A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

How the male intimate abuser selects, sets-up & grooms a target woman (Don Hennessy series part 3)

The man who is abusing his long-term female partner has honed the skills required to select a target woman and then set her up, target her and groom her, in order to be able to offend against her with impunity and then re-groom her… so he can re-offend against her.

That is what Don Hennessy says. He ought to have a good handle on the topic. He has met with at least 1500 men who have abused their female partners and worked closely with at least 1000 of those men (link).

In his book How He Gets Into Her Head, Hennessy describes all these phases the skilled offender engages in. 

This post focuses on the first three phases the skilled offender (the male intimate abuser) engages in to achieve his goal:

  • selection of the target woman
  • set-up of the target woman
  • grooming of the target woman, wherein the skilled offender uses both benign and sinister tactics.

I am not sure whether I need to give a trigger warning for this post. It contains no explicit descriptions of sexual abuse or physical abuse. But it does describe in detail how the abuser gets into the target woman’s head and undermines her sense of herself and gets her to ignore her instincts. Some of our readers might find this so revelatory that the realization and the accompanying pain might be temporarily overwhelming. Please look after yourself if you find that happening to you. You might want to read this post in small doses and go for a walk in nature, or pray, or have some distraction in the breaks to help you absorb this material.

Emphasis in quotes from Hennessy has been added by me.

Selection of the target

They devise injustices, saying, “We are ready with a well-conceived plot”;
For the inward thought and the heart of a man are deep. (Psalm 64:6)

What we found out by listening to the abusers was that these abusers began the abuse on the day they first met the woman. … We also learned that the tactics of abuse and control are common to all successful abusers in long term relationships. These tactics are initiated if the abuser wants to explore the possibility of a lasting relationship and if he feels that the particular woman would be susceptible to such tactics. This awareness, of the possibility of control in intimate relationships, is developed instinctively by the abuser. This is not learned behavior as many of us would like to believe, but rather then honing of a skill that we all possess. This skill is based on the abuser’s ability to hide his real intentions when he makes the initial approach to a prospective partner. ( How He Gets Into Her Head. [affiliate link*] p 17)

Hennessy says the skilled offender looks for a woman who is kind, loyal, dedicated and truthful.¹ He says that the one thing all victims have in common is kindness. Yes – kindness. Let me encourage you to take this on board if you are a survivor of abuse from your husband. You were targeted because you are kind. Your abuser took advantage of you because he recognized that you are kind, loyal, dedicated and truthful.

For without cause they hid their net for me;
Without cause they dug a pit for my soul. Ps 35:7

Here are some quotes from Irish media and YouTube items where Hennessy is describing what the abusive man looks for. All emphasis in these quotes has been added by me.

Men Who Abuse Do It Because They Can Southern Star

Don Hennessy spoke about his work with male perpetrators of domestic violence. He revealed that men who abuse choose the type of woman they can control. He said they look for a kind woman – a type who never puts her own needs before that of her partner.

In answer to one of many questions from intrigued members of his audience, Don Hennessy refuted that alcohol, unemployment or poverty are factors in why men abuse.

He said most men do not respond to such external factors by showing violence to the women in their lives: the men who abuse do it because they can.

The Ray D’Arcy Show — Domestic Abuse Special (54:39) –

…being in an abusive relationship has nothing to do with being a vulnerable woman. It can happen to any woman. The only reason why it doesn’t happen to some women is that they have never been targeted by an abusive man.

Emotional abuse, damage, despair and self-doubt Irish Times

According to Don Hennessy of the Cork Marriage Counselling Centre and author of the book How He Gets into Her Head, the one thing all victims have in common is kindness. “They have to be the type of person willing to put another person’s needs before their own.”

The first thing Hennessy asks someone seeking support at the counselling centre is: are you being blamed for things in your relationship? “And the usual response is, ‘Yes, I’m blamed for everything.’ ”

He says abusers groom their partners to meet their needs from the start of a relationship. They usually have a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy and the ability to manipulate.

Men who abuse women ‘use the same tactics as pedophiles and I’ve never met one who wanted to change’, says author of How He Gets in her Head

The initial thing is that they would select the same type of target… the people who were being abused were always kind people, the type of people who would put others before themselves.

Let all genuine Christians take note:
The very qualities Christian women are encouraged to cultivate are the very qualities that are most attractive to abusive men.

Furthermore, when Christian victims of abuse start to display what the church perceives as ‘unkindness, disloyalty, lack of dedication and lack of truthfulness’ in regard to their marriages, they are often chastised – and may eventually be brought under discipline – by the church. But victims of abuse have to adopt the very characteristics that most churchgoers think are ‘un-Christian’ if they are to get safe and remain safe from their abusers.

The church needs to chew the cud on this. Seriously.

Speaking about how abusers target women who are kind, Hennessy says:

In my experience, she [the target woman] is the same as every other kind person I know, and she is no different from the kind people who are not abused. Our tendency to ignore this lack of difference is probably the most abusive thing we do to our clients. (How He Gets Into Her Head, p 138)

We do a huge disservice to these clients if we pathologize their persona and see them as unwell.  (ibid, p 155)

 

Hennessy says in his book that the skilled offender is so calculating and covert that the woman is never aware that he is targeting her for long-term abuse:

… [the abusive man] wants to become God-like. … His ability to hide this intention is the cornerstone of this project. If a woman is targeted by one of these men she is never aware of what he is doing to her. (How He Gets Into Her Head, p 23-4)

Hennessy describes how the skilled offender can also use his early meetings with his target to discover if she has ever experienced previous abuse (p 24).

