In this new series, we discuss the primary relationship that determines your personality – your relationship with your mother. We share insights from Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development starting with 0 – 3 years old. We explore:
- Where our capacity for hope comes from
- How much do you trust or mistrust the world and yourself
- Why some people are independent while others needy and easily led
- How your early relationship with your mother defines the roots of your personality
- Get inspired to transform your past and create a new true personality
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Welcome to Soul Sessions with CreativeMind with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. Join us each week for inspiring conversation about personal development based on Jungian philosophy, Eastern spirituality, and social neuroscience. Spend each week with us to explore deep topics in a practical way. Let’s begin.
Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, welcome to another episode of Soul Sessions with CreativeMind. I’m Debra Maldonado, here with Dr. Rob Maldonado. We are excited to bring a new series to you about the relationship with our mother, really wonderful mother archetype. We’re going to talk about the development of ourselves early in life and how that relationship with the mother and this divine feminine impacts your personality and your life in both work and love. But before we get started, please don’t forget to subscribe to our podcasts whether you’re watching us on Spotify, iTunes, or YouTube. Just click on the Subscribe button and be sure to not miss another episode. Let’s talk about the roots of your life in work and in love, personality roots that we’re talking about today. It all has to do with the mother archetype.
Robert Maldonado 01:29
Where does it all begin? We thought we’d take a slightly different approach and look at Erik Erikson’s stages of development but through the lens of the relationship with a mother. The mother plays the role of the primary relationship in everyone’s life. Here we think of mothering, not so much your biological mother, but anyone who takes care of you.
Debra Maldonado 02:03
It could be your adopted mother, could be your grandmother, it could be aunt, someone who is there for you, big sister could be a mother.
Robert Maldonado 02:11
Father could be your mother. Mothering is an activity, it’s the taking care of someone, bringing them up. Erikson had an interesting model. He came from the psychodynamic school, school of Freud and Jung, thinking of the mind in this very fluid way that it’s interacting with the family, with society, with culture. He begins this idea that the first stage of development, the first 18 months, is the establishment of trust versus mistrust. We can think of it as a spectrum. It’s not black or white, it’s not like you’re either going to have trust or completely mistrustful but somewhere in that spectrum, depending on your relationship with your mother especially, you’re going to establish that foundation for developing your sense of self.
Debra Maldonado 03:31
I’m not a parent, but I hear this a lot: should you leave your baby crying? Should you always give them everything they need? As a child psychologist, what’s the rule on that? Because it’s always the debate.
Robert Maldonado 03:52
I came up with a point of view that says culture is really important. Cultural norms and expectations play a big role in something like that. If you’re in a culture where it’s expected and appropriate, it’s part of the culture to not pick up the baby when they’re crying to foster some independence through that mechanism, then it’s perfectly fine because everyone feels okay with it. It’s not a big deal.
Debra Maldonado 04:38
There’s not a lot of anxiety around it. I’m doing it because I read in a book I should let the baby but I’m feeling guilty. The baby can pick up the mother’s energy around it or the energy of people around them.
Robert Maldonado 04:50
It’s what we learn through osmosis. We are picking up information continuously. Our brain is designed for that. On the contrary, if it’s not okay in the culture to leave a baby crying and you’re trying out some new experimental technique, the mother is anxious about it and doesn’t really feel okay with it, but feels compelled to do it for some reason, then the baby’s going to pick up on that.
Debra Maldonado 05:25
Even the mother going through that battle where sometimes she does pick them up and sometimes she leaves them cry. It’s inconsistent. Will that also cause underlying trust: is someone going to be there for me when I cry?
Robert Maldonado 05:38
Let’s back up a little bit because this is an important understanding to have about what’s going on in those early months, the first 18 months of life. We know from neurodevelopmental research that the brain is overproducing neural connections, it’s growing at fast speed, overproducing these connections in order to be ready for whatever comes its way, being prepared for anything. As far as the senses, it appears that they’re sleeping and not tuning into anything. But that’s not really what’s happening. They’re listening to everything, they tune into the mother’s emotions. They’re synchronizing their brain waves with the mother or anybody around them. A lot of stuff going on internally. If you just look at them, you say they’re not doing anything, but they’re learning, absorbing the environment continuously.
