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Parent Adult Child Model

Tara’s Version of Parent, Adult and Child Model

Transactional Analysis

Brief History and Introduction of PAC Model:

Transactional Analysis is a theory developed by Dr. Eric Berne in the 1950s. Originally trained in psychoanalysis, Berne wanted a theory which could be understood and available to everyone and began to develop what came to be called Transactional Analysis (TA). Transactional Analysis is a social psychology and a method to improve communication. The theory outlines how we have developed and treat ourselves, how we relate and communicate with others, and offers suggestions and interventions which will enable us to change and grow. The roots of the model suggests that people can change and we all have a right to be in the world and be accepted for who we are. I find the model to be very useful and common sense and it is important to realize that this is a model to be applied life long and thus making changes may take time.

Berne devised the concept of ego states to help explain how we are made up, and how we relate to others. These are drawn as three stacked circles and they are one of the building blocks of Transactional Analysis. They categorise the ways we think, feel and behave and are called Parent, Adult, and Child. Each ego state is given a capital letter to denote the difference between actual parents, adults and children. We will all go in and out of the various states however it is to what degree we are living in the states, especially ones that are unhealthy that we may want to bring to consciousness so we can alter these states.

Thomas Harris applied the Transactional Analysis as a method of solving problems in life and he came up with one of the best selling books describing this model called “I’m OK, You’re OK.The phrase I'm OK, You're OK is one of four "life positions" that each of us may take. The four positions are:

  1. I'm Not OK, You're OK
  2. I'm Not OK, You're Not OK
  3. I'm OK, You're Not OK
  4. I'm OK, You're OK

The most common position is I'm Not OK, You're OK. As children we see that adults are large, strong and competent and that we are little, weak and often make mistakes, so we conclude I'm Not OK, You're OK. Children who are abused may conclude I'm Not OK, You're Not OK or I'm OK, You're NotOK, but this is much less common. The emphasis of the book is helping people understand how their life position affects their communications (transactions) and relationships with practical examples.

I’m OK, You’re OK continues by providing practical advice to begin decoding the physical and verbal clues required to analyze transactions. Harris introduces a representation of two classes of communication between individuals: complementary transactions, which can continue indefinitely, and crossed transactions, which cause a cessation of communication (and frequently an argument). Harris suggests that crossed transactions are problematic because they "hook" the Child ego state of one of the participants, resulting in negative feelings. Harris suggests that awareness of this possibility, through TA, can give people a choice about how they react when confronted with an interpersonal situation which makes them feel uncomfortable. Harris provides practical suggestions regarding how to stay in the Adult ego state, despite the provocation.

Having described a generalized model of the ego states inside human beings, and the transactions between them, Harris then describes how individuals differ. He argues that insights can be gained by examining the degree to which an individual’s Adult ego state is contaminated by the other ego states. He summarizes contamination of the Adult by the Parent as "prejudice" and contamination of the Adult by the Child as "delusion". A healthy individual is able to separate these states. Yet, Harris argues, a functioning person does need all three ego states to be present in their psyche in order for them to be complete. Someone who excludes (i.e. blocks out) their Child completely cannot play and enjoy life or allow themselves to be creative are examples.

Parent States:

This is a set of feelings, thinking and behaviour that we have copied from our parents and significant others.

As we grow up we take in ideas, beliefs, feelings and behaviours from our parents and caretakers. If we live in an extended family then there are more people to learn and take in from. When we do this, it is called introjecting and it is just as if we take in the whole of the care giver. For example, we may notice that we are saying things just as our father, mother, grandmother may have done, even though, consciously, we don't want to. We do this as we have lived with this person so long that we automatically reproduce certain things that were said to us, or treat others as we might have been treated.

Critical Parent:

The critical parent can be defined as having some of the following characteristics. Please note, you can be talking to yourself from this state or someone may be coming from their critical place to you.

Critical parent language:

Should or shouldn’t: You should do your homework, you shouldn’t walk in with your shoes on. When coming from this place, it will place pressure on another person and it feels we are having a finger pointed at us scolding us.

