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Narcissism & Conscience

Our Narcissistic/Codependent Society

In today’s show we discuss narcissism & conscience; including our ideas about how the narcissistic personality is formed and ends up avoiding doing what’s right.

On YouTube:

Kim’s Master Class

On Sound Cloud:

Kim’s Master Class

Show Transcript:

STEVE:  Hi everyone.  Welcome to our Narcissistic-Codependent Society. I am Steve Cooper, and with me today is my wife, Kim Cooper, online author and expert on narcissism and codependence. 

KIM:  Thanks, Steve.  Yes, I’m an expert because I have been both in my life, certainly (laughing).  But hey, darlin’, we’ve come a long way. 

STEVE:  We sure have. 

In our last episode of our Narcissistic-Codependent Society, we broke tradition and talked about religion.  It’s not our normal subject matter, but it did create some discussion at last. Kim, I was absolutely fascinated at your ability to talk about the Book of Job and its relation to social justice.

KIM:  Thanks Steve, we had a comment about judging people, and how we are all told that it’s bad for us to do this when really we all do judge people, and really it’s natural. 

We also had a comment about the need to be honest about what our conscience is really telling us, which is exactly what these next two shows are going to be all about. 

We also had a few comments basically agreeing that yes, our beliefs should be determined by our conscience and that when other people force their beliefs on us, it really doesn’t end up sitting well. 

Basically, all I want to add to that is that our last show on Codependence and Religion was not that we shouldn’t judge. That was really not the message in it. If anything, I think it was the opposite, and that a close reading of the story of Job that we dissected in that last show is actually saying that we need to judge the highest and lowest in our society by the same rules. 

STEVE:  Mmm.

KIM:  And just because someone is a leader or wealthy doesn’t put them above scrutiny.  And just because someone is poor or has faced hardship doesn’t automatically make them less in God’s eyes. If someone has indeed brought hardship on themselves and others by their own misdeeds and irresponsibility, maybe we do need to stop lending them a hand.  And, I think maybe as parents, sometimes we are faced with those kinds of tough love decisions. 

But likewise, if our leaders are being irresponsible by taking advantage of people more vulnerable than themselves, we also have an obligation to stop supporting them as well. 

STEVE:  Mmm.

KIM:  Jesus might have said to turn the other cheek, but he never said we should lack valor by turning a blind eye. 

STEVE:  (Laughing). Yeah, right, Kim. Absolutely. 

So, from a society level, this means, I guess, allowing avenues for whistle blowers and accountability for our leaders. You know, that doesn’t see people who speak up for what’s right wind up tortured or in jail. 

KIM:   Exactly. And that as a community we start finding the courage to stand up for what’s right and stop supporting people who are promoting what’s wrong. 

STEVE:  Well, there is plenty of that about. And that leads to today’s show, which is all about right and wrong. 

I’d like to start, Kim, by offering this: I just think at the moment, in this modern age, there is very little encouragement to do what’s right. And there is very little encouragement to think about what’s right, faced with a dilemma. What’s right? What’s right in my heart?  What’s right for everybody around me? 

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:   We are not encouraged to think like that. We are not encouraged to take the time to think like that. 

KIM:  No, I don’t think people talk about it much anymore. I remember as a child growing up going to church, you know, we talked about conscience a lot. And we talked about the ideas of listening to your conscience. I even learned that denying your conscience was the unpardonable sin. But, I don’t know, it’s a really long time since I’ve heard the idea that we really need to stop and think about what’s right and wrong discussed at all

STEVE:   And, even worse, Kim, I think it’s almost like a taboo subject: Oh, what’s the right thing to do? If everyone doesn’t talk about what’s wrong, we might pretend that it’s not happening or something. There is an understanding amongst society that if we ignore what’s wrong, well, we will all be okay. You know, you might say, look, I’m not sure if that’s the right thing to do. So often people will come along and say, yeah, but it’s realistic. And we are often faced with this kind of dilemma that society places upon us.  And I think we see it in the workplace a lot, that we are often feeling as though a lot of people have to do a job that they don’t really feel good about, but they are doing it to get paid. 