He sits in the lurking places of the villages;
In the hiding places he kills the innocent;
His eyes stealthily watch for the unfortunate.
He lurks in a hiding place as a lion in his lair;
He lurks to catch the afflicted;
He catches the afflicted when he draws him into his net. (Psalm 10: 8-9)

The skilled offender will listen to her revealing her inner life and select and store any information that will be useful for his purpose (25). He does this not because he wants to genuinely befriend her. Rather, “he will from the outset explore ways to challenge her view both of the context of her life and her ability to deal with it.” (25)

The set up

And when he comes to see me, he speaks falsehood;
His heart gathers wickedness to itself (Psalm 41:6)

When the skilled abuser is fairly sure he has targeted a potential long-term partner… he will begin the second and third phases of the process of establishing the relationship that he wants. He will work deliberately at setting up the terms and conditions of what it means to be his intimate partner. While this set-up phase is temporary and will eventually be concluded, he also begins the grooming phase which will develop and intensify throughout the life of the relationship. (27)

Some cultures and sub-cultures [e.g., Christian sub-cultures] have already established many of these conditions. If the target woman is already inducted into and trained or brainwashed by such a culture, the abusive man can rely on some of his work having been done for him by the culture. So the speed of the set-up process is reduced and the process of grooming is facilitated. (27)

The first and most critical step in setting up an abusive relationship is to establish that the woman is responsible for the emotional temperature of the relationship … The abuser will begin to blame the target for small difficulties that arise between them. (29)

This setting up [is] “quite detailed” and protracted – it doesn’t happen overnight. It sets out the terms and conditions by which the relationship will develop. The woman knows exactly what she can do, what she cannot do, the sanctions that will be applied if she doesn’t do what he wants. … It’s done in a way which gets her to take responsibility and take the blame when things go wrong between them. Right from the very beginning if he is upset it is her fault, she hasn’t done something right… she will begin to examine her own behaviour rather than the behaviour of her abuser. Once she is doing that she is into the mire of an abusive relationship and it develops from there. From then on she begins to take responsibility. She believes that if she does better, he will be happier and her life will improve. There is absolutely no truth in that. Men who abuse women ‘use the same tactics as pedophiles and I’ve never met one who wanted to change’ says author of How He Gets Into Her Head

[By] this gradual deepening of blame-shifting … this constant and deepening transferring of responsibilities, she [the target woman] becomes convinced that the reason she is sometimes unhappy in the relationship is because of her failings and not her partner’s behaviour. …she also becomes less sure of her ability to make sense of her position. Her instincts tell her that she does not deserve all the blame but this internal voice is quietened by the voice of the skilled abuser. Gradually the voice of her heart and gut is over-ruled by his voice in her head. She begins to question her own inner voices and also learns that when she speaks from her heart of her gut, she is dismissed. (30)

Pay attention bystanders! It’s not only the abuser who dismisses her when she speaks from her heart and her gut. It’s often her family, her friends, the ladies at her women’s bible study and her church leaders.

Another of the ways this invasion of her inner world is useful is that it allows the skilled offender to identify the aspects of the woman that make the woman feel good or bad about herself. These aspects become the focus of much attention and are used to undermine or to accuse the woman. (33)

He will undermine her positive attributes and expand her negative attributes. (41)

The slow diminution of her inner voice, the gradual influence of the skilled offender, is noticed in the changes in her language and narrative. This change is most reassuring for the abuser. The effect on the skilled offender is the growing realisation that the setting-up phase is working and that the process of invading her head is going to plan. (37)

During this set-up phase the skilled offender manages to get the woman to accept responsibility without question. He gets inside her thought process and replaces it with his worldview. He changes her language until it coincides with his descriptions. He gets his voice into her head and monitors it when she begins to speak it. … He skilfully and regularly assesses his progress. He takes nothing for granted. He watches how his demands are responded to. He is content to be respectful provided his demands have been catered for. If he feels unduly challenged he may become abusive. (37-8)

… the target woman … is denied the right to challenge his opinion…[and] also his memory. Skilled abusers have a talent for slightly adjusting the memory of any incident to their advantage. Target women begin to accept the abuser’s recall of events and to question their own memory. Gradually this apparent loss of memory may convince the woman that she is losing her mind. This process is more frightening for a woman than any physical assault. (38)

The grooming

Your tongue devises destruction,
Like a sharp razor, O worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good,
Falsehood more than speaking what is right.
You love all words that devour,
O deceitful tongue. (Psalm 52:2-4)

She is also groomed. The grooming is quite hidden from her except that she has a sense that even when he is being nice to her she is still afraid of him and that fear is expanded but she can’t explain it, she doesn’t know how she got that way. If she tries to explain it everyone says ‘oh you’re too sensitive, or you’re too naïve’. She ends up being targeted, set up and groomed and once he has established that he will intensify the control until he is completely in charge.
Men who abuse women ‘use the same tactics as pedophiles and I’ve never met one who wanted to change’, says author of
How He Gets in her Head

Grooming is benign if it generates sympathy and a desire to understand. 

With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak. (Psalm 12:2)

…they speak arrogantly, flattering people for the sake of gaining an advantage. (Jude 1:16)

The skilled offender knows that being liked is essential in gaining and maintaining control, so he feigns a worldview that will make him more attractive to his target. (44)

The skilled offender will present as someone who wants to be understood, because he knows that one of the most seductive invitations to present to kind people is the invitation to try and understand another human being. So he pretends to reveal himself, while not revealing himself. (50)

The skilled offender will want to be seen as different. (56) He wants to be seen as not at all like the ‘real abusers’ who he strongly condemns, not like the target’s parents if they were irksome or abusive, not like her irritating or neglectful friends, not like her former partner, not at all like whoever it is that the target woman deplores. Using the same modus operandi, the skilled offender will present to authority figures as different – not at all like *that* type of person which those authority figures deplore.

The skilled offender will want to be pitied, sympathized with, and excused. (60) He can adapt, invent and lie about his life story and his current stressors to fit the worldview of his target. He is an attentive and consummate liar. From the beginning he studies his target, remembering every detail she has told him about her life story, her thoughts and feelings, her worldview. He uses this information to craft lies that will induce and shape her sympathy for him when he wants to excuse his behavior and inspire her pity and compassion for him.

The skilled offender will want to deflect blame. “From the beginning of the relationship the skilled offender explains the effects of his behavior as being the fault of the target woman.”  This induces the woman to feel bad about herself, and “to look in the wrong place for an explanation of why she is unhappy”. (63-4)

The skilled offender may want to be seen as contrite. “The tactic of saying sorry is one of the most powerful weapons that the skilled offender uses. It is frequently used at the start of the relationship but its use declines as the relationship develops. …. They stop being contrite when they are confident they can manage the consequences of their bad behavior.”  (64-7)

Grooming is sinister if it generates fear and secrecy 

His mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression;
Under his tongue is mischief and wickedness. (Psalm 10: 7)

The skilled offender will want to be feared. “The language and tactics of the skilled abuser are designed to implant fear while developing beliefs that the target woman can cope.” (68) The abuser does or says things to implant fear in her. At the same time or afterwards, his language to her is a malevolent cocktail of minimization and blame shifting, with expressions of love and contrition. This confuses the victim, making her uncertain.