Have to: You have to do your homework, your chores. You have to listen to me. When we are on the receiving end of someone telling us we have to do something, it feels like we have no choice and places pressure on us. If we are speaking to our self from a have to place, then I encourage you to take a step back and us yourself do you want to do what you are about to do or say, if you want to and you keep using the words have to, it may mean you are not yet ready to do what it is you want to do or say. This may be happening as you are not trusting yourself, you may be scared, you may require more information; yet these considerations are probably not in the forefront as you may be in a pushing mode of getting it done.

Many companies and authoritarian type parents will come from the place of “have to” and “should” as they do get successful results, yet it is at the cost of your well being or people around you. I will show you through this model how to get successful results without the cost factor.

Need to: Need to, comes from a place of fear, desperation or scarcity thinking, it is just another form of pressure. A healthier approach would be to use the words, I want, I choose, I prefer.

Why?: When we ask the question why, we are looking for a specific answer and what ends up happening is that we often will end up with no answer and asking the same question over and over or we will ask another question. It may feel like we are going crazy as we go around and around in circles and it can feel like it is obsessive.

The should have to, need to and why’s are the main languages a critical parent will use, and quite often our voice will be raised when we are in this state, or we will have a tone to our voice. However, even if we are not yelling or do not have a tone, and we are speaking in a regular voice yet we are still using those words, the person on the receiving end will want to tune us out or do the exact opposite even if we have a valid view point. The reason for this is because how our communication will end up landing for the person is that we are judging, criticizing, controlling, blaming and in some cases shaming. If we are around ourselves, or someone else that continues to come from this mode of communicating it can add to more stress, worry, anger, depression and anxiety.

Either Or Mentality Thinking

A common characteristic is to think of things from a black or white perspective and not to see the gray areas. Some examples are I’m good, or I’m bad or the situation is good or bad, strong or weak, win or lose, success or failure, there is a right way of doing things and a wrong way of doing things. When we are in this place of thinking we probably are not breathing properly, and if we are not able to see the gray area, it is highly likely we will not be able to come to a place of forgiveness of self or others if required. Some people will take it to the extreme of righteousness, my way or the highway. This is all pressure filled to ourselves and towards others.

Typical Type A Personality Traits

If you are physically busy, always on the go, more accomplishment based or mentally busy – a constant to do list, thinking I will be happy, when x,y,z occurs and when it does something else takes it’s place. When we come from this place, we are probably not connected to ourself let alone others as we are living from the past or future, not the present moment.

Self Doubt

If you are in a place of questioning yourself or others, this is an indication you are in the critical parent place.


There is rational guilt and irrational guilt. Rational guilt is when your action directly caused something to happen, such as a car accident. Irrational guilt is when there is no direct correlation, yet you feel guilty. Guilt is a form of self-punishment, it is a destructive form of control. If someone is attempting to guilt you, then you know they are coming from their critical parent place, if you are allowing it then you are in your own critical parent place.


If you are coming from a place of wanting things perfect or having really high standards more to the point of being unrealistic then you know you are in the critical parent mode.

Where we live when in critical parent mode

When we are in the critical parent mode of thinking we are living in our head. Our head is cut off from our body. We are basically listening to a voice that sounds like our voice, however it is a chatter box that has been developed over the years based on beliefs and values and thoughts from our main caregivers, people of influence, culture etc. Some of these beliefs have served us as a child and most likely are now outdated and cause us more pain to refer to when we are older.

When our beliefs and values are formulated

Many of our beliefs or values that are coming from the critical mode of thinking are usually limiting to us, disempowering or negative. They are usually formulated by the time we are age 8. Sometimes we are told things directly or it can be implied and they create a belief. Basically a belief is a thought we agree to whether it be negative or positive and that is repeated over and over. For example, if you were told that you were stupid or not smart, and you decided it was true for you, then you create a file called “I’m not smart,” and then you will collect evidence to prove it right. Event though it goes against us, as humans we love to be right, and if we agreed to it, we will keep collecting evidence as it is our familiar, it is something we know and it give us this false sense of control over ourselves. So we may sabotage ourselves in this area, until we bring to conscious awareness where the belief formulated and that we can alter this thought pattern.

Why is the Critical Parent called the False Self?

The critical parent is called your false self as you were born a ball of love. You were born trusting, full of self expression, connected, etc and then over time, as a child you experienced little wounds and big wounds that placed conditions on you and then you learned to conform to survive in the meantime forgetting some or all of who you truly are. A false sense of self was born to protect you. Given this was all learned, it can be unlearned to remember who you are, it just takes a willingness to become conscious, an awareness of what you want and practice which may mean learning new skills of living and loving yourself.