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  So, you know, okay, well I’ve got to get my paycheck, so I have to go through with this awful process, whatever it is (laughing), where I am having to sort of rob people of their hard earned cash, or, you know, kill animals, or whatever it is that people don’t like doing in their work, but they are doing it because it’s realistic. Because it’s the realistic way to make a paycheck. 

KIM:  Yeah, I think that’s really common. And if people even bring up the concept of what’s right and wrong, they are told it’s unrealistic. 

STEVE:  (Laughing.) Yeah, right. Well, there’s no time. There’s no time to think about what’s right. 

KIM:  Mmm. Yeah.

STEVE:  That’s one I hear all the time. 

KIM:  It’s all just about what is going to make money, not about what’s right. 

STEVE:  And that’s a real dangerous path to go down, I think, Kim. Because your family is not there to make money. Your good quality connections with each other are not about creating profit. 

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  You know, you can make money with people and have a good relationship with people while you are making money, sure. But that is not the central theme to why you have good relationships. 

KIM:  Yeah, that’s right. 

So, we are told more and more now, that success in our society is really just about making money, and nobody seems to really be talking about doing what’s right. But, the research really doesn’t back that up, because when you look at people who consider themselves successful and have lived to a ripe old age, most all of them will actually say that success is really about the quality of relationships in their life. I would say that is something that definitely, really depends on us listening to our conscience. 

You know, if you are somebody that can send your conscience away and justify doing the wrong thing too often, I think that really definitely is going to impact badly on your relationships, not just with other people, but with yourself. Because, really, to me conscience (and this is something I have spent a long time researching) is really all about our relationship with ourself. It is all about our integrity — our personal integrity. It’s about us feeling good about ourselves. It’s about us feeling worthy. And that is really always there for us (laughing). It’s always available to us. But I think there is a faulty idea out there about conscience, that is that it’s going to hunt you down, and it’s going to haunt you . . .

STEVE:  Mmm.

KIM:  . . . and, you know, we have all these sayings about conscience, which make it sound like something that is an active force; where, you know, most of the ancient texts   and wisdom I have been able to find on conscience, all really describe it as the opposite.  It’s something that is really quite passive, and something we need to go looking for, and we need to be prepared to submit ourself and our plans to. But if we do that, it’s always available to us (laughing), and that connection with our integrity and with our self-worth and with feeling good about ourselves, and being able to choose a path that gives our life meaning is always there. 

STEVE:  That’s interesting, that you describe conscience as a passive force, Kim. 

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  That’s really, really interesting for me, because, you know, we can’t take it with us. It’s not like anybody’s conscience is better than anybody else’s. It’s not an asset. 

KIM:   Well, I’m not sure exactly what you mean, because I think we can take our conscience with us — it’s with us all the time — and I would say it’s very much an asset, probably one of our most important assets.  But . . .

STEVE:  I mean, you can’t convert it for cash . . .

KIM:  (Laughing.)  No. 

STEVE:  . . . at the bank and go to Brazil. 

KIM:  (Laughing.)  No.

STEVE:  (Laughing.)

KIM:  (Laughing.)  But you know, it’s actually a lot more valuable than that, because it’s that connection with our own integrity, or even with our righteousness if you want to call it that — of feeling that we are right, or even knowing that we are doing the right thing and that we are on the right path.  And  I don’t think that is something you can really put a monetary value on. I just think it’s a real shame that it’s not being talked about that much anymore, you know, at a society level. This is really a problem that I see, is the fact that we are not talking about it. And I think too often it’s confused with guilt, or it’s confused with shame. And these really are quite different things. They are emotions, and guilt and shame might hunt you down, and guilt and shame might haunt you, certainly.  But that’s usually more involved with you being scared of being found out and being scared of being discovered. 

STEVE:  That’s a really important distinction, Kim, I think, because, you know, guilt and shame are sort of the things — they are scary.  And they do play on your mind. And I think you have described them before as intrusions. 

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  When you have bad memories from the past, they are called an intrusion. Sort of — ooh, you cringe when you think about it. It’s sort of something that you feel embarrassed about. 

KIM:   Mmm.

STEVE:   But that’s not your conscience. 

KIM:   No.

STEVE:   That’s guilt, and shame, and embarrassment, and fear that other people are going to judge you badly.    

