Why Do Gifted Adults Often Deny They Are Gifted?

There are many reasons why you might not believe that you are gifted. Here is what Virginia has to say about it. Does she sound like you?

First of all, just so you know, I’m not gifted. I don’t even like the word. What does it mean? Is it fair to say that some people are gifted and some aren’t?

The truth is it never really did me any good to be labeled gifted when I was a kid. Yeah, they tested me for the gifted program in school but I just got bullied. And I spent a lot of time waiting. Waiting for other kids to catch up. Waiting for the teacher to teach something I didn’t know. Waiting to find a friend who could keep up with me. Who could understand me. I’m still waiting for that friend.

But I’m not gifted. I didn’t get great grades in school. I’m not a walking dictionary. I wasn’t the valedictorian. I even started failing classes in high school. There wasn’t enough time to think. Sure I got good test scores. But the tests were easy. Don’t gifted people get all A’s all the time? I didn’t always get A’s.

Really. I’m not gifted. I haven’t won the Nobel Prize. I haven’t won any prize. Well, there was the spelling bee in third grade. Does that count? I’m just a regular person. True, they called me a geek, nerd, showoff, and a know-it-all. But, geez, I don’t know it all. Far from it. I’d LOVE to know it all! But that’s impossible. I’d love to know it all. I want to learn everything about everything. I’ve got all of this unbridled enthusiasm about learning stuff. People find it very annoying, you know. Why can’t I just be satisfied with a good football game or with watching The Bachelor on TV?

But I know I’m not gifted. I worry all the time. Am I saying the right thing? Doing the right thing? I can’t sleep at night because there’s so much rumination. So many thoughts in so many different directions. I can’t turn off my brain. Surely, if I were smart, I’d be able to stop worrying and figure things out. I’d be able to meditate easily and find enlightenment, for heaven’s sake! But, no. There’s so much thinking. They called me an overthinker when I was five! And I’m still overthinking.

I’m not gifted. I can’t make decisions. There are always so many variables and variables within variables. I can’t even decide what color to paint the living room. I’ve painted it 12 times in the past 4 years and it still isn’t right. And, well, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. I’m overwhelmed by the number of interests I have. I changed majors 4 times in college and took 7 years to graduate. Don’t gifted people know what they know? And take clear confident action? Aren’t they all prodigies and have a clear direction from the time they’re born? Well, that’s not me.

Look. I’m just not gifted. I tend to go from job to job. Still trying to find my path. I learn a job in about two years, or less, and then get bored and want to try something new. I have a resume that’s all over the place. Coworkers aren’t very fond of me, either. I get frustrated at meetings while I’m waiting for them to figure out what I told them at the beginning of the meeting or two months ago. I’m not patient or a good team player. Other people are so lazy or they don’t listen to me. I get irritated easily. Not very gifted, if you ask me.

I’m telling you, I’m not gifted. Anyway, it’s too much responsibility. I mean, if I were gifted, wouldn’t I have to change the world? Like Elon Musk, I’d have to build electric cars, send rockets to the international space station and run a solar electric company? All at the same time? I’m just a mom. Raising a kid who is still throwing tantrums and she’s eight years old. She’s so sensitive and so emotional. See, I’m a failing parent at that. Oh boy. I am so not gifted.

Really. Truly. I’m not gifted. I just have very high standards and expectations and think everyone ought to live up to them. No biggie. It’s important to keep raising that bar, don’t you think? How else will civilization evolve? Of course, I probably shouldn’t take an hour to write a 3 sentence email. Sure. That might be a teensy weensy excessive. But, still. Standards, morals, ethics, expectations. I can’t lower my standards.

I can tell you for sure that I’m not gifted. Professionals have told me so. And they should know, right? I’ve been diagnosed OCD, ADHD, and bipolar disordered. But no one has ever diagnosed me with gifted disorder. Wouldn’t my doctor and my shrink tell me if I had it?

