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Kathy Marshack News

Choose Your Empathy Perspective Wisely – It’s the Difference Between Mental Health and Anguish

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Empathy is what binds all humans. It’s in the act of relating and connecting to others that we become more human and develop our identity within the human family.

On the other hand, Empathy Dysfunction can divide us from that human family. Attempting to engage with someone with Empathy Dysfunction can leave us feeling unheard and unimportant. This disconnect brings us down emotionally and creates chaos in our lives in no time flat!

Empathy is multidimensional – it’s a dynamic, evolving process, not a human trait. From empathy comes the ability to hold dear the feelings and thoughts of others. And if your empathy skills are highly-evolved you won’t confuse the psychological boundaries. You won’t be taking responsibility for another person’s intentions or feelings. This distinction is critical. Empathy is respectfully allowing the other person to take responsibility for his or her own life. (In AA or other 12-step programs, the ability to do this is called detachment.)

Because most people register EmD-4 on the scale, (more about the Empathy Dysfunction Scale in an upcoming blog post) they can often confuse these boundaries and take on too much for themselves. They energetically internalize the feelings and pain of others — and often have trouble distinguishing someone else’s discomfort from our own.

A new study shows that how we arrive at the empathy – our perspective – is as important as being empathetic. Researchers found that there are two routes we take to achieving empathy.

One approach observes and infers how someone feels – the imagine-other perspective-taking (IOPT).
The second approach is putting yourself in someone’s shoes – the imagine-self perspective-taking (ISPT).

How do these empathy perspectives differ?

You can acknowledge another person’s feelings without it affecting you deeply. That’s the IOPT perspective.

The ISPT ups the ante by actually taking on the emotions you see in the other person. They’re sad and you feel sad. The researchers in this study found that:

“When we are feeling threatened or anxious, some peripheral blood vessels constrict, making it harder for the heart to pump blood through the body, and people who engaged in ISPT had greater levels of this threat response compared to people who engaged in IOPT.”

It’s important to learn how to continue to be empathetic without that empathy creating a burden. If you don’t, you’ll burn out or at the least shy away from helping others, because it’s just too painful.

Dr. Poulin, one of the co-authors of the above study, suggests, “Rather than saying to a child, ‘How would you feel if that were done to you?’ maybe we should be saying, ‘Think about how that person is feeling,’”

My new book, When Empathy Fails – How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you sheds a great deal of light on how you can protect yourself and still be a highly empathetic person. My readers get a sneak preview…download a free chapter even before it’s available for sale. After reading it, I’d love to hear feedback over on my Facebook page.

Preparing the Next Generation to Take a Stand Against Corruption

Monday, January 15, 2018


Young people are upset and confused by how deep corruption, greed and abuse of power runs in our society so we need to help this next generation create a world where there is no #MeToo.Have you had a conversation with a young person about what we see going on in the news today? Are they concerned or bewildered when they see how deep corruption, greed, and abuse of power runs in our society? If you’re a parent, a teacher, a grandparent, or mentor to the next generation, you want to give careful thought about the message you’re passing on to them.

Isn’t it true that we tend to think of ethics, and a sense of justice, as inbred qualities every person has from birth? And yes, we are born with a conscience and a sense of fairness. But ethics and justice go deeper than that. For one thing, true ethics and social justice go beyond standing up for your own self. Ideally, they lead to standing up in defense of others. A deep sense of justice should motivate you to defend those who don’t have the ability or the opportunity to defend themselves. It takes real courage to stand up against a flawed institution.

Think about the #MeToo movement. There are many brave women who have stood up and come forward to reveal their experiences with abuse of power. But an equal number, if not more, of men and women who have not personally experienced abuse, have chosen to stand up right alongside them, helping lend strength to their voice. There are situations where one woman has become the public face amidst a sea of anonymous accusers, giving more credibility to the accusations.

Why is this culture of abuse and sexual harassment so prevalent in the first place? Because for years, sexual harassment was viewed as “normal.” Almost every woman has experienced some sort of unwanted sexual advances. It has gotten to the point where many women consider it a part of starting and advancing in their career. And many men come up in universities and corporations being led to believe that with power and prestige come the freedom to do whatever they want.