KIM:  That’s right. And there are still things that we need to look at, certainly. But, look, in my Master Class, we do a lot on conscience and how to actually access your own conscience, and how to get back in touch with your own internal guidance system of knowing in yourself what is right and what is wrong.  And, you know, this is really extremely valuable.

But getting into conscience and narcissism.  Look, um, I want to tell a little bit of a story, Steve . . .

STEVE:   Mmm-hmm.

KIM:  . . . about how I kind of see the narcissistic individual or the narcissistic personality being formed, if you like, in a sort of stereotype story kind of idea (laughing).

STEVE:  Why not.

KIM:  And then we can get into the ways that I see the narcissistic personality denying their conscience, and the excuses that they make to not listen to their conscience. And then in our next show, we might do the same for codependents. 

So, I always get a picture in my head when I think about the narcissistic person growing up of this movie that we used to watch when the kids were younger called The Point.  It’s quite an old movie now. And it sort of applies and sort of doesn’t. You know, it’s a little bit different at the end. But what happens in this movie is there is this young boy (it’s an animation, sort of like a fairy tale) and the land where he lives there is this, is he a count or, I don’t know, some guy who is in charge of the whole land. He is very narcissistic.  And the young boy is quite good at this game that they play, which is called Triangle Toss, and he is really the best at it. But the count’s son, who he ends up beating, is very vindictive about the fact that the boy is better at Triangle Toss than him. And this ends up where he is actually banished from the whole kingdom. And in this story of The Point, he kind of handles that okay, and he goes through this whole, sort of slightly psychedelic even, adventure that really has, you know, some nice meaning in it. But I think in real life, it doesn’t really always work out that way. You know, the playing field isn’t always equal, and it’s not as easy to succeed out there as sometimes maybe our parents or the people around us would like to think. And I think that a narcissistic child often is somebody who is beautiful and intelligent, and they have a lot expected of them.  Because I really see narcissism and codependence as a system dysfunction, we have to actually look at those unrealistic expectations as part of the system dysfunction. Because if a child doesn’t feel like they are able to come back and say to their parents, or their teachers, or the people around them, “Hey, you know what: It isn’t really fair, the game is rigged and I’ve done my best, but I am having some problems.”

STEVE:  Hmm.   

KIM:  And it might be because of the kind of nepotism in the story of The Point. Or it may just be because this child has some hidden disability that they don’t want to admit to, and so they are hiding this kind of shame. Which, this pattern of hiding shame is really a big one in narcissistic behavior. So they may learn this early from the beginning because maybe they are actually dyslexic or they have some learning disability. But they want to hide this, and they still get through school by being charming and sweet talking their teachers, and sort of avoiding the rules. And eventually, this kind of leads to this symbolic, I guess, kind of banishment, like in the story of The Point, but really it’s an internal banishment, where the child can end up losing contact with their own conscience, and losing contact with their ability to actually talk about what they feel is right and wrong.

And, I am not putting all the blame here on society, but I think that society — and particularly parents — we really have to be aware of this, and we do have to take some responsibility. Because if we don’t have those avenues open for our children or for people within our society to be whistle-blowers, or to come and say, “You know what, I really have given it my best, but it’s not fair and the game is rigged”; or, “I am having problems and I am sorry. I know you are really expecting a lot of me, but I don’t really know if I am going to be able to do this. And I don’t know if what you are asking me to do is the right thing for me to do. I’ve got some questions about that.”

If we are always just telling our children that they have to do what is going to make them successful, and what is going to win them glory or what is going to win them rewards, rather than actually taking the time to talk to our children  and ask them, you know, do you feel this is the right thing to do. And encouraging our children to actually plug into their conscience. Well, we are going to just keep going further and further down this path of turning into a society where really not many of us any more are feeling proud of living in it, because all around us we just see we are living in a world that isn’t doing what’s right, and that none of us really feel that good about. 

STEVE:  And that brings me to think about what it means to be narcissistic. I think that somebody who is a narcissist is more often than not — let’s just say 9 times out of 10 —somebody who feels as though they have unrealistic expectations placed upon them . . .

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  . . . from a very young age or from a not so young age — it doesn’t really matter. There is unrealistic expectations that can’t be resolved, as you just explained, Kim. 