I may be crazy but I’m not gifted. I go nuts when the lights are buzzing and no one else hears them. When the leaf blowers are blowing. When I smell someone rotting who needs a root canal. When I know someone who is depressed and faking it. I talk to trees and they talk back to me. Crazy, right? But really trees, rivers, birds. They’re the sane ones. They’re gifted.

OK. I know I may a little sound intense. People say I talk too fast. But I’m actually cranking back my intensity right now and I’m not talking as quickly as I’m thinking. Just so you know. But even though I’m not gifted, I may fit some of the characteristics of the rainforest mind. I can relate to that analogy. My brain does feel like a jungle. I’m complicated. Sensitive. Colorful. Maybe creative. Overwhelming for sure. Dense. Green. And I’ve definitely run into chainsaws in my life. People have clearly wanted me to be cut down and turned into something I’m not. That’s for certain. Sad but true. Not that I’m complaining. I’m grateful for this life and for what I’ve got. Very grateful.

It’s just that sometimes, those chain saws. Sometimes they’re just too much. And if I were gifted, which I’m not, but if I were, I’d want to send the gift back to the manufacturer, for a refund. Unwrap the gift and send it back.

Yeah. But I’m Not Gifted.

________________________________________________

To my bloggEEs: This was taken from my new book Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists. The book is a compilation of my most popular blog posts 2014-2018 organized by topic. It includes suggestions for further exploration to guide you to greater self-acceptance, meaning, and purpose! It is a light-hearted look at rainforest-mindedness so it is a good gift book for teens, educators, friends, and therapists! (My first book is more in-depth via case studies, strategies, and resources. You can find out more here.)

Did you relate to this post? Do you deny that you’re gifted? Why? Why not? Your comments are greatly appreciated. Thank you for being here. As always, much love to you!


Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

54 responses to “Why Do Gifted Adults Often Deny They Are Gifted?”

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  1.  Avatar
    Anonymous

    Es posible encontrar ese libro en español? qué bella manera de escribir.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      No, it has not been translated into Spanish. I wish!!


  2. Cat Friend Avatar
    Cat Friend

    I recently listened to a talk about giftedness, and it described my life and the way my brain works better than anything else ever has. I had always been told I was ADHD and sometimes bipolar.

    I have this disconnect in accepting that I can be gifted. In grade school I was given giftedness testing, which I failed. I was later held back a year, and spent most of my school time in special ed doing next to nothing. Later in high school I was given an IQ test in which I got a below average score. College was a slog that took forever to get through.

    However, due to some weird circumstances, the first job I got after getting an art degree was science job in the NASA/JPL world. Somehow I’ve managed to thrive here. After 10 years I’ve been promoted from an intern to a research associate, and I’m now my own boss. Still, not having a PhD here makes me uneasy. There were points where I wouldn’t have kept my job if I didn’t have a BA

    It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the difference in these experiences. I guess I’m just not suited to the academic world. Someone would have to pay me a lot of money to return there.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sometimes RFMs don’t test well. Or their sensitivities and advanced abilities are misunderstood in school. Sometimes they have learning disabilities along with their giftedness. (called 2e, twice exceptional) It sure sounds like you’re gifted, Cat Friend. Thank you for sharing your story.


  3. Attila Aislinn Avatar
    Attila Aislinn

    Gifted people tell me that I’m gifted. I think they’re being kind. I was told I was gifted when i was a child. Streamed into a gifted pilot programme when I was 12. I still don’t feel really gifted. And I’m now doing my Masters and so far so good. And I’ve achieved quite quickly at times and shimmied up a few ladders but really I don’t feel gifted. I feel compelled to think and read and think and read and write and now paint. But I definitely don’t feel particularly gifted.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Join the club, Attila Aislinn! 🙂


  4. Chocolate Avatar
    Chocolate

    What I meant is… For example,
    It’s normal for RM to overthinking, bla bla bla, and so on.. Currently I’m searching a list for that..