Debra Maldonado 06:58
If you ever see a baby, their eyes are always starting around and checking out everything.
Robert Maldonado 07:04
Research shows they’re able to focus on faces very early on, sometimes the day they’re born they can focus on a face more than an abstract image or figure. There’s a lot of intelligence born with the baby.
Debra Maldonado 07:28
There’s was a baby on YouTube, the mother was singing a sad song, and the baby was crying because the mother was feeling the sadness of the song. The baby didn’t understand the words obviously but could pick up the subtle emotional state of the mother feeling the sadness. If the mother holds anxiety, not speaking it but holding it, or depressed, or angry, or joyful, the baby will synchronize, the brain will synchronize with the mother, the baby will learn about the environment through that interaction.
Robert Maldonado 08:06
If you think about the gestation period, those nine months that the baby’s in the belly, that’s not really the end of the gestation period because when the baby’s born, they’re completely helpless, they’re dependent on the mother for everything, food, comfort, safety. If you look at some animals in nature, they’re born, and within a few minutes they’re ready to run. Essentially, when the baby’s born, they’re still developing rapidly, just as if they were still inside the womb, they’re inside the emotional womb of the family. Whatever the mother feels, the baby feels. Mothers sometimes would ask me “What’s the best thing I can do for my baby?” I would tell them “The best thing you could do is be happy.” Because happiness communicates “It’s gonna be a great life, you’re gonna have a great time.” It kicks in all those great neurotransmitters that we thrive on.
Debra Maldonado 09:38
What cultivates trust at that age for the baby to develop a healthy sense of trust? It’s a spectrum. It’s not trust or no trust, there’s a spectrum. You can ask yourself as an adult “How much do I trust the world? How much do I trust myself?” Are you on the low scale or the high scale? Are you in the middle? It has to do with this very important 18 months stage. What things besides the mother not picking them up or feeling anxious, what other reasons or events could happen to make a child cultivate mistrust?
Robert Maldonado 10:21
We know from all kinds of research that consistency is really important for our sense of safety, sense of security, can we trust the world or not? The more rhythm, the more pattern, the more consistency we can build into the baby’s experience, the better.
Debra Maldonado 10:51
For example, the parents get divorced, when the baby’s born, or the father leaves, there’s sharing of custody, the mothers here, then she’s not. That could be an issue?
Robert Maldonado 11:18
In a situation like that, baby’s going to have an emotional imprint of that disruption of the pattern, of the consistency but it won’t be a cognitive one. The baby is not thinking at that point “There was a terrible divorce in my family”, but they feel it. Whatever the emotions, especially the emotions of the mother, because remember, she’s the primary relationship the baby has, if the mother is sad, or depressed, shuts down, is distracted because of all that, that’s going to impact the development of the baby.
Debra Maldonado 12:10
What about the mother having serious bipolar, where they’re really depressed or really high, it’s inconsistent. Maybe they’re there all the time but emotionally, they’re either shut down or up and down, and the baby doesn’t know what to expect.
Robert Maldonado 12:28
It would depend on what else is going on around the baby. We’re very resilient as human beings, we’re survivors. That’s why there’s almost a billion of us on the planet, we are designed for survival. All we need is one person in our environment that is sane and gives us a helping hand, one sane person to model for us that it’s gonna be okay and communicate that to us.
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Debra Maldonado 14:07
How does that develop into a persona? We talked about personas in Jungian psychology where we have an ego that creates a social personality. The person who is more on the lower scale of trust, more mistrust, they’d probably ask a lot of questions, be more hesitant to trust other people, it takes a long time to get close to you, not take risks, look for everything in writing, reinforcing everything, always feeling like you’re gonna get swindled out of something. Someone who’s high trust would be someone who just assumes the best of everyone. I was shocked at the world because my mother was always there for us, I always expected the best from people, I was always disappointed that people were not nice sometimes. But early on, that foundation of being willing to start from “I assume they’re good” versus “I don’t know if they’re gonna hurt me or not”. What would you say the personality is?
