Tatiana Yevtushok

Business psychologist. Gestalt psychotherapist. Coach. Trainer

Money and contact cycle

  • psychology of money
  • psychotherapy

Money and contact cycle. The role of Self concept functions in human interaction with money. Contact interruption mechanisms as obstacles to financial success.

The way our world works is that money is a vital means of human interaction with the outside world, a platform on which both meeting of our basic needs and opening up the possibility of realizing the potential of human manifestation as a spiritual being are based. It doesn’t spoil, it reveals a person, it is a litmus paper if you will. People who deny the need to establish relationships with finances if there is a desire to use them freely, are either traumatized by some stories, which there are too many, about the unhealthy desire to enrich for the sake of power over others, or, by justifying the need to grow spiritually, are afraid of self-realization of their personality and do not know what are their talents, purpose in life, and most importantly — what to do with freedom, which increases material well-being. And although all our lives we all strive for freedom from something, we often don’t understand why we really need it. Therefore, money is not the main thing, not an end in itself, but money is the foundation for meeting of both primary and higher human needs, needs that relate to the meanings of our being and existence on earth. A person seeks to earn for various reasons: for survival, comfort and a sense of security, recognition, self-esteem, professional growth and self-realization. Ideally, these aspirations should be correlated with the nature of human existence, fill with life from the inside, go towards oneself and the world, towards knowledge and development.

In the existing theory of Gestalt therapy, the concept of the contact cycle, as a natural process of meeting one’s needs, money can be considered a kind of metaphor for the concept of “boundary-contact”, e.g. like skin. Protecting us, ensuring survival and safety, they are also a conductor, carrying out a resource exchange with the outside world, as a means of contact, so in this article I will consider them as a way of functioning of a person in his environment, with the help of which numerous needs are met.

But before we look at this process in more detail, a few words about the concept of Self. This concept characterizes the process of creative adaptation of a person with his inner environment to the world around him. If we look at this theory in the process of person’s contacting and relationship with money, let us explore how the healthy process of creative adaptation of a person in contact with the world takes place on the example of making money, as well as the mechanisms that for one reason or another arise as obstacles to financial freedom. The process of individual creative adaptation of a person to the internal and external environment is determined by three functions: “id”, “ego” and “personality“, which play an important role at certain stages of the contact cycle. To understand how they work, let us turn to the process of meeting the needs.

So, according to the classical concept of cycle of contact of meeting needs by Goodman, there are four phases: pre-contact, contacting, final contact and post-contact.


In the phase of the emergence of needs or desires – pre-contact – we have some sensations, excitement, tension, a certain discomfort on the stimuli reproduced from the outside world, we begin to understand that we want something. Our self functions in the mode of id – awareness of the presence of sensations. This is how the need is formed, a signal is received about the need for something, for example, discomfort can be associated with the fact that a person leads an active lifestyle, moves around the city on public transport, which gets him tired and he feels a certain physical and moral discomfort. In the second phase of contacting, he realizes his need for more comfortable and fast movements around the city and the energy of sensations and discomfort is directed to finding ways to fulfill his desire. Once he has become aware of his desire and is convinced that comfortable travel conditions are really his need and will bring him a lot of benefits, he begins to focus his attention on how to find the means to buy a car, for example, looking for opportunities to earn more. Self works in the ego function, which is responsible for the active and responsible choice (or refusal) to act in the direction of fulfilling a desire and satisfying a need. At this stage, if a person chooses to go towards the goal (to buy a car), he begins to actively think about ways to achieve his goal, to look for ways to earn money for fulfilling his desires, to make plans. The third phase – the final contact – he’s taking concrete steps, engaged in increased activities towards the implementation of his plans, earns money, buys a car and is moving around the city in comfort. A self-satisfaction of the need takes place. In the post-contact phase, the assimilation of experience is carried out, which favors its growth. The personality function is connected, with the help of which he, taking responsibility for his feelings and choices, forms ideas about himself, sees his personal image of himself: understands what he is when he feels and does, is aware of his state in it. For example, if he, given the desire to buy a car, made the choice to move forward and achieved the goal, answers the question “What am I when I fulfilled my desire and satisfied the need?”, thereby defining his zone of growth, responsibility for the acquisition of new qualities, empowerment and ultimately – a sense of self-esteem, in addition to achieving he develops and grows as a person who knows about himself and his new experience, recognizes his success. The Gestalt is closed and new opportunities for the emergence of higher needs are opened.