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh. You might be able to find a list if you google something like “characteristics of gifted children.” You may not find a list for adults. But the traits are the same, basically. You could also look at the articles library at http://www.sengifted.org.


  5. Laureen Avatar
    Laureen

    I guess this feeling of loneliness is what made Friedrich Dürrenmatts “The Physicists” so famous:)


  6. xenmiller Avatar
    xenmiller

    Paula, are you also gifted? 🙂


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Well…I suspect that I’m on the spectrum.I don’t think I’d be able to do this work if I weren’t. I joke that I’m BG. (barely gifted) I know so many gifted folks now, I imagine that I fit somewhere in there but am not at the higher end for sure.


  7. Chocolate Avatar
    Chocolate

    A wonderful post Paula! I’ve been battling imposterism myself. Anyway, have you made a post about what is the normal things for gifted/rainforest mind to do in daily basis ? I’m sorry if i missed your related post before. Thank you again!


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Not sure what you mean, Chocolate. A post about daily life for a RFM? Is that what you’re asking? Or?? I haven’t written about that. I don’t know that there’s a “normal” daily life. There would be so many variables.


  8. treeguy1954 Avatar
    treeguy1954

    Do I think I am gifted? It doesn’t matter what I think, I only really care how I am treated by the people around me. I get asked for help and what think but get treated poorly. I think there is a disconnect with “labels”. I can be labeled as gifted or a RFM’ed person or anything. I just want people to think of me as a person and treat me like one. Ask questions and have an open mind.

    Many people have been bullied but a bully doesn’t take the time to talk to you and know that you and the bully actually have a lot in common. In your family you are average or common but you are new and different to other people and how their family’s are.

    How is it that a gifted person changes jobs or careers many times over and yet a person is normal if you stay at a job for forty years? I think that person might have something mentally going on to stay there that long and never think of doing something different (I have met a lot of people that stay only for the money and are very unhappy at work)..


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Relationships can be challenging when you have a rainforest mind. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, treeguy1954.


  9. CyclingMum Avatar
    CyclingMum

    “Gifted” is a hard label to accept when it feels like anything but. When it means being apart, other, over, wrong, too much and too little. So many of these characteristics and stories sound a lot like female Aspergers. With a strengths based approach, and finding your ‘tribe’ maybe there is value in swapping one label for another?


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      There are similarities and some overlap with female Aspergers but there are definite differences, too. It can be helpful to understand both. People often don’t like labeling but in these cases, it’s important for self-understanding and self-acceptance. Thanks for sharing, CyclingMum.


  10. M. J. Cuthbertson Avatar
    M. J. Cuthbertson

    The difficulty in acquiescing to accept the term gifted learner is because our brains are wired to be what some call gifted learners. But our brains know a one or two word phrase is a woefully inadequate description. A 40 page white paper might possibly be a starting summary, but I’m guessing the minimum explanation would be somewhere more in the 200 to 400 page range – individually specific for each of us. Ultimately, why should we trust a description or label from any other individual?


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Good point, M.J. Thank you!


    2. M. J. Cuthbertson Avatar
      M. J. Cuthbertson

      Additional thoughts:
      There’s often a difference in how we accept a public versus a personal label. Especially for public use there needs to be both perceived and an actual positive quality. With gifted and its synonyms there seems to be only an inconsistent or dubious upside, little reward, and less acclaim.

      The muddled relationship gifted shares with the word smart is a total complication. Smart is one of those unfortunate words with a dictionary definition that is superseded by everyone’s personal definition. Once a person creates a personal definition it’s nearly impossible to change.

      Most consider gifted and smart as synonyms, but the overlap is more like distant cousins. Unfortunately, the nuance is lost on nearly everyone. I along with most others on this blog revert to using smart rather than a complicated accurate phrasing like, intellectual potential, because smart is just so easy to use.