Robert Maldonado 15:23
I’m glad you asked because I memorized this paper I wrote down. If the person develops mistrust, when they cry, nobody comes to pick them up, or it’s spotty — sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t, which is sometimes even worse, to have an inconsistent reaction than when they never come. The mistrust one would express itself as in adulthood as someone who avoids relationships, someone who is suspicious, closed, guarded, unwilling to let others go, needy in relationships, maybe a loner, someone who is unhappy, someone who makes poor eye contact, they don’t look people in the eye, don’t share self or possessions.
Debra Maldonado 16:39
Kids that don’t share their toys, would that be from that?
Robert Maldonado 16:45
In development, of course, the person is developing. You can never say they’re going to be like that for the rest of their life because they’re still in the process of development. But in adulthood, some of those things get pretty hardwired in there. We used to think once they’re hardwired, that’s it, you’re done for. But now we understand the thing we call personality, the hard wiring of the brain, it can certainly and definitely be changed through learning, through active participation in your own reeducating of your social skills, your sense of self.
Debra Maldonado 17:27
The clingy, needy is like you’re looking for a way to hang on, to prove they’re going to be there for you, “I need you to prove to me you love me” because you don’t really have that consistent. On the opposite end, you have relationships where if a friend doesn’t call you in a while, you don’t go “She hates me”, she has her own life. It’s a normal way of letting people in and out of your life versus clinging on.
Robert Maldonado 18:05
Let me read the list. If somebody develops trust, everything goes your way, everything goes as good as possible, we know there’s no perfection, but there’s pretty good, loving, consistent relationship with the mother, she takes care of you, is reasonable. You express trust this way. You invest in relationships, you’re open, not suspicious in your attitude towards others, you let people go when they need to go, you welcome touching, you’re affectionate, you’re okay with affection, you have good eye contact, you share yourself and your possessions.
Debra Maldonado 18:59
Share yourself emotionally, share your feelings, share who you are, you’re open.
Robert Maldonado 19:07
You’re not guarded. It’s actually a personality trait most personality tests measure in some form.
Debra Maldonado 19:19
As an adult, how open you are, or how shut down you are, why this is important for coaches is that a lot of times someone will tell you “I don’t trust anyone anymore because my ex-husband cheated on me and I shut down after that. I was so trusting before then.” But what happens is we know unconsciously we have that mistrust already. We pick someone who will confirm that mistrust. We think that person is the cause but actually the cause is early on from this first stage. if a coach knows that, they’re not going to be looking at the symptom or expression of adults patterns and trying to have them overcome that but get to the deeper root of what’s really going on here. It’s that you don’t trust the world. I think people would have more profound change if they get their head out of “This one person ruined my life” versus “This is how I see the world and how I can change.”
Robert Maldonado 20:29
Keep in mind, we’re talking very early on, these are the first 18 months of life that establish this sense of trust and mistrust. It plays out unconsciously. You might have developed a great personality later on, develop compensation skills and abilities. But if that was your early experience, you can pretty much bet it’s still in there, at some level of your neurobiology and psychology. The good news is, again, that we’re very resilient, most of us make it, develop our personality pretty well, and go on to become useful citizens. But it’s always good to understand the roots of my attitude towards life, my personality.
Debra Maldonado 21:32
This is where we create hope, we establish hope. Imagine you’re this being, everything’s new and fresh, you’re coming into this world. Is it a warm, welcoming world? Is it consistent? It’s cultivating hope, life’s going to be exciting. Or “Oh, my God, where am I? Why am I here?”
Robert Maldonado 22:06
Also for parents, it’s important to understand this so that they understand what they can do for the kid to give them a better opportunity, a better chance at developing appropriately. The second stage in Erickson’s model is autonomy versus shame. Shame is a big buzzword nowadays. It’s an important one. But here we’re looking from about 18 months to about three years of age. Still pretty early on, most kids aren’t in school yet. They might go to pre-K but they’re still home playing around, being kids.
Debra Maldonado 22:54
They’re able to walk now., they’re able to play on their own. They don’t need mother there all the time. It’s a natural stage of autonomy to start playing by yourself and figuring the puzzles out.
Robert Maldonado 23:11
You start to see that attachment pattern. Is it secure or insecure? How do they react to beginning to wander away from the mother?