This is the fog which we talk about so much about on this blog.

This combination of fear and love is a hidden weapon of mass destruction that invades her spirit. (70)

[the offender] has the skill to surreptitiously carry out this brainwashing while pretending to be in love. (80-81) 

The skilled offender will lace all his grooming tactics with elements of intimidation and threat. This intimidation generates fear. Repeated intimidation expands into terror. Skilfully these men appear to comfort the woman while adding to her fear. … He learns to control and expand these fears because she describes them to him. (81)   

Again, I want to encourage you to read How He Gets Into Her Head. Don’t think I’ve distilled all the good things he says in these posts. I’ve not conveyed half of it.

And there is good news! Don Hennessy has told me that his next book, Steps to Freedom, will be coming out in March 2018. It will be different from most ‘sympathy’ and ‘support’ books which rely on the target woman to protect herself. Instead it talks directly to the target woman while she is being controlled and hopes to give her the permission and the skills to protect her mind and her soul.

The next post in this series explains what Hennessy means when he says, “The domestic abuser is a ‘psychephile’.”

The post after that will discuss the phases that come after selection, set-up, and grooming, namely, offending, re-grooming and re-offending.

* **

¹ Hennessy said this when being interviewed by radio presenter Ray D’Arcy.  See  Ray Darcy Domestic Abuse Special 54:00 onwards.

Our Don Hennessy Digest lists all the posts in this series and gives biographical details of Don Hennessy.

Unless otherwise stated, all indented quotes in this post are from Don Hennessy’s book How He Gets Into Her Head: The Mind of the Male Intimate Abuser  [*Amazon affiliate link — ACFJ gets a small percentage if you purchase via this link.] Emphasis in quotes has been added by me. We’ve added this book to our Gift Books Offer in which we offer to give certain books to cash-strapped victims.

 

65 Comments

  1. Hopeful

    Thank you so much for articulating and promoting the work of individuals who get it and are trying to do something about this epidemic. Your blog enabled me to encourage myself to take the necessary steps I needed to get out of several emotionally abusive relationships, and to restore my sanity. Thank you for saving my life for me and my daughter.

    I would just add that some women are skilled at being the abuser too. And some managers of certain companies are behaving the same way in the workplace. Would it also not describe the despot bully ruler?

    • Hi Hopeful,

      Welcome to the blog!

      You will see that I have changed your screen name as it appeared that you gave your name. It is not safe to use your real name on a public blog of this nature so I have changed it. If you would like another screen name please contact me at twbtc.acfj@gmail.com

      We like to encourage new commenters to read our New User’s page as it gives tips for staying safe when commenting on the blog. Also our FAQ page may be a good place to start when exploring the blog.

      Again, Welcome!

    • Hi Hopeful, yes we recognise that bully despots in the workplace can share a lot of these same characeristics. And we recognise that women can be abusers too.

  2. Beloved

    Truly freaking out- this is so eye opening!!

    He wants to be understood…because this is what kind people want to do….(!!!!!)
    No wonder I have had so many abusive relationships.
    And “The Pity Play”…..Eagerly awaiting Hennessey’s next book.

  3. Seeing Clearly

    Thank you, Barbara, for detailed work to condense materials in such a way that readers can identify is their own specific way.

    (80-81) “pretending to be in love”. The first time I was able to admit that he never loved me was devastating. Forty years of dating and marriage, but never loved. For a selfish person, it would be difficult, but for we, who are kind, …….. Do I dare express the longings of my heart as a women after that? Never to a man again. I guess in little increments to myself and my God, on a sunny, gentle day, in my garden.

    • Daughter of the King

      Well spoken, Seeing Clearly. I, too, had that same realization of never being loved in my abusive marriage. It was an emotional blow, and a period if mourning, but afterwards I was one more step towards the truth. I was one step closer to freedom!

  4. HopeGlenn

    This is like reading my life. My now ex husband did this to me so well crafted and turned my sons into replicas of him.

    I fall on my knees everyday in prayer for the people my sons encounter. One is married and now has two children. It is eerie to look at pictures of his wife. The look of life is leaving her eyes. It reminds me of pictures of me.

    I got out and lost everything…everything. I’m 54 and just figuring out what life is and what I am.

    Thank you for all of the scriptures. And it is true…these abusers target kind, generous loving people. For decades he, my sons and his family and friends have tried to convince me I’m disgusting. I realized they were trying to silence me…not because I was dark and evil but because I am so kind and loving. I am a light in this dark world.

    This is like reading my life story.

    Thank you greatly for these posts. Thank you.

  5. broken not shattered

    ‘”The skilled offender knows that being liked is essential in gaining and maintaining control, so he feigns a worldview that will make him more attractive to his target. (44)”

    WOW. I remember talking to a guy before, who was younger than me. He wanted me to think that he was “disconnected” from his generation, so he said this “I hate my generation. I don’t like the music, and how people are with their parents.”

    I thought it was very odd for a guy his age to talk like that, and I called him on it. I remember thinking how silly it sounded, and that it wasn’t true coming from him. But somehow that wasn’t enough of a red flag for me. I just saw it as “odd”. It turns out, he didn’t hate his generation’s music. In fact, he seemed to listen to only one genre, emo punk.

    “The skilled offender will present as someone who wants to be understood, because he knows that one of the most seductive invitations to present to kind people is the invitation to try and understand another human being. So he pretends to reveal himself, while not revealing himself. (50)”

    Another wow. He did just that. He did pretend to reveal himself. He would send me pictures throughout the day, of his work or coworkers without their knowledge. He would tell me personal stuff about them, and call them by name. When I asked questions about him, he answered me, but seemed a bit guarded. However, I didn’t pick up on that either. I was totally blind.