      We are creatures that name things. The brand names that define product classes like: escalator, zipper, Velcro, Band-Aid, Kleenex, etc. prove names stick for good or bad in unexpected ways, so we will be stuck with something. Likely, it will have complicated baggage that will rankle most of us because we generally eschew labels.


  11. Paula Prober Avatar
    Paula Prober

    I hear you, artyplantsman. It is disturbing. And now, as adults, we can love those child parts of us who were so bullied, and we can stand up to those fear-filled people who have to bully to feel important or to be noticed. I know it’s difficult and complicated.

    Thank you for reading my books. My way of saying NO to the bullies and supporting the “elite” among us. We each need to find our own particular paths. Thank you for being here.


  12. artyplantsman Avatar
    artyplantsman

    I must buy your new book Paula. I loved the last one.

    Several of these things above resonated with me. There is a new one now:

    When I was a kid I was bullied mercilessly because I was ‘different’. I’m not going to call it gifted (of course) but my curiosity and broad range of interests marked me as a target. As I grew older this became less of a problem and also the world seemed to become more accepting.
    There is now, however, a disturbing trend of public and political distrust and outright bullying of ‘experts’ or anyone that seems to be in any way ‘elite’. Sometimes when I read the news from the US or here in the UK I feel the same fear I did at school as a child. I hate feeling like I am 13 again.


  13. Lindsey Barr Avatar
    Lindsey Barr

    This resonated with me quite a bit, especially the part about being diagnosed with OCD, ADHD, and bipolar disorder. Early this year I was diagnosed with OCD, but after two weeks of attempting exposure therapy it just wasn’t clicking, and so my therapist and I decided that I probably didn’t have OCD and I stopped treatment. Recently I’ve been diagnosed with mild inattentive ADHD, but I’m worried that I’m just latching on to a “solution”, trying to label whatever it is that I’m dealing with. I know that I’m gifted, and I know that I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (even though both can be very inconvenient I accept them as mine). Could that be it? Is that all there is to it? I’m not sure. I just don’t want to start medicating myself for ADHD if I don’t actually have it…


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Some of the traits of these diagnoses can overlap with the traits of giftedness so that’s why it can be confusing. You might look for the articles about twice-exceptionality and see if any of that fits for you. There’s a very good book about misdiagnoses by James Webb and others. Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults… If practitioners don’t know about giftedness, they can explain away the characteristics by mislabeling clients.


    2. xenmiller Avatar
      xenmiller

      Hey Lindsey, I was medicated for ADD from age 26-32 and it was helpful. but since I also experience anxiety, stimulants are not always great for that, physiologically speaking. I stopped the meds this year and simultaneously a sleep specialist gave me “permission” to sleep late and go to bed late. now that I am sleeping guilt-free 4am to 10 am (plus rest in afternoon) my energy and focus have improved a lot on their own! there are also many resources for strategies to work with attention deficit stuff.

      truly the worst problem with that spectrum is our society is not structured for us! I say, do what works for you and don’t worry about the labels. 🙂


      1. Lindsey Barr Avatar
        Lindsey Barr

        Thanks xenmiller! I think that’s my goal, to not worry about the labels. There are reasons why I think my ADHD diagnosis is less than accurate, not just a Feeling (though those can be helpful). I took a computer assessment, got feedback from family members, and did some self-reporting. Everything but my self reporting suggested little if any reason to diagnose me with ADHD. I feel I may have convinced myself that I had it before I did the test through the research I was doing. I think I was looking for a label that was “treatable”, that had some sort of solution to it.
        I’ve been working through depression for a few years now, and that may be why I’ve been so preoccupied with labeling things. My depression was convincing me that I was suffering because of personality flaws, and so to combat that I searched for some disorder that would explain everything and be in some way apart from me as a person.
        I’m doing a lot better now and I think it’s easier for me to accept that my Rainforest Mind and my High Sensitivity could be the wells my depression drew from, but that’s ok. Let’s not worry about labels anymore and just move forward.