According to the theory of hierarchy of needs developed by humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow, a person in his harmonious development must go through 5 main stages of motivation on the way to development of personality, from primary needs at the physiological level (hunger, thirst, sex drives), security (comfort and stability of quality living conditions), social belonging (to love and be loved, communication, joint activity), prestige (self-respect and respect for others, recognition, success, achievements, professional growth) and finally, spiritual needs (cognition, self-actualization, self-expression, self-identification). Thus, the importance of the process of implementing the contact cycle in human development and personal growth becomes clear.

This is a description of the natural process of satisfying human needs and creative adaptation to the  inner environment and the world around. But we are interested in this theory from the point of view of working with the mechanisms of resistance and interruption of contact arising at different stages of the contact cycle, because practice shows that not everything happens so smoothly in the lives of most people. We grow up in a society in which nobody teaches us healthy mechanisms of interaction with the surrounding world, especially in matters concerning money and material wealth, and finally a person is unconsciously trying to somehow get by, learning certain behaviors, e.g. from his family, repeating the same mistakes, and often remains within his comfort zone, where all efforts are directed only to survival and preservation of security, and unfortunately, in this situation, theres no time for no self-actualization.

In practice, I notice that people experience especially many difficulties in the phase of pre-contact with the “id” function — with recognition of their discomfort, various stimuli from the outside world and sensations within themselves. At this stage, the main mechanism that stops a person in differentiating their feelings, awareness of their true desires and needs, is fusion (confluence), when the sensations remain at the level of discomfort, accompanied by anxiety, fear and an incomprehensible sense of guilt, and sometimes even panic. We want something, but don’t know what. Very often, an adult and seemingly independent person is in fusion with his parents, family and ancestry, with his way of life and aspirations, with his system of values and needs, which is so deeply embedded in his identity that he can not recognize his own desires and needs, without feeling personal boundaries. Together with care, parents put their expectations into their children, and if there was no separation in adolescence with the defense of boundaries, the right to own desires and interests, with all the consequences of finding own way and highlighting own “I am a person worthy of respect”, then every attempt to feel desires and needs will be accompanied by strong anxiety and even a sense of guilt. For example, if your parents experienced financial difficulties and could not afford to buy a car, then your same desire is likely to be unconsciously perceived by you as a betrayal of your beloved parents. Thus, in the merger, there is an unspoken rule – it is a ban on independent responsible actions in fear of being rejected, losing the feeling of caring for yourself by others, and as a result, becoming unloved, a kind of “ugly duckling”, not like others. But we all remember very well what a beautiful swan it turns into after it goes through a kind of separation. This applies not only to the family and parents, but also to certain communities in which a person resides, his immediate environment. There is a reason why modern studies show that 50% of success depends on the people with whom we communicate, this is a real example of the work of fusion, which is an unconscious protective/adaptive mechanism. Very often the consequence of this kind of adaptation is the intuitive desire of a person to communicate with people more wealthy and financially secure, especially in women who fall in love with successful men, rather even fall in love with an image. In such cases, in people who are prone to fusion, a passionate attraction appears, and there is a transfer of libidinal energy (remember grandpa Freud), or in other words – excitement (and grandfather Perls) on the object that can express itself and be realized in the world as an individual. I remember the saying of Nikolai Gogol from his poem “Dead souls” on this topic: “[…] that it is the custom of the average Russian to yearn exclusively for information concerning persons on the higher rungs of the social ladder. In fact, even a bowing acquaintance with a prince or a lord counts, in his eyes, for more than do the most intimate of relations with ordinary folk.” To break out of the limits of his standard of living, which is also inherent in people with whom a person is in fusion, it is necessary to work on personal boundaries, feeling at the same time separate in relations with others without the danger of being rejected, and belonging without the fear of being “absorbed”, to reveal the desires, to know the aspirations for self-expression. Desires are multidimensional, they can be numerous, and it is important to understand whether they really belong to us. Behind every desire there is a definite need, and the determination of its true importance and the necessity of satisfying it may show whether it concerns personal aspirations. If what we do in the financial field does not bring moral satisfaction, but only temporarily relieves tension, it is a sign that we do not correctly define our needs and put our excitement in the wrong direction. In this case, you need to review the current needs and work with fears and guilt. Anxiety, inherent in fears, acts in this case, as an indicator of strong excitement to meet certain needs and serves simultaneously as a blocking link of the emergence of a new identity with their needs and desires. Have you ever longed to buy something, to boast, to demonstrate it to others, and then you lost interest to this object? I think every person has had similar experiences. This is an example of how you have not perceived the need correctly, because it was not in the object itself, but in the desire for others to recognize your achievement and success. But the problem is that it was only a temporary release of tension, because the need to be recognized and respected by others through the achievement of material well-being will never make you respect yourself, condemning only to a constant thoughtless race for imaginary well-being. The real satisfaction of the need for recognition and respect by other people, as well as self – esteem, can come only in the case of the embodiment in the world of our personal creativity, the fulfillment of talents and professional growth, transcendence as an exit from the objective reality of the perceived objective world, our definition in the space of being, and not having, of who and what we are, and not what we have, so at this stage it is important to work with the function of personality – with the idea of oneself, with the image of oneself that has developed over the years, and which often does not correspond to reality because of our fusion with the environment. The boundary-contact is shifted to the background, and in order to highlight the figure and to come to further active actions, the therapist must help his client learn about himself as much as possible, about what he is.