    Seductive is the right word here, because I literally fell for him not too long after we met, because he seemed very responsible, he made me feel smart, he made me feel listened to. I nearly walked away right in the beginning. We were hanging out and he was gauging what I would tolerate and not tolerate. (I now know this is what he was doing). He kept accepting calls from his friends, so I finally got up and started walking away. He walked after me, and I got in my car, and he put his hand on my door, but not in a threatening way. It was lightly. If I had demanded him to leave me alone, he would’ve. But he was seeing if he could play on my feelings. I expected more force from him, but he played the “puppy” look and just calmly asked me not to go. I then decided to have a little talk with him. I said, look this isn’t going to work, I don’t want to get hurt, and this is going nowhere, so it’s not a good idea. He said, how do you know if you don’t try? and there I had my chance for escape but willingly walked right up to and put my head in the guillotine.

    • Valkyrie

      It seems more like you put your head into something you didn’t realize was a guillotine. I had disgusting boyfriends and dates like that too, and I didn’t realize that a person had to be bad to act that way. I thought that some people Who acted that way were bad, and some weren’t, so that I had a 50-50 chance each time.

  6. Stronger Now

    Excellent post, Barb! I have just finished the book and recommended it to a friend who has just gotten out of another abusive relationship. Since it’s out of stock, I’m extremely grateful that she’ll be able to read your posts until she can get the book itself. Your comments and Scriptures are very enlightening.

    I want to pass this book along to someone in the helping profession, but I think I’ll wait until it’s available again. I will want to keep re-reading sections often. I’m tempted to order a case of them! I know so many people who need this information!!

    • Hi Stronger Now,

      Just a note: sometimes “temporarily out of stock” doesn’t mean that Amazon can’t get the book. Sometimes it means that Amazon doesn’t get the book from the publisher until there is an order for it.

      I’m not certain that this is the case with Hennessy’s book, but it may be worth ordering now and see when it comes rather than waiting for the “temporarily out of stock” notice is taken down.

      • Re Amazon — I strongly endorse what TWBTC said. Don’t be put off by their ‘temporarily out of stock’ message.

        When Amazon started doing that with my book, my sales went down. I think that Amazon do that partly because they want to increase sales of books published on Amazon’s self-publishing platform, CreateSpace. My book isn’t published by CreateSpace. It’s published by me and printed on demand by one of CreateSpace’s competitors.

        Don Hennessy’s book is published by Cork University Press — which is a respectable publisher but from Amazon’s point of view is a small fish.

  7. romans818

    This is just unbelievable – he is exactly describing my whole experience with my ex and putting into words things I knew were disordered, abnormal and wrong but wasn’t able to articulate.

  8. Mary

    Holy Cow this article is like GOLD to me!! I feel like a kid in a candy store! So I’m the girl who keeps going back for more abuse. I can’t figure out why. I just want to fix it. Make it go away. Stop the madness. Figure out what is wrong with me. This has helped me to see a lot of this! I just bought the book by Don Hennessy!! Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus! And thank you for this site!!!
    Sincerely, a girl with a mission, Mary

    • Hi Mary,

      Welcome to the blog!

      Many times victims are led to believe that there is something within them that causes them to be in abusive relationships. No, no. It’s the abuser that finds the victim.

      You will see that I changed part of your screen name as it appears you gave your real name. It’s not safe to reveal one’s identity on a public blog so I have changed your screen name. If you would like another name please contact me a twbtc.acfj@gmail.com and I can change it.

      Also we like to encourage new commenters to read our New User’s page as it gives tips for staying safe when commenting on the blog. Also our https://cryingoutforjustice.com/faq/ may be a good place to start when exploring the blog.

      Again, Welcome!

  9. Jane

    I’m currently reading this book. It really is amazing! When I read that the victims are targeted because they are “kind” I was like WHAT?!?!? I could totally see it! Just that alone can help you fight against any “compassion and understanding” that we ourselves and others try to push on us.
    The author explaining that domestic abusers target and groom just like pedophiles is alarming and insightful!

    • Hi Jane,

      Welcome to the blog!

      We like to encourage new commenters to read our New User’s page as it gives tips for staying safe when commenting on the blog. Also our FAQ page may be a good place to start when exploring the blog.

      Again, Welcome!

  10. HisBannerOverMeIsLove

    Grooming is sinister if it generates fear and secrecy

    His mouth is full of curses and deceit and oppression;
    Under his tongue is mischief and wickedness. (Psalm 10: 7)

    The skilled offender will want to be feared. “The language and tactics of the skilled abuser are designed to implant fear while developing beliefs that the target woman can cope.” (68) The abuser does or says things to implant fear in her. At the same time or afterwards, his language to her is a malevolent cocktail of minimization and blame shifting, with expressions of love and contrition. This confuses the victim, making her uncertain.

    This is the fog which we talk about so much about on this blog.

    This combination of fear and love is a hidden weapon of mass destruction that invades her spirit. (70)

    [the offender] has the skill to surreptitiously carry out this brainwashing while pretending to be in love. (80-81)

    The skilled offender will lace all his grooming tactics with elements of intimidation and threat. This intimidation generates fear. Repeated intimidation expands into terror. Skilfully these men appear to comfort the woman while adding to her fear. … He learns to control and expand these fears because she describes them to him. (81)

    Bingo!! This is it! I think or some of it is. I’m not sure there’s any contrite in him. One minute he is telling me to go to bed! Or work or wherever it is you go!! The next he’s trying to bring me a drink as if all is well and nothing was said.

    On and off it goes. Knee jerk reactions to just about everything then it’s downplayed as if I misunderstood, exaggerated it all and took offense at nothing.

    He recently asked for $$ to give the mil. We didn’t have the $. Later he gave her even more $ than originally asked for. I wanted to know if we would be payed back. He wouldn’t answer. So I guessed not but I pressed the issue because I believed we were going to bounce stuff. A while later he tells me how I not only KNEW we weren’t being payed back but that I also agreed to give the $$. Completely twisted the whole thing around. But he did it so well I was beginning to believe I HAD agreed. Ugh!!!!

  11. Charis

    I am greatly enjoying the posts and excerpts from Henessey’s book and will add it to my reading list.