        1. xenmiller Avatar
          xenmiller

          agreed! I am the same way. labels give our symptoms some validation at least and then you can find other folks who are in the same boat. <3


  14. leagali75 Avatar
    leagali75

    Hi Paula,
    Why would I write a comment on this page since I am not gifted?
    Why would I keep reading your blog (I discovered your work a little while ago thanks for that) since I am not gifted ?

    Self-acceptance / doubt / self esteem issues.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      🙂


    2. renovatio06 Avatar
      renovatio06

      Like most other visitors who commented: Yeah. I resonate with almost every single line of Virginia’s letter. Where’s the break we might get from all that bullying, shunning, getting singled out, fingers pointed at, being marginalized and exposed to chainsaws every step of the way? At 54 I feel exhausted, tired, sad beyond any definition of depression and feeling like I’ve burnt every last remaining ember on standing up against – or simply enduring – all that rejection, jealousy, bullying, hate – yes, HATE!, all either covert or openly, that I’ve been met with over more than half a century on this completely sick planet. When can it be about ME and MY / OUR needs? And they are NEEDS, not eccentricism as they’re often quick to judge. Will there ever be a time or place for that? A place – will I ever get to have a place to SIMPLY BE – and be authentic at that? Or are we condemned to needing to constantly “go” against the grain for being the way we are? Did we CHOOSE being this way to begin with? Heck, I can’t “recall” any such moment. It was my bio folks, who prepared that primordial soup ouf of which I came. I didn’t have a say in that.

      Sorry for sounding negative and not upbeat or uplifting, it’s gotten too hard, as simple as that. I can so relate to how Virgiina and some others on here feel(s)…. A mixed bag? Blessing and curse? I’ve lost sight of the blessing part… or rather: The world tries its/their hardest to make me understand it is a curse only…(and for the “blessing”: I am being made into everyone’s shoulder to cry on simply for being able to LISTEN. Can’t do that, either, anymore…) Sorry.


      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Glad to have you here, renovatio06. Sending you hugs.


        1. renovatio06 Avatar
          renovatio06

          Glad to feel and be welcome here, Paula. A “virtual tribe” – but a tribe, nonetheless. (I’ve learnt to become frugile with my authentic needs… 😉 ) Thank you for operating this blog and providing so much resonant information!


  15. Pegi Ficken Avatar
    Pegi Ficken

    Every time that I read one of your blog posts I rejoice that I no longer wear mascara.


  16. John Avatar
    John

    “I’m still waiting for that friend…” I could have written that line – and a bunch of others from this post. It almost brought me to tears.
    I read your book a while ago Paula, and for the first time I had language to describe my life, and a way to help my wife understand why I’m always so different, complicated, and sensitive. I can’t thank you enough!!


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m so happy I could help, John. Thank you for letting me know. As you can see, I’m asking people to write reviews on Amazon as that will help spread the word! 🙂


      1. John Avatar
        John

        Done! 🙂


        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Oh! Thank you, John! 🙂


  17. Imaginez un monde différent…. – Marina Berts

    […] Cependant, je vous rassure, c’est possible pour vous de sortir du brouillard et d’accepter que vous êtes un extraterrestre. Parce que vous l’êtes, dans un sens! Vous êtes différent.e, pas comme les autres. Votre sensibilité est à fleur de peau. Vous êtes très joyeux.se et 10 minutes plus tard, vous êtes plongé.e dans le plus profond désespoir. Vous n’arrivez pas à vous décider de suivre qu’UNE carrière professionnelle, qu’UN loisir ou encore, de terminer le livre qui pourtant vous intéressait tellement il y a deux semaines (ce n’est plus très intéressant…). Ne vous inquiétez pas! Ceci est tout à fait naturel pour une personne comme vous. N’essayez donc surtout pas de vous changer, parce que ce serait tellement dommage de vous perdre dans l’ordinaire.  Vous n’êtes pas ordinaire, vous êtes extra-ordinaire. Continuez donc à être un extraterrestre, une personne extra-ordinaire, tout en étant conscient.e que vous l’êtes. C’est probablement votre plus grand atout dans l’existence – être différent.e et faire les choses différemment. Mais c’est difficile d’assumer nos différences, en effet, et parfois, nous avons peut-être envie de renvoyer notre particularité et notre différence à son expéditeur, tout comme Virginia que Paula Prober cite dans son blog. […]