In the second phase, contacting, the predominant resistance mechanisms are introjection and projection. At this stage, the work includes the function of “ego”, which, as we have already said, is responsible for the active and responsible choice (or refusal) of a person to act in the direction of the realization of desire and satisfaction of needs. By accepting and recognizing stimuli and motives, a person begins to use their energy, it is followed by an assessment of objective possibilities, manipulations with the environment, active and voluntary activity. The main obstacles here are all sorts of negative beliefs, attitudes from the past  – introjects that were imposed on us by the family and society and not assimilated properly. Introjection lies in the very nature of a child’s upbringing and growth, as a kind of nutrient in the form of ideas and principles. It is a product of the value system of school, culture and religion. We were told what and how we should do, what may and may not be done, what is good and bad, and we adopted these beliefs, and they worked, but over time they turn into obstacles, develop stereotyped behaviors and close a lot of new opportunities to respond creatively, outside the box in every situation. The success coaches teach: “The rich consider opportunities, the poor are fixated on obstacles.”. Manipulation of a person with options to make money are limited to such intejects, e.g. “Money is evil, it is necessary to grow spiritually”, “Happyness is not made of maney”, “It’s expensive”, “I can’t afford it”, “Poor but honest”, “You not make money just with your brain”, “The state has to provide for me”, “Not enough knowledge”, “I have to do everything himself” — the list is endless, because everyone has his own. Also at risk are people who attend various kinds of business trainings, where they are taught how to think and act correctly, imposing a system of values of the so-called modern Western science on success. They state that you should have a mission in business, for example. You introject this belief and start to feverishly look for this mission from the outside, coming up with it without passing through your value system and sooner or later you burn out. Or you are taught to set goals with a challenge, and you do as you should, make a list, but nothing happens because they do not meet your needs – introjects have not been assimilated, have not been tested for authenticity according to your deepest aspirations. There is a very good parable on this topic: “When the enlightened one was asked: “Before you became enlightened, what did you do?” —  “Hauled water and chopped wood.”  — “Well, now you’re enlightened, what are you doing?” — “I haul water and chop wood.” What has changed is that he used to do what he had to, as he was taught, and it did not bring him pleasure, and now he does it out of his need, so he is happy.

This also concerns the decisions that we make in the process of interaction with the world. Once, as a child, I was very shocked by the news that criminals robbed and brutally murdered a wealthy family in our small town, who all the residents knew. Since then, I have been afraid of money for a very long time, especially when I started to earn, and then for a long tine I had to build up safety when working with my fear and introject that money is a threat to life.

We take a lot of introjects from literature and cinema, identifying ourselves with the characters, so while it is necessary to read, but it is important to read only good literature and be sure to reflect, that is, pay attention to the content and functions of your own consciousness: interests, values, motives, ways of thinking, perception, decision-making and emotional reactions.