Tell the Truth

So please without judgement, I invite you to tell yourself the truth. Growing up did I have a strong critical parent role model or models and if so how much did I integrate and how is it currently playing out in my world. To what degree do you live in your critical parent mode? Do I do this to myself, or others or am I attracting people in my life that come from this mode of thinking such as my intimate partner, peer, colleague, boss etc. We often do this to continue to replay what our familiar patterns are that we learned.

Nuturing Parent:

Physical Aspect

Physical Needs: Did your parent take you to the doctors, dentist, fed you, clothed you, basically take care of your physical needs, if not this could be constituted as neglect.

Physical Touch: Research shows how important for young babies and children to receive healthy physical touch in the form of snuggles, hugs and kisses. Also for the child to witness caregivers expressing appropriate touch to one another. On the other side of the coin, the child may grow up in a sterile environment where there is no touch, or worse yet witness or experience physical, sexual abuse.

Absent Parent: It is important that a child knows there parent wants to be there physically. There can be impacts when a parent is not there physically as they do not want to be, they are outside of the home because of being a workaholic, and single parents do have it harder, however if the quality of relationship is intact, it ought to be okay.

Emotional Aspect:

This area is just as important as the physical however it is a bit more tricky in terms of being met it seems. Ideally we want our caregivers to create a safe home and to role model how it looks like in a healthy way to display our emotions whether it be anger, sadness, joy, stress anxiety. All emotions are okay it is a matter of how we display them. In past generations children that are now parents may have received messages that emotions are not okay to display at all, or they may have been witnessed to unhealthy forms of emotion such as anger. Messages from that generation may have been “children are to be seen, not heard,” and “do as I say, not as I do.” As well, institutions such as churches and schools believes in this critical parent mode of thinking and acting and they may have used the strap or ruler as a form of discipline. Spankings were of the norm and even physical abuse to a certain degree was tolerated. There were not a lot of supports to know anything different. Thus in todays society children demand to be parented differently as they know they are in a democratic society and they know their rights. Parents coming from the critical parent mode of being raised may not know how to do this, so as a society we are in transition in this area.

Words of Encouragement

Words of encouragement are vitally important such as “I believe in you, you can do it, I love you,” different than praise which is conditional and reflects the good girl and boy thinking. On the other side children may not receive any form of feedback which can have an impact or worse than that would be putdowns such as “you are an idiot, stupid, useless, lazy etc.”


Comparisons will have a child feel less than or more than, never good enough just as they are. “Why can’t you be like your sister, or brother?” Sometimes parents do not compare, yet children do it at school or in activities.

Physically There, Not Emotionally

Sometimes parents will be there physically, yet not emotionally as there may be mental health issues, addictions, a parent doesn’t know how, doesn’t want to be, too many children to take care of and not enough time or energy, marital discord, trauma, death.

The physical and emotional stages are developmental stages a child will go through no matter what and the key ages are up to age 8 years. Sometimes parents are great at providing for the physical and not the emotional or vice verse, ideally we would like a solid foundation of both.

Even if we came from a healthy family, there are still times when our perceived needs were not met or not met in the way we would have liked and that will constitute as us being wounded in some form. It is important when we do become consciously aware, that we identify if we have been wounded, and to grieve those wounds and then learn to re-parent ourselves in the way we would have liked or felt deserving of. This is a process to go through.

Example of Physical Wound

If a person grew up in a sterile environment it is highly likely this person when older will attract a partner to them that is very affectionate, warm and fuzzy with their touch. This person who is affectionate may take it as a personal rejection when the touch is not reciprocated although it has nothing to do with them, it has everything to do with the fact that their partner doesn’t know any different when it comes to touch. What would be required is this person grieving their lost touch, and gradually introduce touch back into their life. Something as simple as a hug, may be very uncomfortable and difficult for that person.

Example of an Emotional Wound

If a person grew up in a environment where the child knew it was not safe to speak up, that child will learn the habit of keeping things inside and then later it turns into a default as an adult. This person may then keep things inside bottled up and then explode or keep things inside and develop illness of some sort as an example. This habit may impact them in personal relationships and career. What would be required is to grieve this lost voice and give self permission to use their voice.