The issue of ethics and social justice are taught skills and qualities. Most young people haven’t yet been exposed to the corruption that is possible with unlimited power, money, and other resources. They have no experience dealing with these issues. It is our job as parents, educators and mentors to prepare them for what lies ahead in their careers and lives.

How can we help the next generation to create a world where there is no #MeToo? 
  • Create and enforce boundaries. It is absolutely vital that children learn to establish and enforce personal boundaries. They must learn that no matter how much power or influence the person asking has, they have the right to control what they do and allow others to do to them. Children must learn to stand up for themselves, even in the face of powerful people. Also teach them to respect other people’s physical and emotional boundaries.
  • Discuss and deconstruct gender roles and biases. There is nothing wrong with boys playing with trucks and girls dressing up like a princess. But make sure your kids know that they don’t have to fit into a certain box based on their gender. They can’t expect other kids to act a certain way or prefer certain things based on their gender, either.
  • Engage young people in meaningful discussions. Sexual harassment sadly begins early. Students experience it, and those who don’t, will hear about it on the news and through social media. Educators should engage their classes in conversations on the topic. Ask students questions, let them express themselves. This helps young people see that sexual harassment is not a taboo subject. It is something that can and should be discussed openly.
  • Teach young people to be each other’s allies, not just bystanders. Help the children in your life learn how to act as allies and support their peers when they see something. Teach them “ally behavior” – supporting the victim by saying something in the moment to try to stop the situation or telling a trusted adult about what happened.
  • Show them they are not alone. It is well known that someone is more willing to report a crime or challenge authority, if at least one other person joins her. So communicate with your children and make sure they know they have someone in their corner. School administrators and counsellors can create a culture in which students feel comfortable reporting problems by being approachable and showing empathy when students come forward. 
Could you use some help engaging your children in discussions about sexual harassment and helping them navigate through this tumultuous world? Or perhaps you’re coming to terms with experience that in hindsight feels like abuse? Contact my office in Jantzen Beach to schedule an appointment. With the pressures and time constraints of work and school, you may want to advantage of my online therapy option.

Make sure to sign-up for my newsletter to kept updated on the release of my newest book, “WHEN EMPATHY FAILS: How to stop those hell-bent on destroying you.” If you’ve felt powerless in the face of abuse by someone with severe Empathy Dysfunction and are ready to take back your power, please grab a copy as soon as it’s available.

How Spirituality Can Help You Survive the Autism Disconnect

Wednesday, May 24, 2017


Discover how to survive spiritually with an Aspergers partner who wants to know who you are…but just doesn't get your whole body-mind-spirit connection.Spirituality defines us and connects us with others. It’s an essential third element of the body/mind/spirit connection that makes us truly balanced. It involves a self-awareness and internal dialog that, over time, identifies who we are as individuals, where we fit into the world, why we’re here, what gives purposeful meaning to life. These are deeply introspective questions we all must struggle with at some point in our lives.

Spirit is that singular life force that directs and shapes our attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. At the best of times, a person may take a lifetime to come to grips with their spirituality. However, concepts such as these are difficult for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder to grasp.

The author of "Spirituality and the Autism Spectrum," Abe Isanon presents us with a dilemma when it comes to sharing our inner life with a loved one on the Autism Spectrum. He discusses how difficult it is for our Aspies to come to terms with their humanity and their spiritual nature, when they can neither reflect upon, nor express their own life experiences. (To get a glimpse into the Autistic mind, Mary Hynes, on CBC Radio Tapestry, delivers an interesting interview about spirituality with Temple Grandin and Anthony Easton who are both on the spectrum. It’s entitled: “Through a Different Lens: Autism and the Divine.”)

Because of this disconnect, Aspies lack insight and empathy into who we are, which can leave their caregivers and loved ones bereft. Just because someone in your family isn’t spiritual, doesn’t mean you can’t survive spiritually. In fact, we must never give up on love, faith and hope. It’s what keeps us going.