I will give an example from “Confessions” by Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “I worship freedom; I abhor restraint, trouble, dependence. As long as the money in my purse lasts, it assures my independence; it relieves me of the trouble of finding expedients to replenish it, a necessity which always inspired me with dread; but the fear of seeing it exhausted makes me hoard it carefully.  The money which a man possesses is the instrument of freedom; that which we eagerly pursue is the instrument of slavery. Therefore I hold fast to that which I have, and desire nothing. My disinterestedness is ,therefore, nothing but idleness; the pleasure of possession is not worth the trouble of acquisition. In like manner, my extravagance is nothing but idleness; when the opportunity of spending agreeably presents itself, it cannot be too profitably employed. Money tempts me less than things, because between money and and the possession of the desired object there is always an intermediary, whereas between the thing itself and the enjoyment of it there is none. If I see the thing, it tempts me; if I only see the means of gaining possession of it, it does not. […] This being understood, it will be easy to comprehend one of my apparent inconsistencies – the union of an almost sordid avarice with the greatest contempt of money.”

Similar cases with a similar internal conflict are extremely common in the modern world. What is the relationship of the author with money, if we look at them from the point of view of the contact cycle? In the pre-contact, she feels seduced by things and realizes her need for the freedom to have money to buy what she likes, and in the contact phase there is a conflict. The introject that making money is a race and a slavery shifts her focus from seeking opportunities of making more money to feel free to use it, to holding back and stopping herself from spending to save the available amount. She wants freedom and fears slavery, but paradoxically does not go towards her freedom and so becomes a slave.

Projection works on the contrary, it is the property of a person to attribute responsibility to others for what he is the source of. For example, a person has a prejudice “Rich and successful people are not interested in me”. In this case, he is only interested in the success and wealth of others and has no interest in their human qualities, but because he wants these people to be interested in his human qualities, as he does nor consider himself successful and rich, so, by projecting, he thinks they are not interested in him. Projection worked, there was a stop and the result is “no meeting”. But the amazing thing is that the rich and successful are almost always happy to share their experience of success, because almost all of us have a need to receive recognition and respect from others in their development and professional growth.

If you, for example, think that the rich are all greedy, then you will never be able to earn a lot of money, because you will automatically reward yourself with the same negative qualities that you attribute to rich people, and your earning opportunities will be limited. There are two options here: either you yourself are a generous person, but due to lack of money you are not able, for example, to engage in charity, so you attribute greed to rich people out of your desire to be generous and help others, or you want to earn a lot of money and associate this desire with greed, but just can not admit it in yourself, because you are a good person, so you project this on others, update this quality from the world through others. In this case, as soon as a person recognizes his fears that his desire to be rich – he himself perceives as greed, he will have a chance to go further and ask himself meaningful questions: “Why should I be rich?” and “What do I need money for?” Of course, if the answer is “for hoarding”, then it is in fact greed, but if there are higher needs not only for safety and comfort, but also for knowledge and development, perhaps also philanthropic goals to help those in need, for example, then no fear of greed will stop him.

Nikolai Gogol in his poem “Dead souls” using the example of the landowner Plyushkin very clearly illustrated the life and character of a man who stops himself with the mechanism of projection from contact with loved ones, leaving only human functions around him. Plyushkin considered everyone around him thieves and swindlers, removing the members of his family and friends one by one from his life, thus becoming more and more lonely, and as a consequence – the great cheapskate: “A lonely life gave nourishing food of stinginess, which, as you know, has wolf hunger and the more it eats, the more it becomes insatiable; human feelings, which were already deep in it, were shallow every minute, and every day something was lost in this worn out ruin.” Projection is an escape and an emptiness of loneliness, and to fill this void a person becomes an accumulator of money and things, nurturing a greed inside, but inevitably dooms himself for decay, because money is only a means of interacting with the world to move forward and develop. Projections model our reality. Plyushkin considered people greedy and thieving, especially officers, acting for their own benefit, and this belief was embodied in his life by the fact that his daughter fell in love, ran away from home and married an officer, and as it turned out later, his wife contributed to this betrayal, for which he expelled her, moreover, his son entered the officer’s service. Thus, the author brilliantly showed us the projection as a protective but useless attempt to control human relationships, and the replacement of inevitable failure by the control of the space of material things and money with all the consequences of loneliness, degradation and decay. This is an example of how in the contact phase the projection stops the recognition of the true need for security, the task of which is to rid the person of fears in order to feel protected, and the ego function does not work in the active choice mode.