Debra Maldonado 23:22
When my niece was little, we went to a party. I noticed the kids around four years old, she was a little older than this, but I noticed all the little girls were playing on their own at the party. This one little girl, she was probably around three, she was sitting next to her mother. All the kids were super hyper on candy. The mother was really mellow. The little girl sat next to her while all the kids were playing, just the same stance as the mother, she just sat next to the mother and was like an adult watching. That’s no autonomy? They don’t go out and play with kids. That child is probably in her 20s, she’d grow up to be more shy, maybe even connected to the mother in some way, not developing your own personality?
Robert Maldonado 24:15
It depends because there’s so many factors playing into an individual. We can never make blanket statements. These models help us have a framework to compare what’s going on with the individual.
Debra Maldonado 24:35
My question is the autonomy, does that have to do with personality style as well? Do they mimic the parent or do they start developing their own way of being?
Robert Maldonado 24:47
We can certainly think of these early stages as the foundation of personality. The foundation meaning you know the roots of it. What do we build our personality on, these deep emotional sense of who we are and what we can expect from the world.
Debra Maldonado 25:13
Related to the mother at this stage, the shame is that if you make a mistake, you get punished? Where does shame come from?
Robert Maldonado 25:25
Think about what is the opposite of shame, a certain autonomy, I’m confident enough to be in the world, I’m not ashamed of who I am and where I come from. You start to get a sense of what it’s talking about, if you feel okay with yourself, if you feel you can trust the world, you can trust yourself in the world.
Debra Maldonado 25:54
You’re willing to make mistakes even?
Robert Maldonado 25:56
You get over it. You’re not perfect. You’re not expecting to be perfect. You’re not expecting the world to give you everything but you feel that, for a kid, if you go out into the playground, or a park with other kids, you can hold your own, you know who you are, you know what you like, you can interact with others and be okay with that. Versus a kid who’s shy cannot do anything, clings to the mother, can’t wander away from the mother, is too insecure to go any distance from her.
Debra Maldonado 26:37
What about punishment from the parent? How the parent punishes the child, do they let the child make mistakes? You hear about the helicopter parent where they want to bulldoze the kid from having any problems or helping them with their preschool homework, not letting the child make own mistakes, and then allow them to not be shamed around it.
Robert Maldonado 27:06
Again, depends on the culture. Each family, of course, has their own unique culture as well, regions in the US, or other countries, ethnic roots that go back generations, whatever that culture is, if it’s okay in the culture, it’s okay, the kid does fine. If it’s not okay, if it’s something that they feel like my other peers are not subjected to this, then you start to get problems.
Debra Maldonado 27:44
Relationship with the mother, how does the mother foster autonomy versus shame? Is it being encouraging? Watching but letting the child make its decisions?
Robert Maldonado 28:00
It’s a spectrum. Each child is different, that’s another difficult part of family psychology: no one rule applies to all the kids or all parents. The best thing the parent can do is to treat each kid as an individual, just like we do in a work setting.
Debra Maldonado 28:25
Even in the siblings, some siblings are gonna be naturally more autonomous. Would it be a genetic thing as well?
Robert Maldonado 28:35
Genetics, epigenetics, personality traits, intelligence level, birth order, on and on, there’s so many factors that play into how we experience the world. But again, these models give us a sense of how to proceed. At this stage of development, we know now the brain starts to prune those extra connections it was making because it starts to say “I get a sense of what the world is about and what I can expect.” If the parents would read to the child, the brain goes into overdrive to keep those neural connections designed for reading and strengthen them, and gets rid of the other motor activities or the extra ones that aren’t needed for reading. It does that with all the activities that go on at this stage. What becomes important to us has its roots in these early experiences, how we play, how we imagine the world.
Debra Maldonado 29:52
Someone who wants to try new things, the brain in development would have those parts open — I don’t know how to say it because I’m not a neuroscientist. In Layman’s terms, the brain’ll be active because it has to troubleshoot more versus someone who doesn’t have to make decisions on their own.
Robert Maldonado 30:16
At this age, kids aren’t really making decisions on their own. The decisions they’re making are “Do I play with the red truck?”
Debra Maldonado 30:25
It’s still a decision. Is this where the will is born?
Robert Maldonado 30:31
The will, or the foundation of what we call free will, the way we will our life moving forward is in this stage. We start to get a sense of there’s other kids besides my family unit, there’s other families.
Debra Maldonado 30:55
So the development of the personality? What is the difference between the two? If they’re coming up with shame and doubt, how does that show?