At our next free teleconference we’ll talk about how to survive spiritually with a partner who may want to know who we are. . .but they just don't get the whole picture. And the missing piece isn't small is it? One Aspie husband said of his wife, that she had dreams for her life, "But I don't have dreams; I am not sure what dreams really are."

If you’re a member of the Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, please join us for our free teleconference Aspergers and Spiritual Survival on Thursday, June 1, 2017 at 9:00 AM PT. The focus of this call will explore this difficult subject and how to survive the loss.

Also, if you haven’t read my book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”, you can get your first chapter free by clicking here. This book has become an important resource for those who want to understand their Aspie partners better.

Muffled Love – Why Aspie Love Is Different

Monday, May 08, 2017


I’ve often been criticized for saying Aspies lack empathy; perhaps another way to consider Aspie love is that it’s muffled – they feel but can’t express it.One morning I was trying to fathom how Aspies love. I’ve often been criticized that I’m wrong to say that those with ASD lack empathy. Perhaps another way to consider Aspie love is that it’s "muffled;" filtered through a system of fits and starts and blind alleys and occasionally smooth sailing.

Empathy is far more than a collection of sensitivities. For example, the human body is 90% water with some chemicals mixed in, but I doubt that anyone would think this concoction of water and chemicals constitutes a human being. The same is true of empathy. Empathy is much more than the sum of its parts. Empathy is a marvelous symphony of instruments, musicians, composer, conductor and audience. It’s an interaction that creates the thrill of the concert. Just the same with love; it’s the interaction that makes it the art of loving.

I suspect what is so confusing about an Aspie's love is that it’s not complete. They may feel love in their heart, but never express it to you. They may melt into tears when they see an animal in distress, but have no compassion for your suffering. They may bristle with defensiveness if criticized but feel no compunction when criticizing you. The occasional offering of love stalled by a moment of disconnect is not loving, is it?

I’ve known enough Aspies to realize that they do feel love, of a sort, but it isn’t the reciprocal love we expect and have with others. The love is there inside them but it’s hidden by those blind alleys, so we have to assume it’s there. How confusing.

If you’re a member of my Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, please join us as we discuss this topic during our next free teleconference entitled: Muffled Love. It will be on Thursday, May 18th at 3PM PT. If you’re a NT in an Aspie/NT relationship and haven’t joined yet, please feel free to do so. Not only will you learn a lot, but you’ll find a group of very supportive members who understand what you’re going through.

If you’d prefer a one-on-one with me to ask questions, please take advantage of my Asperger Syndrome Remote Education. It’s not therapy, but it will help you have a deeper understanding of how Autism impacts your life. Not sure what we can talk about? Reading a free chapter from my book, “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”, will give you a place to start. Click on the image below to download your complimentary copy.

Setting Up the Next Generation for Success

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


Child holding parent's handWhen you ask a parent what they want for their children, most will tell you that they want them to be happy and successful. Success is a broad term, though. Success can equate with academic achievements, community influence, and wealth. It can also refer to character. Most parents want their children to develop industriousness, generosity, and kindness.

However you measure success, what does it take to get there? Does your child’s success depend on wealth, the best schools, a nuclear family arrangement…?

The New York Times published the article, “What Does It Take to Climb Up the Ladder?”, and I found it intriguing. It examined the less-easily measured qualities that lead to success, like resiliency, curiosity, and self-control in relation to socio-economic and family status. What was interesting to me is that family money, in and of itself, is not a determining factor in development of these character qualities. What has more bearing on character development is the structure of the family unit.

How so? The young people who struggle the most come from broken homes, often from single-parent households. This quote from the article really sums it up: “Family disruption perpetuates disadvantage by creating barriers to the development of cognitive and noncognitive skills, which in turn sharply reduces access to college. The lack of higher education decreases life chances, including the likelihood of achieving adequate material resources and a stable family structure for the next generation.”

While this is interesting, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Children from a wealthy, stable, well-educated family can lack the resiliency and grit to make it through life successfully. On the other hand, many wonderful humans come from single-parent or disadvantaged households.