    There is one thing I am in disagreement with. I don’t find the pervasive lying, false sympathy, blame shifting and failure to be authentic “benign.” I think they are just as sinister, creating fear, confusion and fog as the other types of grooming listed. In short, there is nothing benign (ie “friendly”) about grooming tactics.

    Just my 2cents.

    • free2follow

      I want to echo what others have said about how revelatory this book – and this post series – are. Thank you, Barbara. I’m absolutely blown away, and mortified, and relieved, and grieved, and trying to process the enormity of this.

      Also, I agree with you, Charis. I know that “benign” is Henessy’s word, and I disagree with it. Using pretended niceness, pretended love, etc., to con someone into trusting and loving you so that she will confide in you, and unwittingly tell you exactly how best to exploit and abuse her, is truly evil.

      • Anonymous Woman

        I’m with you both as i see nothing benign about such scheming, trickery, baiting, and entrapment. The abuser is laying the groundwork to the target’s demise. Nothing benign about that.

        The trigger warning was needed.

        Just recalling the chastisement from so-called Christians when I tried to protect myself or them is so painful.

        All of this info is so painful. That ppl pity the wicked and shun, shame, blame and criticize the abused is so wrong.

        Christian women are especially trained to be kind. Sheep sent out into the world of wolves.

  12. Helovesme

    This is amazing! I can’t tell you how much I am learning from this! I cannot tell you how refreshed and blessed I am by his teachings. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    As much as the abuser targets someone who is kind, generous and unselfish, I wonder if they also specifically target people-pleasers. There is a difference. A person who has these wonderful Christian attributes isn’t always a people-pleaser. The latter type of person doesn’t know how to say “no” (or is too afraid to say no because they so badly want to be pleasing). They tend to give in and not want to cause problems/cause conflict. They want to be loved by others, but are more than willing to give love to others, hoping to be loved in return. But often the relationships are one-sided and unbalanced (they give more than are given to). They often feel a sense of obligation or expectation to say “yes” even if they do not want to, because they don’t want to disappoint. Or if they say “no” they will feel guilty or ashamed. It is very easy for them to feel neglected or exhausted because they are so busy trying to please or think about others.

    I know this because I am a recovering people pleaser and this is part of the reason why I believe I have been targeted. I do not believe the persons I encountered were “full on” abusers (as calculating and deliberate) but they were abusive, no doubt. They picked up on how far they could push me, or how badly they could treat me and get away with it. When I finally said “no” they disappeared from my life (as a way to punish me and make me feel responsible for it) Or when I ceased being useful to them, they moved on and discarded me.

    The biggest thing I noticed with these abusive persons is that they used a VERY different measuring stick towards me (much harsher and more rigid) than towards themselves. They could get away with nearly anything, but the expectations towards me put me in the tightest bubble you can imagine. I could not do nearly anything right in their eyes.

    • I would think that from the skilled offender’s point of view, it would be even easier to set up and groom a people-pleaser than a person who is simply kind.

    • Valkyrie

      a person who does that to you clearly is an abuser. Any person who would willingly hurt someone, even if not just for kicks and Giggles, is an abuser. … By the way, not knowing how to say no does not mean you are allowing others to abuse you, and even if, for some reason, you did, the other person still had to have an abusive mentality to choose to take advantage of that.

  13. Hi everyone, I would think that Hennessy is using the word ‘benign’ in a relative sense. To the target woman the ‘benign grooming’ looks benign on the surface. And it can still appear that way for a long long time into the relationship. When the target woman awakens from the fog — and re-calibrates her thinking — she realises it was far from benign.

    And thanks everyone for saying how helpful this series is, and how the scriptures I have added are helpful. I spent most of yesterday putting scriptures into this post and the other posts that are yet to come in this series. I woke up this morning, still tired, wondering whether I had wasted my time by doing that yesterday.

    • Seeing Clearly

      Barbara, I noted to self how relevant the scriptures are, should have noted it in comment as well. Thanks for taking time to enhance our knowledge with them and encourage our hearts.

    • Helovesme

      Barbara I’m so sorry I didn’t comment on the Scriptures; I missed the part where you stated those were your additions. It was INCREDIBLY helpful so thank you for making the time and taking the effort. The more Scripture is inserted into real life situations, the more we can see how deep God’s wisdom and understanding is.

    • bluebird

      I also appreciated the Scriptures – thank you for taking the time to add them.

      • G’day bluebird, welcome to our little blog. 🙂

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  14. Mark

    What a great explanation of how the abuser opperates. The more of this I read the deeper the A-ha’s. Even as a male who fell pray to Abuse from a female I honestly can say the abusive tactics and entitled mentality are exactly the same. I certainly fell into the category of being a kind Christian man and unfortunately crossed the path of an abusive woman. Interestingly, early on in the marriage I found a plaque that said ” Be Kinder Than Necessary.” This was my credo for 30+ years. Today I still have the same plaque but added two simple yet more appropriate words to the beginning “Do Not”

  15. E

    “Grooming is benign if it generates sympathy and a desire to understand.”

    This is one sentence that may not be accurate, because grooming by definition is always about exploiting and control. A controller will use your sympathy and empathy against you and any you love. Every opportunity is used for data mining you and laying down false narratives in your head. Even what they want you to be sympathetic about is not a true representation: it is a lie built out of truth bits.

  16. bluebird

    Thank you so much for the effort and insight you put into this blog. It has been of enormous help to me as I pick up the pieces after leaving an abusive relationship. This post was hard to read for all of the reasons listed in the introduction. But it also confirmed my growing certainty that my partner chose me because he knew that he could control me. In fact, my kindness was one of the things he remarked upon and bragged about from the beginning. I’ve often thought that perhaps I have been too kind; it’s freeing to realize that I am not responsible for the ways my kindness has been manipulated by my abuser.

    Another sentence jumped out as well:

    he will from the outset explore ways to challenge her view both of the context of her life and her ability to deal with it…

    After having left, I have been reflecting on the things he used to say to me as I try to determine why it took me years to realize and remove myself. He would frequently provoke me to a nervous, emotional frenzy at which point he would “remind” me that my reaction to that situation was evidence that I would never have been able to handle myself alone in the real world, that I would fall apart in a crisis, that I needed him to take care of me.