But in no case should we underestimate the inherent human projection mechanism, because what is called sublimation in art is caused by it. Without it, Leonardo da Vinci would not have created his famous Mona Lisa, and Dante would not have written the “Divine comedy”. This mechanism simply has to be directed onto activity. Similarly, business is also a projection. First, a person who is engaged in a certain profession, is filled with introjects from the outside, haw it has to be done, then, by trial and error, begins to turn inward, to seek ways of self-expression and begins to project his own personality with his needs, vision and ideas into his business, thereby fulfilling what called us to life, in the direction to the outer world. I will give an example from my life. As a child, I loved to travel, my parents and I often went somewhere by car, but it was always short trips, although for me they seemed very exciting. When I graduated from university, I was very excited by the idea of seeing the world, to see how other people live. Back then I wanted to start traveling to different countries, but still did not have enough means, and I solved this in such a way that I decided to open a travel company. Of course, I had to put a lot of effort to start from scratch, borrowing a certain amount of money to start, for training and first learning trips abroad, which were organized by major travel operators for their agents. A year later, I already had a lot of clients and I was able to pay off debts, start earning money not only to travel, but also to live. This is an example of how you can project your personality on the business in the process of self-realization.

Another example of projection deals with the question of self-realization and touches on a completely different side of the topic of money. Ludwig Wittgenstein, an Austrian philosopher who studied the projection of the structure of knowledge on the structure of the world, was born into a very wealthy family of a steel magnate. He received a huge inheritance, but turned it off. I thought for a long time what made this brilliant mind abandon comfort, it would seem that a person had everything for comfortable living conditions, in which it was possible not to think about material things, but simply to engage in favorite science and be realized. The fact is that because he refused to continue the family business of his father, he had a projection on the people around him, as if they recognize him only for the status and financial position, which he did not achieve on his own, and in fact had a huge interest for research in the field of philosophy and logic, where he had a need to be recognized. By putting himself in a situation without a choice, Wittgenstein thus still had made a choice, by reversing the projection inside, because he was clearly aware of his need for recognition of his own personal qualities and achievments in self-realization, in the space of being, if you like, but not the possession, replacing that requirement with a substantive material reality that so often happens in the modern world, when people want recognition, but are trying to meet this need by buying expensive things, showing off the image, creating the appearance of wealth, substituting the expression of inner with outer. Ideally, things should highlight individuality, enhance the content that is already inside, and as a reward – the result of a sense of human dignity, not a replacement for it.

Life is about projecting reality by seeing opportunities, not obstacles. By stopping himself, a person gets into a situation of inability to see prospects and make choices. Instead of projecting his reality and desires into the future, to plan, to realize the current state of things, to overcome obstacles, to calculate the risks of the steps taken and to begin their implementation, he projects on the people, hides and escapes from responsibility. It is possible to work with introjects and projections by bringing these mechanisms to the level of awareness, so that a person can see his ways of contact interruption and take responsibility for how and from what he is protected with them, how they affect the results of his life, gradually returning introjects to those from whom they were taken, as well as his qualities from projections, for example, with the help of a “hot chair”.