Adult State:

The Adult ego state is about direct responses to the here and now. We deal with things that are going on today in ways that are not unhealthily influenced by our past.

The Adult ego state is about being spontaneous and aware with the capacity for intimacy. When in our Adult we are able to see people as they are, rather than what we project onto them. We ask for information rather than stay scared and rather than make assumptions. Taking the best from the past and using it appropriately in the present is an integration of the positive aspects of both our Parent and Child ego states. So this can be called the Integrating Adult. Integrating means that we are constantly updating ourselves through our every day experiences and using this to inform us.

The Integrating Adult ego state circle is placed in the middle to show how it needs to orchestrate between the Parent and the Child ego states. For example, the Critica Parent ego state may beat up on the internal Child, saying "You are no good, look at what you did wrong again, you are useless". The Child may then respond with "I am no good, look how useless I am, I never get anything right". Many people hardly hear this kind of internal dialogue as it goes on so much they might just believe life is this way. An effective Integrating Adult ego state can intervene between the Parent and Child ego states. This might be done by stating that this kind of parenting is not helpful and asking if it is prepared to learn another way. Alternatively, the Integrating Adult ego state can just stop any negative dialogue and decide to develop another positive Parent ego state perhaps taken in from other people they have met over the years.

Where we live in our body when in the adult state

Unlike the critical parent which is mostly about being reactive, controlling and living in the head, the adult is when our head and heart are connected. When they are connected I refer to it as a “state of knowingness,” in other words, “trust.” The only thing we can really control in our life is our responses to people and situations. When coming from the critical parent place of control we are wanting to control others, ourselves and situations in order to experience security and trust. This is an illusion. We only can learn to trust ourselves. How we learn to trust ourselves is by knowing this template or model that I am going over with you, the more you know your past, not from a dwelling place, but rather this is my past, then you will have more control of your life. The second piece to know intimately is your values (refer to values page). Values are what matters to you. Knowing your history and your values, then you can put what I can structures in place to protect and honour you and this will increase your self confidence and self esteem.

Two elements of the adult state:

Personal Responsibility

One element of being in the adult is coming from a place of personal responsibility for yourself and your life, not from a “have to” perspective but rather a “choiceful” place. If you come from a “have to” perspective then you are coming from the critical parent place putting pressure on yourself, the adult is about choices. You may not like your choices, and sometimes our choices are not always warm and fuzzy, sometimes it means saying and doing something that takes something from you, yet you know in your heart it is the best thing for you.

I like to describe the adult as having a coach, mentor or guide on your side. Pretend you are learning a new skill and you make a mistake, the adult would say to you “way to go for being in action and giving it your best,” the critical parent voice would say “you idiot, you messed up, suck it up, get over it etc.”

Clear Boundaries

The second element of the adult state is knowing your boundaries. When you have clear healthy boundaries you are in the adult state. If for example, someone does something that causes you to be angry, then the personal responsibility of the adult would check in with you and say “I’m feeling angry, what is unfair as anger means unfairness, do I want to respond to this person?” If you are still in reactionary mode the adult would say to the person, “I am upset and would like to talk to you about this and I am not yet ready, can we talk tomorrow?” If you go to a place of reaction instead, then chances are you have taken yourself to the critical parent mode or child state and will lose the power of being in the adult even if you have a valid viewpoint, as it now will be about your reaction.

Usually we have a strong sense of our adult in one area more so than another, such as career verus relationship or vice versa. Ideally we would want our adult state to be strong across all areas. Having said this, some children growing up did not have caregivers role modelling a healthy sense of their adult state or trust thus as adults even talking about trust can be scary as it may mean learning how to let go of control and this may feel like a death to some people. Trusting oneself is like learning a brand new skill, just like a baby learns to crawl and takes time.

Child States:

The Child ego state is a set of behaviours, thoughts and feelings which are replayed from our own childhood.

Perhaps the boss calls us into his or her office, we may immediately get a churning in our stomach and wonder what we have done wrong. If this were explored we might remember the time the head teacher called us in to tell us off. Of course, not everything in the Child ego state is negative. We might go into someone's house and smell a lovely smell and remember our grandmother's house when we were little, and all the same warm feelings we had at six year's of age may come flooding back.