  18. Nicole Avatar
    Nicole

    I never thought I was gifted. Hardly, since I flunked math 2 years in a row back in high school and was told I was ditzy or dippy by my family from the time I was just a toddler (which I can recall memories from back as far as 2 and a half years old), since I so often daydreamed (I still do now at 39!!) Even though I was plowing through 3-4 grown-up novels per week by 12 years of age and wrote short stories at age 5, I always felt defined by my family-of-origin’s initial labeling of me as, essentially, dumb. Having a loving, nurturing family can make all the difference in the world with how we view ourselves. Gifted children especially need this in order to soar! It wasn’t until I had my own 3 gifted children that i realized in my 30’s, that I may, in fact, be gifted too.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      That often happens when someone becomes a parent of gifted children, they recognize their own traits as well. Thank you for sharing, Nicole.


  19. Lori Avatar
    Lori

    This is me.


  20. ewf706 Avatar
    ewf706

    Me to a ‘T’!!

    (Currently reading your first book).

    Sent from my iPhone

    >


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for reading my book, ewf706. If you are so inclined, I’d appreciate a review on Amazon!


  21. help50 Avatar
    help50

    All too familiar. Living this way is a gift and curse. I am beginning to embrace my “uniqueness” but am caring for my chainsaw parent. Balance exists in a rainforest, just not mine right now.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, it can be so challenging to be caring for a chainsaw parent. Sending you hugs, help50.


    2. xenmiller Avatar
      xenmiller

      courage to you.


    3. renovatio06 Avatar
      renovatio06

      I soooo feel you there, @help50!!! I’m in a similar situation (too close to bio family, where were and are chainsaws meaning “well” by cutting down the long outstretched branches and twigs of the rainforest tree that I was born as….,)


      1. help50 Avatar
        help50

        Thank you for your response. I am caring for my elderly mother who happens to be a narcissist and physically disabled after brain surgery. I make choices about what I can reasonably accommodate. Today was the rusty shower shelf I am getting rid of. Oh the horror. Got to keep laughing and make it a sitcom.


        1. renovatio06 Avatar
          renovatio06

          Yup, narcissist. We have that in common in our bio family as well, help50. My mother is a textbook one as well (and naturally, doesn’t see any of it, which comes with the definition of that particular personality “type”…)


          1. help50 Avatar
            help50

            Kindred spirits. We all need to connect and support each other. Thank you for being there.


            1. renovatio06 Avatar
              renovatio06

              And you – for being open about it and willing to share.


  22. Marcia Hines-Colvin Avatar
    Marcia Hines-Colvin

    [[Echoes]]


  23. Asherah🍑 (@LibertyAsherah) Avatar
    Asherah🍑 (@LibertyAsherah)

    Dear Virginia, I bow to your ability to express what it means to be the strange one. One of the catalogue of ideas your letter brought to my mind was the idea of experiencing a Divine being (or an extraterrestrial, living saint, etc.); someone with a mind capable of galactic consciousness. I realized that perhaps it might not be that ‘light’ would overwhelm (like in the Bible); but the tremendous intensity of multiplexing thoughts and the effect on our physical brains.

    And thanks a lot, Paula, now I have to read yet another book. But really, thanks so much.


    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, another book! Thank you, Asherah.

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