In the final contact phase, the main mechanisms of interruption are deflection and retroflexion. When a person comes into direct contact with the object of his satisfaction, he experiences very deep experiences, and if in his life the experience in the process of satisfaction was accompanied by psychologically traumatic events, a feeling of shame or fear may arise, for example. In order to avoid these deep experiences, he tries to relieve the emerging tension, push it into the world around him (deflection) or escape into his experiences, stopping himself, restraining himself from pleasure and enjoyment. Consider the following examples. When I got to the point of analyzing these mechanisms of interruption in the phase of final contact while writing this article, I had a stop, ideas, examples on which it would be possible to show how deflection and retroflexion works in the context of relations with money, disappeared. For several days I walked in a state of deadlock, until I finally realized that I was stopping myself with different fears: what if I suddenly wrote something wrong, and what if all all is only my fantasies, and what if people who will read this, will not understand this or simply will simply deem it unimportant, so I ended up switching to reading books. It was only after I realized that I was thus moving away from the final contact (retroflex) and stopped enjoying the process of writing, which I love very much, and gave place to my fears and experiences, I began to have ideas and examples of how the protective mechanisms work in this phase of contact with money. So, retroflexion. Suppose a certain Mr. X has already earned a certain amount of money, and instead of feeling satisfied, recognizing his worth and self-esteem from the work done and using this money for his own pleasure and benefit, he begins to think that it is impossible to spend this money, otherwise it will quickly run out and he will be left with empty pockets, begins to save, to be afraid that he may be robbed, to hide it. Quite often it happens that by investing all the money in the bank, people lose huge amounts on inflation, changes in the exchange rate or due to the bankruptcy of the bank and can not get their money back due to the instability of the economic situation in the country. Thus, a person does not satisfy the needs associated with the desire to have money (we have already said that the need for money does not exist). Here you can work with fears associated with achievement, such as fears that something bad might happen: will be robbed, will not be able to earn more, will face jealousy; with shame to stand out and a sense of guilt, if the others earn less, a person may be afraid that loved ones will not accept him more successful; it is also important to identify and return introjects (for example, in childhood he was told: “You should not spend money, you should take care of it, otherwise you will be left with nothing”). In all these cases, there is a hidden negative experience, and everyone has his own.

At the heart of the deflection are the same experiences that have been described above, but the mechanism itself works no longer as a containment and folding inwards, but as a release of tension into the surrounding world. It can be “squandering”, the desire to get rid of the money earned as quickly as possible , investing everything in a dubious project, or just to blow off aimlessly. If we are talking about the acquisition of some material value, the deep experiences in the phase of final contact can be displaced, the person does not get pleasure, and boasts, for example, to prove to himself through others that he enjoys, or ridicules in front of others his acquisition in fear that he will be envied.

When I was engaged in tourism, sometimes faced the situations that a person, having earned money for travel for his family, goes abroad to an inexpensive but good five-star hotel for $ 300 (just a fabulous offer for Turkey!!!), but being already in there, instead of enjoying the vacation, begins to look for flaws in the service, e.g. bed linen was changed every other day, not every day. The problem is, he starts to regret the money he spent, and to escape his fears, he thinks maybe he made a mistake, maybe he was cheated, maybe it could have been better. That’s the job of perfectionism, and here we are approaching the phase post-contact and the interruption mechanism at the stage of assimilation, which is called egotism when a person thinks that he, like always, did something wrong, argues about possibility to do better and makes excuses, devaluing thus a new experience, thinking that he earned too little and the way he wanted, etc. At this stage, the personality function becomes active, which consists in an image of a person about himself, who he is, in integrating previous experiences and taking responsibility for what he feels and does. It is important to understand why he needs money at all, it gives him the freedom to be what? You can offer a play – to try to be money and to tell, what he is, when pretends to be money? The answers may be different: generous, professional, joyful, learning the world, providing comfort, strong, reliable, confident, enterprising, etc., they make the integration into the personality of a person of the qualities that he gives to money, which make up his image of himself – what am I when I earned money? From these answers, it is easy to clarify the needs that motivate him to earn, so it is important that he learns to use the money he earned to meet all these needs. Based on the needs found, for example, if the answer was “providing comfort” – to spend part on the need, “joyful and learning the world” – part for pleasure (for example, travel, or other purchases, as a reward for himself for a well-done job), “reliable, entrepreneurial” – to invest part, so that the money would work in the future, “professional” – part for training and professional growth, “generous” – part for charity (if there is a need to help others), “confident” – to save another part, etc. They say that money should go to the destination, and these destinations, being correlated with the qualities of the human person, respond to our needs, forming a new experience, because we all come from the past. Throughout life, a person acquires experience in relationships in the family and society, which often plays a key role and determines who we are at the moment. As we see, in any experience, just like in the experience of relations with money, there is a layer of many of our decisions, attitudes, beliefs, which program the template behavior in professional work, create internal conflicts of desires, needs and values, causing an incomplete CONTACT CYCLE with money, the inability to correctly identify needs, manage the income and build relationships with oneself and the world, in which money is only one of the ways of interaction. But since in the modern society our freedom largely depends on it, the path to it lies through the knowledge of the idea of money; and to explore it, you need to define a clear boundary of its application, to avoid creating difficulties of self-realization, and also actualization and adequate satisfaction of personal needs in relationships with other people and society as a whole.

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