Whatever your family situation is, here are some tips to help raise successful children:

Embrace an authoritative parenting style. Authoritative parents are rational, receptive, and flexible. They encourage independence in their children, but give them only as much responsibility as they can handle. Instead of demanding blind obedience, they set clear rules and are willing to explain those rules to their children. Children of authoritative parents are independent, assertive, self-confident, and socially responsible and tend to do well academically. Because they are allowed room to try new things on their own, these children are well aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and are ready to work on both.

Model the behaviors you want to see in your children. Your children see everything you do, and soak it up like a sponge! Make sure your actions are saying what you want them to say. Be honest and authentic.

Don’t focus too much on achievement. Of course, you are proud of your child when they get good grades or excel in some other way. But are those individual achievements really what’s most important? Isn’t it the journey? True success comes from teamwork. The most successful people surround themselves with talented people who make up for what they lack. If you focus too much on the individual achievements of your children, they will not learn how to work with others, ask for help, and may give up out of discouragement.

Offer praise (but not too much). Children need praise to build their self-esteem, but not so much that they depend on praise from others to feel good about themselves. Their confidence must come from within. When you do praise your children, praise the effort they put in to something.

Say no. This simple, but powerful technique is key to raising a successful child. It teaches children to work hard for what they want, and to be patient when they have to wait for it. Help them set goals and create a plan to achieve them. This will teach your children how to deal with the initial disappointment, and refocus on the goal ahead.

Parenting is never easy and sometimes you find yourself unprepared to deal with a challenge. Rather than spinning your wheels and getting more and more frustrated with your child, talk to a family counselor. The right advice and the right time can save you and your family a lot of heartache. If you live in the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area, please contact my office to set up an appointment.

Empathy 101: Understanding the Neurotypical/Asperger Relationship

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Empathy 101: Understanding the Neurotypical – Asperger RelationshipEmpathy is a complex, multi-faceted skillset that allows a person to clearly recognize the other person, while holding constant their own feelings and thoughts. It’s respecting the boundaries of the other person. You don't confuse their pain or thoughts with your own.

Furthermore, the highest level of empathy is what I call "Radiant Empathy," or the ability to care for the feelings and thoughts of others without any need for reciprocity. It takes a lifetime to develop Radiant Empathy because it’s the combination of a healthy brain and life experience.

Asperger’s Syndrome is an empathy disorder, the result of the person not having a Theory of Mind. Basically, they don’t easily recognize that another person has beliefs, desires, intentions, feelings and perspectives that differ from their own (unless it is specifically pointed out). Empathy is a complex system that requires the brain to connect Emotional Empathy and Cognitive Empathy.

Neurotypical persons in relationships with those with Asperger’s Syndrome expect and need empathy, but they don’t receive it. This makes them feel so alone, depressed, and socially isolated. They suffer from numerous stress-related chronic illnesses, because no one really understands what they’re going through.

Once you understand the quality of empathy that is part of every breath you take… and is totally absent in your Aspie, you can better navigate this life. Furthermore, this understanding also helps you redirect your energy to take better care of yourself and to embrace a more loving reality. This doesn't mean everything works out; it just means that you're more in charge. That can feel good.

If you’re a member of our Asperger Syndrome: Partners & Family of Adults with ASD Meetup, please join us for the next teleconference, Empathy 101 on Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 3:00 PM.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to read a free chapter of “Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD)”. This book discusses the science behind Aspie behavior and how you can initiate the rules of engagement that help your Aspie give you the emotional support that you need.

Maternal Depression Is Linked to Child’s Inability to Show Empathy

Monday, March 06, 2017


Maternal Depression Is Linked to Child’s Inability to Show EmpathyDid you know that 1 in 9 women suffer from depression during or after pregnancy? That’s the latest statistic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s appalling that not all of these sufferers feel free to seek treatment. Especially in the light of a recent study I want to share with you.

But first a little background… Last year I wrote about the increased risk of autism in the children born to women who take SSRIs for depression. While that is of concern to health professionals, untreated depression is too serious and outweighs that risk. As an alternative, I like to incorporate holistic health treatments and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as often as I can.