That leads to very poor decisions, and it leads to rationalising of bad behavior as well. If somebody feels as though they have these expectations to succeed and to thrive, but they don’t have that inner strength that you were just talking about there, Kim, and they have doubts — well it’s too easy then to rationalise bad behavior. 

KIM:  Or it’s just not possible, you know, what is being expected of them just isn’t possible. 

STEVE:  Yep.  So, if it’s not possible, then they feel like they are a failure and it can lead to some kind of breakdown. 

KIM:  Mmm. 

STEVE:  Or it can lead to cheating, lying, manipulating — you know branch stacking (laughing). 

KIM:  (Laughing.)  Yeah. 

STEVE:  All the terrible behavior we see. 

KIM:  So this is where the narcissistic person sends their conscience away and loses . . .

STEVE:  That’s right. 

KIM:  . . . or becomes banished . . .

STEVE:  Hmm.

KIM:  . . . when they lose that connection with their conscience, because they start saying, “It’s not fair and the rules are not fair. So, if it was a level playing field, and if it was fair, I’d be the winner.”

STEVE: Hmm. That’s right. 

KIM:  But then, who can judge, you know?  You start losing all accountability then, because if you play that game in your own mind, well, you don’t have to work anymore, you don’t have to try anymore. And it kind of justifies you cheating. And because you see yourself as a victim — which I think all narcissistic individuals do see themselves as victims — it also means that you can start to rationalise behaviours that may be considered as vice, because, you know, you are so hard done by, and because the game is stacked against you, and people are expecting more of you than you can really give, that you can justify all sorts of things because you feel sorry for yourself. 

STEVE:  Mmm.  Mmm-hmm.  That’s right.  And rampant individualism has become the modern experience for all of us here in the West. We are encouraged to be ultra successful, to win at all costs. We are encouraged to read self-help books to improve ourselves as people, which really all that equates to is that you are just learning to be better in business . . .

KIM:  (Laughing.)

STEVE:  . . . more useful in the corporate structure. That is, a better performer—somebody who can remain fit and work longer hours. 

KIM:  That’s right. Most of the self-help books are about being more successful, which means making more money. . .   (laughing)

STEVE:  Yeah (laughing). 

KIM:  . . . not about actually doing what’s right, and feeling better about yourself. 

STEVE:  That’s exactly right. 

And rampant individualism has become the form of abuse of us as people, by the people at the top of the food chain, as we like to call them. 

KIM:  Hmm. 

STEVE:  And those people at the top of the food chain will encourage us to be selfish and not to do what’s right. They encourage us to do what is realistic — and what is realistic is to earn money in a job that they want you to do, in order for them to make money.

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  So, it’s a bit of a drastic scenario I have painted there, but it really is about what we are trying to get at — what’s right? What’s right in your heart? 

KIM:  Mmm. This problem just goes through our community. 

But back to a family level, I don’t think that we can really solve this problem until we start taking some responsibility for not expecting so much of each other, and having more realistic expectations of each other. 

STEVE:  Hmm.

KIM:  The narcissistic individual really can’t heal until their family around them realises that maybe some of the expectations that they have of them are not realistic. We work in this area all the time, and usually the rest of the family is expecting that when the narcissistic person gets better, they are just going to be polite to everybody and they are going to be this Prince Charming and Hero, and save everybody. They are not ready for the idea that the narcissistic person healing is usually about them being able to admit their feelings of insecurity and their feelings that they can’t really meet the expectations of the people around them. 

STEVE:  Mmm.

KIM:  And, so, there really is trust building that is necessary . . .

STEVE:  Yep.

KIM:  . . . so that the rest of the family creates an environment of trust, so that this child or individual is able to say, “Um, you know what, I don’t think I can do what you are expecting of me, and there really are some problems, because the way this is set up isn’t fair, and, you know, I don’t know whether this is even the right thing for me to be doing, what you are expecting of me to do”.  So this is a two-way street. 

And as a society, we have to create avenues for the problems, and the inequality, and the lack of fairness in our system to be addressed. Because if there isn’t any outlets for this, if we can’t come forward and say, “You know what, I think there is a problem and my conscience is telling me that everything is not right with the way this is set up and the way this is being run”. Well, then, you know, we end up in that sort of symbolic feeling of being banished. How do we deal with it? 