Both the Parent and Child ego states are constantly being updated. For example, we may meet someone who gives us the permission we needed as a child, and did not get, to be fun and joyous. We may well use that person in our imagination when we are stressed to counteract our old ways of thinking that we must work longer and longer hours to keep up with everything. We might ask ourselves "I wonder what X would say now". Then on hearing the new permissions to relax and take some time out, do just that and then return to the work renewed and ready for the challenge. Subsequently, rather than beating up on ourselves for what we did or did not do, what tends to happen is we automatically start to give ourselves new permissions and take care of ourselves.

Alternatively, we might have had a traumatic experience yesterday which goes into the Child ego state as an archaic memory that hampers our growth. Positive experiences will also go into the Child ego state as archaic memories. The positive experiences can then be drawn on to remind us that positive things do happen.

The process of analysing personality in terms of ego states is called structural analysis. It is important to remember that ego states do not have an existence of their own, they are concepts to enable understanding. Therefore it is important to say "I want some fun" rather than "My Child wants some fun". We may be in our Child ego state when we say this, but saying "I" reminds us to take responsibility for our actions.

Free Child

This is where a child is naturally playful, curious, spontaneous, fun loving, easy going. Sometimes parents may give messages to children that it is not okay to be a child, grow up, this is more rare however it does occur. More commonly is when it happy indirectly that a child experiences something that has the child grow up. For example, if there is a moody or addictive parent, the child learns to walk around on egg shells around that parents mood or addiction. The child may be bullied at home or school, witness marital discord, trauma, death, the eldest child may be expected to take care of the younger siblings or in some cases the parent. What happens then is the child loses out on some aspect or all aspects of being a free child, and experiences wounding in this area. When we become aware of this it is important for us to grieve this aspect and learn to reintroduce play back into our life as an individual, as a couple or as a family unit. For example, play may mean reading a book to someone, going to a movie, going out with friends. Etc. When we have a healthy sense of play our life will be more balanced.

Little Professor

This is all about creativity. We may be creative with singing, arts and crafts, our imagination and even if we do not have a talent in say singing, we all have elements of creativity, it is a matter of giving ourselves permission to tap into it. We may be a fantastic cook, or have a superb sense of style or beautiful way of decorating our home. The more creative we allow ourselves to be the more we will be on purpose and connected to our true self. If this has been repressed in any fashion, once again we want to grieve this area and learn how to reintroduce creativity back into our life.

Adapted Child States

Some families are dysfunctional, yet even if we came from a healthy family, there will still be times when we felt uncomfortable or threatened in some way, it could have been a parent asking us why we did not pull a certain grade, or sibling rivalry or parents arguing and we are not use to this. Something happened, and we came up with a strategy to get us through the situation which turns into a habit and later on a default. As adults we continue to resort to this coping style yet we have outgrown it and it causes us more pain and suffering and we do not have an alternative so we keep on using it. Some of these statagies include the following:

Being an angry child, inwards or outwards – inwards anger is often looking like depression

A good girl or boy, people pleaser or accommodator, or peacemaker

A bad girl or boy, rebel

Avoider or procrastinator,


Manipulator or liar

Quiet or silent child

Invisible child

Victim child when no longer a victim, so there is a perceived sense of helplessness or powerlessness and as a adult may use the words “I can’t”.

Joker that uses sarcastic humour, sarcasm is anger coming out sideways

Anxious, fearful, worried child

Withdrawal or shutdown


There are others however the above are common. So what happens is lets imagine you do have a healthy sense of your adult and life is presenting different stressors to you such as you are in a traffic jam, you forgot to pay a bill, there is a work deadline, children or spouse demands etc. And you have reached your maximum level of coping as an adult and then what happens is that you go to your default coping mechanism and regress to a child like state of a 6,7,8 year old mind state yet are in a adult body. This is completely irrational yet it happens all the time.

Bringing the model together

You may know some people that are all critical parent and completely cut off from their adult, that is not healthy. You may know some people that are all child and not taking responsibility for their life and that is not healthy. For the most part, the majority of people simply do not know this model consciously and will go in and out of these states quickly. The more we live in the unhealthy states of critical parent, or adapted child states, the more you will see things like addictions, affairs, anger issues, eating disorders, mental health concerns of stress, anxiety, worry, depression or more serious illnesses. Although overall there will be a general unhappiness or unfulfillment with our life and it may feel like we are not in control of our life. The more you become consciously aware of this model and your own history, the more you can create the life you want and are deserving of living.

