics in our state and had gotten a job through circumstances outside of my control. That job basically ended for me after like six months, it has to do with the way that the political system works and it was unexpected, but it was the way it happened. He melted down, he could not handle the fact that I had lost my job and that I was gonna be without work or whatever. And we weren’t destitute by any means, but it was like such an injury to him that this had happened.

When Elizabeth Began To Move Toward Safety


And what’s so interesting is like, I’d always sort of thought of him as this leader. And like, he’s, you know, always got such a strong personality and he’s all these opinions and isn’t afraid to share them and such a pronounced sense of right and wrong. Well, like in crises he would like just not be able to function because he was so stressed out or I don’t know, had anxiety or couldn’t control things. And so that would all get taken out on me. And that’s definitely what happened in this situation. So I was the reason why this had gone badly. I could have done things differently. And it was all my fault, of course. And I was trying to tell him like, you know what, let’s just trust God in this situation. And I think things are gonna work out, you know, I’m pretty well respected and there’s other opportunities out there and let’s, you know, let’s see what we can make happen.


I remember like wanting to pray with him, like just pray with him about the situation. And he like, kind of pulled his hands back from me and said, no, I don’t do that. And that was such a wake up to me because, you know, here we are, we’re supposed to be this Christian couple, like what kind of Christian couple doesn’t pray together. Like, but again, there was a sense of shame on me because it felt like I had failed somehow. And I had pushed my husband towards these actions somehow.

Is He Stressed Out, Or Is He Asserting More Control?

Anne (17:16):
Mm. Have you ever considered during that time that instead of him “losing it,” that he saw this as an opportunity to assert more control and abuse you more because you were vulnerable?

Elizabeth (17:32):
I haven’t considered that. No. Talk more about that.

Anne (17:35):
Just, just from hearing it. I don’t know. But so many people view abuse as like when they lost control. What we know is abuse is when they try to assert control or they’re like, kind of are having a, a good time sort of, it doesn’t look like they’re having fun to us cause they look angry and bitter and frustrated and stuff. But it’s like this opportunity for him to truly, really abuse you because you’ve lost your job.

Elizabeth (18:02):
Yeah. I mean very possible. Right.

Anne (18:04):
It’s kind of like kick ’em once they’re down. And I like to point that out. I’m not sure if that was the case in your situation, but I, I like to point that out because a healthy person would not take the opportunity to try and really like assert control and really make sure there’s a power differential at a time like this. Right. Mm-hmm they would be trying to build up their partner or help them feel good about themselves or something like that. When you say that at times of stress, he would really fall apart. One thing I would like victims to consider is during times of stress is when they really wanna assert control. That’s when they really wanna dominate – that’s when they really want to make you feel bad.

“A Crisis is an Opportunity for Abuse”

Elizabeth (18:43):
I mean, just from what you’re describing. Yes. That was a pattern throughout our marriage where if there was a crisis, if there was something that went wrong, you know, I would just wanna deal with it with him and we can get through this together. This is just life. And he would use that like to bark orders at me to make me feel awful for what happened to just, yeah, like you’re saying to assert control. So I think you’re right.

Anne (19:09):
It’s almost for them, a crisis is almost an opportunity for abuse.

Elizabeth (19:14):
It’s very interesting.

Anne (19:15):
It’s like, it’s like a reason to abuse someone. Whereas if you hadn’t lost your job, it’s really hard to go off on you on how bad of an employee you are or something. Right.

Elizabeth (19:24):
All the things that you did wrong. Yeah, no, that’s absolutely right.

Anne (19:28):
Yeah.

Education About Emotional Abuse Saves Lives

Elizabeth (19:29):
So at this point I was working with a coworker who had kind of gotten me this job and felt really bad that this had ended up happening. It was out outside of their control and I didn’t know what to do. So I sort of opened up like saying, this is what’s going on at home. I feel so bad. Can you help me get another job? And this person used that as an opening to say, actually, Elizabeth, I’ve been watching your marriage for a long time. And I’ve seen some things that I’m really concerned about. And they sent me a couple articles on abuse. At first I was really dismissive because you know, I’ve been through what I’d been through with my mom. And I knew that that was child abuse. There was a lot of physical violence that went on in my childhood. Well, that hadn’t actually been happening in my marriage. And so I was sort of dismissive and had his mindset about like, oh, emotions don’t matter. You know, you just need to think about things logically.

Anne (20:26):
Can we pause there for just a second?

Elizabeth (20:28):
Yeah.

“They’re Always Going to Use Your Strengths Against You & Exploit Your Weaknesses”

Anne (20:30):
So I am like hyper logical. Yeah. And so in my marriage, I was like logical about everything and instead I got accused of being a robot and not being feeling enough and not being compassionate enough or whatever. So I just wanna say like any reason that they’re giving is whatever you are. Like, if you’re logical, they’re always going to use your strengths against you and they’re going to exploit your weaknesses.