And, you know, as individuals I think we can eventually really work at coming to a sense of strength, where we are able to maybe disappoint the people around us if we need to and say, “You know what?  My conscience is telling me this and I really need to follow this, and I’m sorry if that disappoints, you, but I have to be true and honest to myself”.  And, you know, that takes a lot of courage. And that takes a lot of strength. But really, that is what overcoming narcissism looks like. 

STEVE:  So someone who is about to overcome their narcissism is faced with that reality, aren’t they, Kim? 

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  That they have to start disappointing the people around them (laughing). And that’s not something that a narcissist usually likes doing.

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  They usually like to be the Prince Charming and Santa Claus all in one. But learning to disappoint people is about doing what’s right, and that is, “Okay, I can’t be all of these things. I have to disappoint you”. 

KIM:  Mmm. Well, I have seen you do that a few times successfully, and I have been proud of you when you have. 

STEVE:  And Kim, I feel like I’ve just got time to tell one more story about that. I think that, you know, doing what is right often changes. And for me, an experience was that many years ago, Kim encouraged me to go and play football again. She said, “Come on, you’ve got to get some more contact. You’ve got to get out, you’ve got to do something and meet some people”. And I said, “Oh, I don’t know, you know, I’m getting old . . .” And you really encouraged me, Kim, and it was great. I met a whole bunch of people, and it was one of the best things I ever did. I got out, I was playing football again, and I was training, and I met a whole bunch of guys, lots of families, and it was all wonderful.  But then, after four or five years, more and more was expected of me. I was expected to arrange evenings, and I was expected to drink with the boys a lot. There was trips away that I was really encouraged to come along on the trips away — all that sort of stuff. And I just had to get to the point where I had to say, “You know what, guys, I just can’t play this year”. 

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  They said, “Oh, what are you, injured?” 

“No, no.  I just don’t have time for this anymore.  This was great and this was fun, and I loved this, but I don’t have time for this anymore. It has become something else, you know. It has become a drain on my time, and everybody is expecting too much of me.”

KIM:  And it was working against your conscience, because your conscience was telling you that you really couldn’t afford to give all of that time to the football club — you really needed to give more time to your family? 

STEVE:  That’s right. And things did change over time. I was expected — well, I did have more responsibilities with our business, as our business evolved, so there was a reality check there for me, that I did have to look at it. And it was difficult, because I disappointed a lot of people. And, you know, I lost a lot of friends over it (laughing). But I’m actually happier because I did that. That process was really empowering for me.  Because I think it was partly me overcoming some narcissism — and also some codependence as well. 

KIM:  Mmm.

STEVE:  You know, it was about me saying, “No, you know, what is right for me now is if I step away and give more time to my family, because I have given the club enough”. 

KIM:  Well, I think that is the really important message in all of this, is that it is really possible to reconnect with our conscience at any time. We have to be discerning and not get our conscience confused with our ego, or our emotions, or — there is a saying, “Everything you want sounds like a good idea” (laughing).  This is really not what conscience is about. It’s a quiet space, it’s a passive thing that we need to go look for.  And it’s about saying, no really, what is the right and wrong thing to do here — not just for me, but for everyone.

But the good news is is that really does remain available to us, wherever we are, and, you know, no matter how far we might have gone down the wrong road in that kind of figurative banishment, I think it’s always there for us, and we always have that choice we can make to actually reconnect with it. And we can go and search it out, and say, “No, what is the right thing for me to do”. 

Now, if we have gone a long way down that road of banishment, that may get harder and harder, because turning around and deciding later down the track that we are going to start suddenly doing the right thing might mean we need to make a whole lot of, you know, changes in our life — and some pretty big changes. And those changes may disappoint the people around us. But really, you know, it’s important that we learn to overcome that fear and find that courage to say no, because really at the end of it all, what is most important — what really is success in life? That connection with ourself, that feeling that we are doing the right thing by ourselves, and doing the right thing by our conscience — I really don’t know anything that gives the same quality of life and really ultimately a feeling of meaning and success in your life than that. 