Robert Maldonado 31:09
If somebody falls on that spectrum into the shame area, they express their personality as procrastination, has trouble working alone, they’re codependent, they need structure and direction, has trouble making decisions, again, because of the will. Easily influenced by others, they become followers, not leaders because they have to wait to get permission, and may become embarrassed when complimented. A lot of us have this, so don’t take it as one thing. Again, in some cultures it’s not acceptable to be complimented as easily as other cultures. Depends on the culture you grew up in. Eye contact, something so basic, we think there must be like a biological imperative for making eye contact. In some cultures that’s considered rude to look somebody straight in the eye when you’re talking.
Debra Maldonado 32:46
It’s almost like aggression in some cultures.
Robert Maldonado 32:49
On the contrary, if somebody develops autonomy, they’re independent, not easily led, they can think for themselves.
Debra Maldonado 33:02
Don’t try cults and believe everything they hear, they’re more discriminative, with critical thinking.
Robert Maldonado 33:12
Able to stand on their own two feet, works well alone and with others, flexible. One of the biggest lessons I learned in clinical psychology, flexibility is sanity.
Debra Maldonado 33:27
You always say when people are really rigid one way, it’s like they’re really stuck.
Robert Maldonado 33:36
Because they’re not going to be able to adapt to changes, and what is the nature of society, the world? It’s always changing.
Debra Maldonado 33:44
If someone wants to change, they want to do something different with their life, improve themselves, if they’re rigid, it’d be harder for that person to make those changes than someone who’s more flexible.
Robert Maldonado 34:00
Psychological rigidity means you only have one defense mechanism or go-to strategy for everything.
Debra Maldonado 34:11
You shut down every time and just you run away, that’s your answer. Or you get aggressive and angry, that’s your go-to. It’s almost like you’re acting not even out of your own will.
Robert Maldonado 34:25
Flexibility means you assess the situation, the circumstances and say “What is the right response here? Should I be open, friendly or resist, be assertive?” That’s one of the traits, you’re assertive when necessary.
Debra Maldonado 34:43
The terrible twos, they always talk about this, that’s where the child says “no” a lot. Is that assertiveness where the mother’s like “It’s time to go”, and the kid’s like “No”, or they get in tantrum? What’s the tantrum idea? That’s the age usually where the tantrum starts from, from a psychological perspective is that them building autonomy in a way? Maybe they haven’t fine tuned communication style yet, but they’re trying to build that. Maybe it’s not a bad thing to have that.
Robert Maldonado 35:16
It’s communication, no doubt. It’s saying “I have my own ideas, I don’t want to go along with that.” But of course, there’s better ways to communicate. Often, what parents do is they reinforce that behavior by paying attention to the kid when they throw a tantrum. Of course, sometimes you have to pay attention to them because they’re doing it in the middle of a store. But when you reinforce it, you don’t understand what kind of impact your attention is having on the kid. Parents often keep that pattern going.
Debra Maldonado 36:03
I have a tantrum, mom soothes me and treats me to get me to stop. That works anytime I need something. Then as adults, how does that happen? The person in the office that’s having the tantrum because they’re not getting something, then the boss soothes them, it’s that same pattern. They get all the attention, they’re making a noise, that’s how they get attention.
Robert Maldonado 36:29
There’s a simple solution for that, you start to pay attention to the things they’re doing well, when they are communicating the way you want them to communicate. You pay attention there, you reinforce that instead of maladaptive behavior.
Debra Maldonado 36:49
But talking about autonomy, they’re not just going with their parents, they’re rebelling in a way. It’s natural for the child to rebel, it’s healthy. They don’t have the communication skills yet, what they know is cry, and the parent reinforces the pattern. But how does this all form the will as an adult? How does this really impact their relationship as an adult, as far as autonomy, do they follow the crowd, are they leaders, do they always go to a job where someone tells them what to do and they’re very comfortable in that, methodical, just tell me what to do. Or someone who may be more creative and innovative?
Robert Maldonado 37:41
If you think of the foundation, when you build a house, if you don’t have a good foundation, everything you build, no matter how beautiful and how perfect, is not going to be stable and well designed because it’s on an unstable ground. These early years serve as the foundation to build your personality, what Jung called the persona, the way you express yourself in the world, your relationship with the world.