Elizabeth (21:01):
Yes.

Anne (21:01):
Right? Yes. So in your case, had you been logical? So I just wanna like put this out to everyone, whatever it is, the thing they were telling you, just imagine you were the opposite. I assure you they would’ve acted the same way. Yes. So just to make sure that everybody knows that, like it wasn’t about you being a human, right. I’m so glad you weren’t a robot. Congratulations. okay. Thank you for letting me interrupt. Keep going.

The Hypocrisy of Abuse

Elizabeth (21:27):
It turns out that God made us with all these different parts of ourselves that are actually make up who we are. So our logic, our emotions, you know, our physical bodies, our spirituals, you know, bodies and they’re all integrated together and we can’t cut off one part, you know, and say that that’s what’s healthy.

Anne (21:51):
Right. And also you sound super logical to me, I’m guessing from your job, you had to be really logical and stuff. Yes. So I’m guessing that had you had, let’s pretend for two seconds that he would’ve engaged you in a logical debate. I’m guessing you would’ve won. And the reason he had to go silent was because he never could’ve beat you logically.

Elizabeth (22:10):
I mean, yes,

Anne (22:11):
Because he was being illogical, right?

Elizabeth (22:13):
Yes, you’re right. And another point of hypocrisy there was that he would get angry and anger is an emotion. Exactly. But he would act like that doesn’t count. Yes. So yeah, it was okay for him to be angry, but you know, if I would cry tears of frustration because I was so desperate for him to understand me, I was being illogical or I was so emotional or whatever.

Anne (22:33):
Right.

When Elizabeth Started to See the Reality of Abuse

Elizabeth (22:35):
So I started reading everything I could get my hands on about abuse and light bulb after light bulb started going off. And I started seeing the patterns that he was similar to my mom. So gaslighting, shaming, and criticizing were all there. And I just felt sick because I thought that I had left that in the past. And here it was, you know, I had chosen, you know, at 18 years old, that same path, you know, that I’d gotten, I was, I thought I was getting away from, by marrying into his family and having a family of my own. So I got another job, surprise, surprise. It was a better job. It was more money. It was with good coworkers and I was really good at it, but I kind of had put my foot down.


I realized I was a really spiritual moment for me. I was reading a book by Leslie Vernik, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. I’m sure your audience is familiar with it. Some of them. And there’s a sentence there that says, “Are you willing to surrender the outcome of your marriage to God and let things fall where they may?” By saying no to this saying, I’m not gonna allow you to treat me this way anymore. You know, leaving the outcome because I had been trying to control the outcome. I was so stuck on, we don’t divorce. We’re in this, you know, 14 years of I can grit this out. I can make things work. It’s up to me to make this work. And this realization that I was actually out of my hands and that a large part of it was his responsibility. And he was not taking responsibility at all.

When the Abuser’s Mommy Starts Backing Him Up (We’ve All Been There)


And you know, we had this beautiful house that we’d purchased together. It was kind of a dream house. And we’d only been in there for a couple years and I realized, I’m not gonna do this anymore. I’m not going to put up with this. So I started saying, no, I started calling him out on his behavior and saying, you can’t say that. I don’t want you to say that to me about my teeth. It’s not okay for you to basically tell me that I’m wrong about something. And just dismiss me out of hand. I’m actually saying something that you need to hear. He immediately noticed that something was different. And his mom noticed too. And what’s interesting is that she had always sort of been, you know, really supportive of me. We were, we were good friends and she knew that her son had issues.


And she knew that he didn’t treat me very well. And I kind of was like, I’m not gonna keep going like this. I’m not gonna keep putting up with this. And she understood at that point. Well, there was a couple nights where I had been really being firm on my boundaries and he called his mom crying and she came over and was basically like, you know, you’ve gotta do this. You’ve got to do what he wants you to do. You’ve gotta, you know, you need to stop this silliness about what you’re doing. Cause you know, here she is, she’s been married 35 years or something. And you know, you just, marriage is hard and all this stuff that marriage is hard line is such a lie. Marriage is actually not, shouldn’t be that hard. But we, you know, we always act like, oh, you know, you’ve gotta sacrifice.

Setting Proximity & Communication Boundaries To Move Toward Safety

I moved into the guest room and I was having very little contact with him. I, I realized that I needed everything to come through writing with him so he could text me or email me, but I could not have a conversation with him in person because we would get looped in. And he was so good at manipulating his words and getting me off track and pointing the blame back on me that I would just get so confused. It was a big factor in being able to get clarity, cause I would go back and look at those texts and say, okay, this is what’s going on here. Okay. I can identify what he’s saying here is trying to make me feel guilty.