Example of Using this model with another person

Person A is in the adult state, Person B is in critical parent mode and tells the person “You should do x,y,z!” Person A will fill this as a judgmental statement even if it is a valid viewpoint, and may tune this person out or do the opposite. Person B may repeat the should statement and Person A may do one of three things.

One option is if Person A is not able to sustain being in the adult state, jump to their own Critical Parent state and react back and then it is two critical parents having an power struggle together. This is unhealthy.

Second option is if Person A is not able to sustain beingin the adult state they may end up reacting from one of the adaptive child states such as the angry child and this may set Person B off even further and they stay stronger in Critical Parent mode and eventually they too may drop into their adaptive child state of being an angry child and then it is two children interacting like children having a temper tantrum. This is common yet unhealthy as well.

Third option is if Person A is able to sustain being in the adult state, this may diffuse Person B and invite them into their adult state. However Person B may not have a strong adult state so they may stay in their critical parent place, however Person A removes themselves from engaging in further reactions.

Integrating the PAC model on a day to day basis

I encourage you to take stock of how this model applies to you. Ask yourself to what degree am I living in the various states? What elements of the critical parent do I tend to use, are there themes that my critical parent comes out, or is it with certain people. For example, one of my values is respect, and I notice that my critical parent tends to come out easily when I enter my teenager’s room that is messy and to me it appears that he is not respecting his things or his room or his home.

How do you nurture yourself physically? Do you eat healthy, do you get enough rest? Do you exercise? What does pampering look like to you...massages, hair appts, etc.

How do you nurture yourself emotionally? Are you patient? Are you kind to others and yourself? Do you compare yourself? Do you encourage yourself?

When are you most in your adult? What does it look and feel like to you? When does your adult tend to get booted out by the critical parent?

What does play mean to you as a individual, couple and family? Do you have a balanced life?

What does creativity mean to you? What would you like to learn?

What are your main adaptive strategies? How does this interact with other family members? For example, husband may want to resolve conflicts right away and gets anxious if they are not and will keep bring up the subject and wife may want time to digest and withdrawals and retreats further if talked about before ready. This is important to know so the couple can implement strategies that support each other as individuals and as a couple unit when in a regressed state.

Strategies to support Integrating PAC model:

Name Critical Parent

To realize the critical parent is not your true self, it is a part of you that was developed to protect you, although it is actually hurting you. It is your false self. To really understand this concept I encourage you to come up with names that describe the energy that your critical parent goes into, not of your own personal name or people you know. For example, some of my clients came up with names such as Sniffling Sam, Suffering Sally, Pushy Patty, Bitchy BJ, Anxious Annie, Negative Nancy, Archie, Igor, Hurricane Hilda, Stubborn Steve.

So if you felt yourself going into the Critical Parent Mode, your adult state can say firmly “Pushy Patty,” back off I got this covered. “I know you pushing me into doing something I am not ready to do or want to do will not support me, so back off.”

Photo of Yourself as a Little One

I invite you to find a photo of yourself when you were little and bring it out to develop the connection as an adult and your little one. If by chance the critical parent rears its head and starts to put pressure on your little one, or calls the little one names, you want your adult to pull out that photo and stand for that child and tell the critical parent to back off. What is healthy is to heal the wounds that little child has incurred over time and for each person it is different.

Choose an area to transform

Pick one area from the model that is negative that you want to transform and one area you want to strengthen or develop as a brand new skill. It would be too overwhelming to apply the model all at once so it is useful to break it down to manageable steps and experience success one step at a time. For example, if a person realized they used “should” all the time, their steps could be to become aware of this. Secondly they could ask people that know that to have them become aware if they use the word. Thirdly when hearing themselves use the word, they can ask themselves “If I wasn’t “shoulding” myself, what would my truth be – would I want to do what I am saying or doing?” This inquiry will lead the person to other insights that will support their inner growth.

Tara Can Work With You

If you would like Tara can work with you on an individual basis to further apply this model to your life and come up with effective strategies that will create breakthrough results for you if you apply them.

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