    Lately I have become more and more proud of the fact that, since leaving, I have proven him wrong time and again. Sure, I still feel utterly lost and alone and unmoored. But I did it. I left. I am taking care of myself and those for whom I am responsible. And I haven’t fall apart yet.

    • Good for you, Bluebird!

      Don Hennessy says that women who have been targeted by these skilled offenders are some of the strongest women he knows. And he says that whether or not the women have left their abusers.

      • Lily

        I have long thought that they deliberately choose strong women. It is a challenge to weaken them. I think I’ve mentioned this here before. My 1st h, after I told him one night that I was not going to snag the bait of talking for hours till he got me to tears, said, “Don’t you know,…….(my name)…..that if I can make you sick or cry, that makes a man out of me?” Then he rolled over and went to sleep. I quickly wrote it down because I knew he would never admit to having said that. He was always really good to me, and even understanding of all the things he ‘acted dumb’ about otherwise, when I was sick. We would have talks about our marriage, he would take care of the children and serve me in bed, he would ‘get’ my concerns and ‘change’, even. Then the second he saw that I was well enough to get out of bed and start taking charge of the household, I saw the evil look just instantly transform his face, and everything went back to abuse again. Strange.

      • Marilyn

        Oh so true! As a young woman, I knew I was strong and capable, and loved myself for it. I thought it was natural to feel empowered, difficult childhood and all. Then I met the abuser, and gradually me fell away to shadow following after him. Now I am well read on this too and understanding it, this comment such made me feel clean and strong and elated, and well, ME! Thankyou Barbara!

  17. Clockwork Angel

    Great post, Barb!

    The elephant in the room still gets to me, though. Why would God Himself seem to set Christian women up for abuse by having Scriptural passages in place that have us cultivate the exact attributes abusers want? I feel like God Himself is grooming us, and He even adds the fear component mixed with the love component. If we fail to cultivate these attributes that make us vulnerable, we will burn in hell for eternity. It’s depressing. I really don’t know how to reconcile the New Testament teachings concerning women with real life on this account. How can we say God loves women when He grooms us to be passive doormats to husbands? He surely could have put more checks and balances into the New Testament commands than He did.

    Sorry in advance for my doubts. I just don’t really know anymore.

    • Hi Clockwork Angel,

      The Bible doesn’t say that Christian women should be more kind than Christian men. It is the way that visible churches say that which is the problem. So many Christian teachers lay great emphasis on women showing fruits of the Spirit like kindness and long-suffering but they do not lay the same emphasis on those qualities for men.

      The problem is not God or the Bible. The problem is how so many Christians and so many churches have misinterpreted the Bible. And how they have often interpreted the Bible through misogynist lenses.

      But as we heard (from Mark Q I think it was, in his comment on this Don Hennessy series) …when men are victims of abuse they also get told to be ‘kind’ and ‘long-suffering’.

      Therefore, to some extent the problem is a misogynist lens; but perhaps to an even greater extent the problem comes from the other lenses which many Christians have when they interpret scripture: the lenses by which they do sin-levelling, victim-blaming, abuse-minimizing etc., and thru which they end up offering grace to the perpetrators while laying heavy burdens on the victims.

      There is nothing wrong with God or the Bible. The Bible gives lots of guidance and narrative examples of how abusers can infiltrate our lives and our churches and cause havoc. The Bible gives lots of guidance (if we read it with discernment) about how to be wise as serpents in regards to identifying and resisting abusers.

      But there is a great deal wrong with many people’s interpretations of the Bible — because most people in the visible church pay little attention to the wise-as-serpents guidance, while they overly emphasize virtues like kindness and long-suffering.

      • ACON

        “… most people in the visible church pay little attention to the wise-as-serpents guidance, while they overly emphasize virtues like kindness and long-suffering.”

        Could this be intended result of the teaching of leaders who do not really serve God but groom Christians to allow themselves to be used? I don’t recall ever hearing a sermon on the wise-as-serpents part of Matt. 10:16.

        Great post, BTW.

      • I believe it is an intended result. I believe there are many pastors who are not really Christians. Not born again. Not regenerate. Therefore they do not know Christ and they are not have the Holy Spirit indwelling them. I believe that is also true for many people in the pews.

        I also believe that some of those unregenerate pastors are wolves who are intentionally masquerading as shepherds. These wolves are chewing up the true sheep, abusing some of them while misleading and mis-teaching all of them.

        These wolves have been grooming the visible church in many ways. Some of the ways they groom others in the church is by teaching in an unbalanced way, such as ignoring or underplaying the ‘wise as serpents’ texts and over emphasising the ‘long-suffering, kindness and grace’ texts. This helps them capture and abuse the victims they are personally targeting. It also helps them groom all the bystanders, the ones who may not be their direct victims but who they groom so that by their silence and passivity they (the bystanders) tacitly enable the wolves to keep abusing.

        And I further believe that some of the most egregious wolves (e.g. C J Mahaney and types like him) have been grooming many of the well known leaders in the church for a long long time. So most of the church is in the fog. Most of the church is dissing the victims when they come forward. Even if they are not dissing the victims, they are failing to FULLY support the victims.

        And most of the church is repeating and recycling the unbalanced teaching that damages victims and enables abusers to continue abusing.

        Here is a post by Brad (Futurist Guy) which explains how these toxic organisations and systems work, and the different roles people play in toxic organisations.

        Pyramid of Abuse and Culpability/Complicity

        There are four layers in the pyramid:

        The middle layer

        the bottom layer

      • Seeing the Light

        Thank you for sharing the pyramid. That is so helpful and so true.

    • free2follow

      I’ve had similar questions, Clockwork Angel. If my parents and my husband were not at all who they led me to believe they were, how can I know that God is who he says he is? He keeps bringing me back to two things:

      Jesus died for me. My parents and my ex did not. Quite the opposite, all three of them sacrificed me repeatedly and relentlessly to get what they wanted. God has given all to demonstrate his love for me you and me.