Debra Maldonado 38:17
Primarily, this is saying, the mother has a huge influence in both stages.
Robert Maldonado 38:24
Especially early on, because those early experiences are recorded unconsciously, the child absorbs those experiences emotionally, experientially and says “This is who I am. If I get love, attention, my needs are met, that must mean it’s a great world, I can expect happiness, I can expect things to open up for me. I’m going to be a great person.” That’s the message the child gets. None of us have a perfect relationship or perfect life in those early years. But if most of the time our needs are met, there’s love, we will do fine. When there is trouble, when there’s divorce, when there’s disruption, when there’s abuse, when there’s neglect, lack of food, lack of love or shelter, any of those things, or a combination of those things, we know those kids are in trouble, they have trouble catching up to the rest of the kids.
Debra Maldonado 39:48
That’s why when kids come from a troubled family, they become more withdrawn, it’s harder for them to make friends. What’s possible for someone who have had tough early life, maybe they were a refugee or something dramatic, kids in Ukraine and Venezuela, climate refugees, what’s possible for them as adults? That happened to them early in life, they have deep mistrust and shame of “I can’t do anything right. I can’t do anything on my own. I don’t trust myself.” Some entrepreneurs have a hard time putting themselves out there because they’re afraid of criticism or really don’t have confidence they can create something, it’s better to just follow. How can they change? How can they transcend this?
Robert Maldonado 40:52
The good news is neuroplasticity. For a long time, people thought when those early experiences are set, it’s cemented and hardwired, you can’t change that. But now we know that’s not true. The brain is still malleable, meaning, with neuroplasticity, you can still change its function and structure through experience, through learning, through inner work.
Debra Maldonado 41:25
You can cultivate trust, you can cultivate autonomy, you can operate in your world without fearing shame, or having self doubt, you can actually cultivate your confidence, will, and hope.
Robert Maldonado 41:40
But it requires the individual to participate in their own transformation, what Jung called individuation. Because if the individual resists, if they say “I don’t want to look at my past, I don’t want to look at my mind, I just want to focus on the external world and go out there and do my best”, they’re not able to really experience that transformation, because it requires self inquiry.
Debra Maldonado 42:11
Going deeper than conscious assumptions or examining your thoughts, deeper into the unconscious.
Robert Maldonado 42:18
We’re learning a lot from meditation and the study of meditation, it is a process of meta awareness, rising above our own thoughts and emotions, then working with them from the perspective that we’re not caught up in trying to fix ourselves or trying to correct some damage. We’re seeing it more as if the brain and the mind is malleable, I can work with it, I can reshape it.
Debra Maldonado 42:49
That’s not who I am, it’s not a life sentence. When you say meta awareness, one of the philosophies we have as foundation of our work is Vedanta, non-dual philosophy that everything is consciousness, pure awareness is really who we are. The things we’re talking about today, the stages of development are happening on the ego level, the deepest level of us is not touched by any of these experiences. What we want to do is not rearrange the furniture, we can cultivate a new personality, use our neuroplasticity to realign the way we experience the world. But the true essence of us is not broken. If we can tap into that deeper part, it makes the surface part easier. But if you identify as this person that had this happened to me when I was a child, my mother was a terrible mother, that’s why I’m the way I am, you’ll always be fixed in that story. It’s all about transcending these patterns, not trying to just fix them. Understanding why you are the way you are. It’s not about just this current situation that’s causing a conflict in your life. It’s seeing that this is a pattern that’s been happening forever, let’s go into the root.
Robert Maldonado 44:10
Usually, what I tell clients and students is “These things are very powerful. The mind is extremely powerful. But the power comes from us. We’re the ones giving it power.” Once you understand that, you can work with the mind in the right perspective.
Debra Maldonado 44:31
The mind is not doing something to you, it’s doing something through you, but you have the power. It’s coming from your power. That’s a great way to end this session. We will see you next week for our next episode, where we’re going to talk about a little older ages, three to six and then seven to ten, talking more about stages of development and how to look at your life and where you had the core of your personality and how to transcend it to have more love and more success in your life.
Robert Maldonado 45:12
See you next time.
Debra Maldonado 45:13
Take care, everyone.
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