Because this is such a serious health concern, I continually monitor for the newest information to share with you. Recently I came across an article in the Science Daily that further enlarges on the topic of maternal depression and its effect on the child’s inability to show empathy, often a hallmark of autism.

The study followed over 70 mother-child parings – 27 with depressed mothers and 45 without. They tracked them for the first 11 years of the child’s life.

They found that maternal depression across the first years of life impacts children’s neural basis of empathy. In children of depressed mothers, the neural reaction to pain stops earlier in the area related to socio-cognitive processing. According to Professor Ruth Feldman, “this reduced mentalizing-related processing of others' pain, is perhaps because of difficulty in regulating the high arousal associated with observing distress in others.”

The way the depressed mothers interacted with their children was crucial to the difference between these two groups. They were less synchronized or attuned with their children and had more intrusive behavior that triggered this reduced empathetic response in their children.

Identifying this depressed mother-child behavior opens the way for more effective interventions at this crucial period in a child’s development. I’m awaiting further results from their ongoing study into the way that maternal care affects the development of a child’s brain, endocrine systems, behavior and relationships.

This new understanding highlights the absolute necessity to treat depression in mothers. The long-range consequences are too serious to ignore. If you or someone you know is suffering from depressive symptoms, please seek help from a mental health professional immediately. There are numerous, effective ways to treat it, with and without medication. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment so we can explore your options.

ASD Emotional Sensitivity is Not the Same as Empathy

Wednesday, March 01, 2017


ASD sensitivity isn’t the same as Radiant Empathy, which is the highest level of empathy where you care for others’ feelings without needing reciprocity.John Elder Robison, whose Asperger’s Syndrome was undiagnosed until he was 40 years old, gets a lot of play for his books on his life with autism. His latest book about undergoing transcranial stimulation, "Switched On" leads readers to believe that for a short period of time he experienced empathy. This is simply not true.

Empathy is so much more than being sensitive. In fact many NTs are stumped by their Aspies because they appear to be very sensitive and they might be. Parents make this mistake often with their ASD children. Because your ASD child loves you or bursts into tears when they see a pet hurting doesn’t mean they have empathy.

Empathy is a complex, multi-faceted skillset that I sum up as Namaste – "the Soul in me recognizes and honors the Soul in you." It’s the ability to clearly recognize the other person, while holding constant your own feelings and thoughts. It’s respecting the boundaries of the other person even if you sympathize. You don't confuse their pain or thoughts with your own. Furthermore, the highest level of empathy is what I call "Radiant Empathy," or the ability to care for the feelings and thoughts of others without any need for reciprocity.

John Robison never experienced the state of empathy, but with transcranial stimulation, he was more aware of his own feelings and he was even more unable to regulate them (typical of an Aspie). If you have Radiant Empathy you can regulate your feelings and not run amok.

It takes a lifetime to develop Radiant Empathy because it’s the combination of a healthy brain and life experience. But science will keep trying to discover the components of life as if the sum total of a human is nothing more than the sum of its parts.

We’ll discuss this very important subject at our next TELECONFERENCE: “Sensitivity is not Empathy” on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 2:30 PM. Our approach won’t be so much from an intellectual point of view but for two reasons…

1) When you better understand that your Aspie is operating in the relationship without empathy, you can more easily find ways to communicate.

2) You may find that you can be freer to strive for Radiant Empathy, which actually makes your life more joyful.

If you’d like to learn more about the science of Asperger’s Syndrome, click on the image below and download a free chapter of my book. And don’t forget to invite the ASD professionals you know to join the special Meetup I’ve created for them…Asperger Syndrome: Continuing Education for Psychotherapists.

 


Autism or Narcissism – How Can You Tell?

Wednesday, February 01, 2017


Autism or Narcissism – How Can You Tell?Autism and Narcissism have something in common. They are both empathy disorders, the result of the individual not having a Theory of Mind. What this means is that they don’t recognize that another person has beliefs, desires, intentions, feelings and perspectives that differ from their own. Empathy is a complex system that requires the brain to connect Emotional Empathy and Cognitive Empathy.

Since Narcissism and Autism display similar traits, how can you tell the difference between Narcissism and Asperger’s?