      Further, he is extremely angry at what has been done to you in his name. He has given his all to bring us life, and he is especially angered when people who identify themselves as Christian totally misrepresent him, and cause others to doubt that. The misrepresentation of God and his word is part of the profound illusion “Christian” abusers create. They will have to answer to God for that. Meanwhile, I’m finding that, when I bring my questions to God, he isn’t afraid of them or put out by them. He knows the confusion the enemy has stirred up, and he continues to call me to trust and to show me his love.

    • Clockwork Angel

      Thanks, Barb and Free2Follow.

      I guess I just wish God had done more to make sure Scripture could not be so easily misunderstood by us frail humans. Paul with his run-on sentences has to be the worst to read for anyone, including for native Greek speakers. Surely God could have inspired him to slow down and explain more thoroughly? Ditto with the Gospel writers. Take, for example, how much confusion has occurred because the “any-cause” divorce controversy in Judaism was forgotten post A.D. 70. How much trouble God could have saved all of us if He had inspired even one Gospel writer to describe the controversy so that we would not lose the original context behind what Jesus was actually saying regarding divorce? Or for that matter, how about putting even one sentence about women not being intellectually or morally inferior to men? How much pain and suffering could God have spared women to do that?

      I mean, if I were a deity, I’d have tried to future-proof and culture-proof my own inspired writings a little better. It’s one of those questions that makes me beat my head against the wall.

      • I understand your sentiments CA. And all I know is that when we get to the New Heavens and New Earth, we will be able to see and understand the answers to those questions.

      • romans818

        Barbara, thanks for that reminder. I, too, like Clockwork Angel, get discouraged that’s God’s Word is so easily twisted and misused. Makes me also wonder how much confidence I should have to think I understand any of it correctly.

      • In the Bible, God gives believers many reminders and warnings about deception. In the Olivet Discourse (Matt 24) — the last long talk Jesus gave to his disciples on the Mount of Olives — deception was perhaps the topic he most frequently mentioned.

        2 Thess 2:7-16
        For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

        But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

        Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.

        And

        John 10:27-30

        My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

    • TruthSeeker

      Totally feel this with you. I have found some scripture, just that 1 sentence, to ease this. The classic: there is neither… male nor female for you are all one in Christ. Pretty clear, but I am amazed how foggy people can make that by adding “equal but different” just like Jim Crowe laws.

      Ephesians clearly says to all Christians “submit to one another” this is then followed by “wives submit”. Same word. Have you ever heard anyone suggest applying the same standard to both situations? The preacher says submit to each other means to look after, respect, take care of… Somehow wife submit turns into always yield to what he says or wants. The words are the same for a reason. God is trying to say something, but christians pretend or are bamboozled to think that SUBMIT has two different meanings.

      Lastly, the story of Lydia. Here is a woman who has no man attached with her. Worse yet, she runs a business. As if that is not enough, she is the leader of a church. (I can’t count how many times it was insinuated that the problem is my marriage was my education, my successful business, and my leadership skills.) Lydia is anything but that image of the submissive Godly woman. She even argues with Paul. Then God makes it real clear. Lydia says, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house. ” they did. God validates Lydia’s life as Christian and Godly woman.

      Clockwork Angel, I think we’ve been lied to so much, that it’s hard to see truth anymore. Is God real? Is the Bible right? I don’t really know these days. What I am certain of now is that the way my husband treated me was not Godly, Christian, or Biblical. The things I was taught to believe (some times forced to believe) were lies mixed with truth.

      • What I am certain of now is that the way my husband treated me was not Godly, Christian, or Biblical. The things I was taught to believe (some times forced to believe) were lies mixed with truth.

        It is wonderful that you have certainty on that. Now it puts you at a place where you can seek the true and living God, not the pseudo one which all those Pharisees taught you about.

      • Hi again TruthSeeker
        one of our readers emailed me yesterday telling me how much help she got from The connection between #MeToo and the rejection of ‘salvation by faith alone’ (Sola Fide) — especially the links at the bottom of the post including the sermon by Sam Powell. She said she explored all those links and her mind was opened to the truly good news of the Gospel as understood in Reformed theology.

        I’m sharing this with you in case you want to revisit that post and dig into the links I gave in the post. Bless you!

      • Now free( formerly struggling to be free)

        I have had the same feelings and often still do. We have been confused by the enemy. I know in my heart where I stand and what I believe. I know my church and denomination has always taken a stand and even preached on true headship submission many many times and that abuse is contrary to biblical teaching etc.
        It’s not always the teaching that is unbiblical or false but sometimes for some bizarre and bewildering reason when presented with the divorce or abuse situation they crumble.
        There’s a terrible lack of putting what they believe into practice. Often not knowing simply what to do. There’s an adhoc reaction.

        In a world full of abuse there is somehow this sense of it will never happen here. I had a sister who always thought things would never happen to her. She was in denial of her alcoholism.
        However it did happen and often her denial made no difference and she tried to cope as we say “ on a wing and a prayer”
        I get the sense that many families churches organisations etc do exactly the same. It’s this going in almost without putting head into gear approach and just winging it.

        My dad always said to people who point the finger at Christians it the church and blame it for everything which may or maybe not always be the case. As we know here there is justifiable blame and he knew that too. He simply said we are fallen creatures we are often wrong and we sin sadly. It’s not right and yes it brings devastation. But….. we need to get our eyes if people and into Christ
        We need to focus on him and his example and follow him.not a church and not it’s people.

        It’s true and it’s hard to do at times but Christ is our only saviour and our only hope.

        Keep pressing on each of us and I believe God in his love will see us through.

        As Paul says now we see through a glass darkly (it’s fogged) but one day we will know and see clearly. It’s hard to be patient (I struggle) but I try to keep this focus …otherwise people will be used to ensnare me and drive me crazy with more confusion.

        I’m preaching to myself but sometimes it’s a slow process.

        One thing I do know …. God never changes and He still lives us … He understands our frame the psalms and Corinthians tells us. I can rely on him even if I’m a bit foggy and confused … I think in this situation of our abuse and bewilderment even at him ….. he’s got it (despite others and even ourselves maybe not getting it fully).