STEVE:  Well, I know what the right thing for me at the moment is, Kim, and that is to help you get to bed earlier.  So we should wrap up this radio show so you can edit, and we can get you to bed. 

Thanks everybody for tuning into our Narcissistic-Codependent Society.  Please join us on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook — join us, join the conversation, please. That’s why we do this. We want you to talk to us, we want to hear your comments. We want to get the conversation started.

KIM:  And take the time to like the show on YouTube, if you like it — and yeah, we really do want to hear from you.

STEVE:  Thanks very much.  We can’t  wait to talk to you next show, when we are talking about codependence and conscience. 

Good night.

Kim’s Master Class

For fifteen years, the Coopers have offered themselves as humble guides and mentors, helping families avoid cynicism and chaos. Leading the way as peer support specialists whose own family has traversed love's dangerous terrain.
Taking you to that place inside yourself that you can't go by yourself. Helping you get back in touch with the power of love within you to restore the sanity in your marriage whether you stay or leave.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Such a good point you guys made that there’s a difference between conscience, and shame and guilt. Also the one you make between turning the other cheek and turning a blind eye. Helpful distinctions.

    When I look back at my own life, I know I sincerely tried to live by my conscience in honesty and truth, and make my choices based on that – still do – and because I see a difference, a development in myself, I wonder if it is in fact possible that we can have ‘unequal’ consciences, and that some may indeed be more informed, or healthier, than others. Or maybe it’s simply a case of whether we have keys and knowledge of how to respond in empowered yet respectful ways that is the difference. I’m not sure yet…

    One thing I do know is that I would make some very different choices now than I did in the past. Not necessarily the ‘big’ choices (altho maybe…) but a lot of the day-to-day ones. Much of that is to do with my own self-worth and value as a person – it’s a lot stronger now. Obviously some things will always be black and white, right or wrong, but perhaps some areas of our consciences can be a bit muddied until the light of TRUTH comes in.

    Thanks again for questioning the status quo. You shed a lot of light into many grey areas.

  2. Lovely thank you, I have reposted the wonderful bit about the family thinking that a cure means the person will be even better for them, with acknowledgement.

  3. PS I was taught about an “external locus of evaluation” and I think this is the same thing – circumstances dictate, in other words. If my person broke an agreement, they would say, that was then, this is now, and their parents would agree.

    1. Yes we need to consider both an internal and external Locus if we want to be solid and confident in our own decisions. I have a process I teach in my master class which makes me consider both. My own locus is naturally very internal, which is not a bad thing, it just means I need to make sure I take time to put myself in the other person’s shoes.

    2. Exactly, I feel that conscience is not the same for everyone, mine too uses the excuse that” things have changed” to excuse himself for breaking various promises he made that were big issues for me.

  4. I kept seeing how what you were saying about conscience parallels what the book of Proverbs says about wisdom. It really is far more valuable than gold. I am wondering if the two words could be interchangeable throughout the book of Proverbs? If we do continue to pursue what’s right, will we gain more wisdom? Maybe righteousness is a more realistic comparison word.

    I agree with the above post (Anna) as well. I can earnestly say that I have for the most part tried to do what’s right. But, looking back, I still made a lot of mistakes. I see now that was mostly due to lack of knowledge of the truth. I was taught false humility, so “shooting for the stars” was never my outlook–that would be “prideful.” I am now learning that it takes courage to step out in the areas we are gifted in. Being humble doesn’t mean we hide all of our gifting.

    1. Thanks for your comment Cecelia, I think righteousness is probably a good comparison word yes, because really conscience is about doing what is right isn’t it! You would probably enjoy our show on Codependence and religion, in that show I dispute the idea of false modesty and suggest that there really isn’t a biblical basis for it. We have also have new show coming out today on Codependence and Conscience That I also think you will enjoy 🙂 If you get your questions and comments in early enough we will try and discuss them in our next show.

  5. Thank you for sharing these insights. Making space for everyone in my family to say “is this the right thing to do?” is important. I can see how, as a codependent, I have placed unrealistic expectations on my family members. I am also realizing how I may need to disappoint some people to address my narcissistic blind-spot. I realize this fear of disappointing others is connected to my own narcissism and codependent need for external approval. Wow. Eye-opening.

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