  • First, Autism is a diagnosis and narcissism is only a trait of many disorders. 
  • Second, not all Autistics are the same since it is a spectrum disorder. 
  • Third, all Autistics are narcissistic since a defining characteristic of Autism is lack of empathy.

It’s important to know that it isn't narcissism per se that defines the Autistic. It is how the Autistic works with their tendency toward narcissism, self-absorption and lack of empathy. If the Autistic takes responsibility for their narcissism and truly wants to repair the rifts that their unempathic behavior creates, then there’s hope for the relationship.

On the other hand, if the Autistic believes that their singular narcissistic worldview is all that matters, then it’s probably irrelevant that they’re diagnosed with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). This person tips toward narcissism and that's how they need to be treated.

If you’ve wasted too much of your precious life trying to accommodate an ASD narcissist, whether it’s a family member, coworker or neighbor, then I invite you to join our Asperger Syndrome: Partners and Family of Adults with ASD Meetup. We have monthly discussions that will help you deal with this crazy making life.


Our next free international teleconference: How is Autism different than Narcissim? will be held on Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 2:30 PM. You’ll find out how to distinguish whether it’s narcissism or Autism that you’re dealing with. That makes all the difference in how you’ll respond.

If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and you need some 1-on-1 with me to discuss your situation privately, please feel free to contact my office and we’ll schedule an appointment to discuss ways to improve your situation.

Tap into the Science and Power of Gratitude to Become Happier and More Resilient

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


Tap into the Science and Power of Gratitude to Become Happier and More ResilientAs we enter this season of thankfulness, it’s good to reflect on how often we ask ourselves, “What am I grateful for today?” Not only does a daily gratitude practice like gratitude journaling make us more pleasant to be around, gratitude also improves our health.

Asking yourself this simple question every day is powerful enough to change your brain’s chemistry! As a result, people who look for reasons to be grateful experience better mental health, emotional wellbeing and resiliency in the face of difficulties. Why does gratitude have such power?

When you experience gratitude, neural circuits are activated in your brain. Dopamine and serotonin production increases, and these neurotransmitters produce calming results. The more you stimulate these neural pathways, the stronger and more automatic they become, which is an example of Hebb’s Law that states, “neurons that fire together wire together.” The more you do it, the easier it becomes.

This means that if you’re looking for the negative, the neural pathways for negative thinking become stronger. But if you begin a daily gratitude practice, you will start noticing what’s going right in your life instead. This is great news! You can remake yourself into a positive person, even if you’ve tended toward being negative your whole life.

One interesting study on gratitude was conducted by the Department of Psychology, at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC. They partnered with Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation to see how “gratitude ratings would correlate with activity in brain regions associated with moral cognition, value judgment and theory of mind.” Dr. Glenn Fox describes their research and finding:

“The stimuli used to elicit gratitude were drawn from stories of survivors of the Holocaust, as many survivors report being sheltered by strangers or receiving lifesaving food and clothing, and having strong feelings of gratitude for such gifts. The participants were asked to place themselves in the context of the Holocaust and imagine what their own experience would feel like if they received such gifts. For each gift, they rated how grateful they felt.
When the brain feels gratitude, it activates areas responsible for feelings of reward, moral cognition, subjective value judgments, fairness, economic decision-making and self-reference. These areas include the ventral- and dorsal- medial pre-frontal cortex, as well as the anterior cingulate cortex."
A lot of people conflate gratitude with the simple emotion of receiving a nice thing. What we found was something a little more interesting. The pattern of [brain] activity we see shows that gratitude is a complex social emotion that is really built around how others seek to benefit us.”

In other words, gratitude doesn’t just show up in the brain’s reward center. It involves being a morally and socially aware individual who is able to display empathy. (This may help explain why you feel unappreciated and unloved by your partner who has Aspergers. Their brain functions differently so they are socially awkward and lack the ability to deeply empathize with you.)

Why not begin a gratitude journal today? Write down five things you’re grateful for. As your list grows, you’ll look at life differently, plus you’ll have something encouraging to read when you’re feeling down. High on my gratitude list is that you’re part of my community.



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