And there was a point where I spent a lot of a few months getting strong – educating myself about what was going on. And there was a point where I said, okay, nothing is changing. He has not done anything to indicate that he understands what he’s doing. That he cares enough to change his behavior. He’s not showing any remorse or if he is, you know, saying, sorry, there’s no marked change of behavior. So I decided that I needed to separate out of home and I wanted him to move out because his parents had an extra bedroom. He could go live with them. I called him and said, listen, we’re gonna separate. I need you to go to your parents’ house. And that unfortunately didn’t go over well, as I kind of knew it wouldn’t, he has the stubbornness of a rock.

When Elizabeth Began to Move Toward Divorce


Like he cannot be moved unless he’s physically forth out of place. So I ended up moving with a friend who I knew from Bible study. She opened up her home to me and lived there for six weeks a week after I made the realization, like there has been absolutely no movement. I’m going to file for divorce. And I had been thinking about that, like as a possibility, I wasn’t there yet. It was too overwhelming to comprehend. You know, I was thinking about our son thinking about, you know, unfortunately like what Christian image of us, like what does our witness look like?

Anne (27:55):
When you say, what does our witness look like? What do you mean by that?

Elizabeth (27:58):
Just the way that we live our lives is a testimony to what we believe. Okay. You know, that’s a big piece of evangelicalism is just being a witness to the world and showing God’s love and you know, God’s redemption and all of that. And so the idea that our marriage was to a point where it couldn’t be redeemed was really hard for me to grasp. And there’s theological issues there because some people believe that God controls everything we do. So God has the ability to break into his heart and say, you know, you’ve been treating your wife really poorly. When I came to understand when the Bible talks about this a lot is that he has a very hard in heart and God allows that to happen. It’s a choice that he makes. And if he were to soften his heart and to pen to say, I’ve been doing it wrong, I’m gonna go the other way.

Accepting Divorce & Simultaneously Living Christian Evangelicalism


I’m gonna make amends. I’m gonna do the work on myself. That God would redeem that. But since he is so convinced that he is right in everything and he never takes responsibility for his behavior, God allows that him to make that choice. He has the free will to make that choice. And I had to come to that realization and because we do want to sort of have this, this idea that butterflies and rainbows and God will do all these things, but here’s the thing. We work in cooperation with God. He didn’t make us to be puppet. What it means to be a follower of Christ is you surrender your life and say, God, this my life is yours. You know, you move that way every day. Well, if your heart is hardened, but yet you say those words, you know, he’s, you’re still not falling Christ because your heart is not there.

When The Abuser Begins the Smear Campaign


So anyway, during this time he started this smear campaign. While we were separated, my boss came into my office one day and said, Elizabeth, I’m hearing things. And I don’t know what to think. You know, tell me what’s going on. And I was so mortified. He had had his boss, he worked in a similar way for the state and had access to people who had access to my boss and basically had set them on me through my boss. And his mom was also on me and his aunt, who I had been really good friends with and who seemed really supportive of me and, and saw his behavior was suddenly against me. So that was extremely painful. And he was making all sorts of accusations about me, about my motivations and saying that basically, you know, we just had some communication problems and here I was causing all these problems and saying all these things about him.


And I was devastated because I was obviously just mortified that it had leaked into my work life, my career, you know, it just was more evidence that there was no change and that he didn’t really love me. He couldn’t really love me. You don’t treat people that you love like that. And that was a really hard, um, realization because we’d always made it a priority to say love you when got off the phone or something like that. And so realizing like those are just words and then the way he behaved or even when he’s capable of, you know, I, I don’t believe that he’s capable of actually loving other people in the way that, you know, love actually means that was a really some really hard realizations during that time period. But I ended up being able to move back into our house after about six weeks of separation.

Mediation With An Abuser


A judge ordered him to move out for the remainder of our divorce proceedings. We were able to work things out through a conciliator. Although I had to sit across the table from him and basically work things out with our son. And I unfortunately was in this spot where I think a lot of survivors do this where like they’ve had all these realizations. And so they’re trying to get other people to understand and like explain all these things. And it’s like the meme with the guy and the, the threads and they’re making, you know, all these connections. So I was trying to under, you know, explain to this lawyer, who’s supposed to be mediating for us about everything that goes on and she’s like, I don’t care. Like this is, you know, I’m just here to make sure that everything goes well and blah, blah, blah. So we ended up being able to come to a divorce agreement. I think during this time he sort of realized that he couldn’t control me anymore. And so he discarded me and I wasn’t any use to him.

Anne (32:12):
We’re gonna pause the conversation right here but Elizabeth and I are going to continue talking next week. So please stay tuned and join us next week. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week stay safe out there.

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