        I hope this encourages us just to press on and give us hope for the future. There is a bright future!!! I cling to this. Every blessing to all my friends here , you bless and encourage me daily. 😀

      • You will be interested to know that ‘now we see through a glass darkly’ (which is the KJV rendering and which many later Bibles followed) is rendered differently in the New Matthew Bible:

        Now we see in a glass, even in a dark speaking, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know imperfectly, but then I shall know even as I am known. (1 Cor 13:12 NMB)

        Ruth Magnusson Davis, the woman who is gently updating the 1537 Matthew Bible and publishing the New Mattew Bible at Baruch House Publishing, has written about the different ways that verse has been translated. From memory, she wrote about it at the facebook page of Baruch House Publishing.

      • As I recall, Ruth says that ‘in a dark speaking’ is an idiom for something being enigmatic.

  18. free2follow

    Because this insight is so revelatory for me, I keep rereading sections of Hennessy’s book, as well as these posts. More things I appreciate:

    The Scriptures are powerful additions. Thank you, Barbara! Most in this post are from the Psalms, and when I looked them up, I found things all through each psalm (64; 35; 10; 41; 12) that really hit home for me.

    The two flattery Scriptures brought out a point Hennessy did not: That part of the grooming includes building her up (insincere praise, ego stroking) in order to bring her down. At least, that happened to me: My ex made me think he loved and appreciated things about me that he later sabotaged and attacked me for.

    I especially appreciated Hennessy’s point that the primary fears an abuser grooms his target to feel may not be fear of physical attack. Hennessy says one of the greatest fears for kind women “is that they have changed into somebody who is unattractive and nasty.” Abusers especially prey on this fear and others like fear of rejection, fear of losing your mind, etc. The key – and another huge and evil betrayal – is that the abuser listens and watches intently to find out what the woman fears most, and those are the fears he stimulates. I see now that my ex did all the above.

    • romans818

      free2follow, YES. You’ve described my experience as well. I’ve struggled so much with how to try to explain that to someone else? Or the power he wields because of it?

      • free2follow

        Good questions, Romans818. I’ve spent years trying to explain my situation a LOT of times to a LOT of people, trying to figure out how to do it in a way they will “get it.” I’m only just now realizing:

        * If I try to tell someone what I’m experiencing and they don’t get it, it’s highly likely they will never get it, no matter how much I explain.

        * Continuing to try to explain to such people is not only useless, but also can invite more abuse, because people who don’t believe me often do NOT WANT to see or understand. They will collude with my ex and will shun me, falsely accuse me or take whatever tack is needed to get me to shut up.

        * The Christians I went to because I thought them most likely to understand and help were instead most likely to do the opposite. I’ve been very naïve about wolves in sheep’s clothing.

        * ACFJ has helped me see: It’s more about “who can hear” than “how can I explain.” There ARE Christians who can hear, believe and support you. They may need you to point them to some good resources to help them understand, but when you talk to them, they know you’re telling the truth and they’re with you, even if the abuse you’re trying to describe is covert. Finding such people, though, can be incredibly hard.

        * Psalm 37, especially verses 1-6, reminds me what to do in that excruciating season when almost no one around me sees or understands.

      • It’s more about “who can hear” than “how can I explain.”

        This ^

      • romans818

        “Who can hear” – thanks, that’s something to think about. I feel so compelled to explain and explain. It’s awesome I have a few people in my life who get it, but it’s also really isolating.

  19. TWBTC has found a recent news article in which journalist Tanya Sweeney interviewed Don Hennessy about his new book Steps to Freedom. Here is a bit from the article:

    Emotionally abusive men will often check on their partner’s whereabouts, and will slowly erode her confidence by making remarks about her appearance, her financial situation or her housework skills.

    “It’s all designed to demean her so she doesn’t feel like a woman, and therefore when she goes into the bedroom, she has no ground to stand on,” observes Hennessy.

    ‘Friends often think he’s the nicest man in the world’ – how emotionally abusive men establish control over partners

  20. Finding Answers

    I am so grateful you have taken time to intersperse Scripture with the book excerpts and articles, Barb. The links between Christian and secular become clearer – a God-send for someone like me.

    I am profoundly grateful the Holy Spirit has led me on a seemingly circuitous path to healing. Without the rebuilding from the foundation to the attic, none of this would have made sense.

    As I read, I must, of necessity, keep in mind my family of origin laid most of my anti-x’s groundwork. Otherwise, I have negligible point of reference for Don’s work. Similarly, the other books.

    Now I can understand why Unholy Charade, Tear Down This Wall of Silence, and In Sheep’s Clothing did not connect the dots.

    My family of origin laid the groundwork, my anti-x stole “the prize.”

    My anti-x twisted the “not me” voices in my mind without ever having to blame-shift, shame, or guilt-trip…by the time he targeted me, I had already made the assumptions.

  21. Now free(formerly struggling to be free)

    As always excellent and I see so much of this in my own situation.
    Just got point of interest re Don Hennyessy’s book Steps To Freedom – I bought just it a few days ago from amazon uk so it is or should still be available.

    • Thanks NF,

      Don’s book Steps to Freedom is available in the UK. But in America the book’s release date has been much later than its European release date. That’s a silly thing that often happens in the book publishing and book distribution world. It is not the fault of the Irish publishing company Liberties Press which publishes this book.

      Maybe some readers would like to check and let us know me whether Steps To Freedom is available at Amazon US, Amazon Canada, and Amazon Australia.

      • Sunflower

        I had ordered the book back in March and it arrived in the mail today.

      • Thanks Sunflower. 🙂

  22. Stephen Walsh

    He really understands their tactics, but he seems to be unaware of traumatic reenactment, dissociation, and the fact that children are sometimes not allowed to have boundaries and are conditioned like a pimp and his girl from an early age. So they reach adulthood already conditioned. I don’t think every woman in the world is vulnerable to abuser tactics.

    • Thanks Stephen, you may have a point — I am not a mental health professional but think it is possible some abusers may be dissociated or even have have diagnosable D.I.D. (Dissociative Identity Disorder).

      Don Hennessy does acknowledge that upbringing and culture play a part in the abuser’s formation, so I think he would say that those environmental factors and traumas can help condition the abuser. But in my view, and I think in Don’s view too, the abusers who CHOOSE to be abusers in adulthood as a way of life are still making the choice to continue the pattern rather than resisting the evil and doing the right thing.

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