Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

How Could You? Part VI - Dehumanization and Blame

How Could You? A Six Part Series on Why We Commit Betrayal with Infidelity

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Ever done something you're really ashamed of?

Not just a mistake but also something that, when you look back on it, you can't believe you did it? I certainly have. If you're reading this newsletter, I'm confident you've probably either done something you're ashamed of or been on the receiving end of something very tragic and humiliating. Today, I'd like to talk to you about how and why the unfaithful spouse utilizes both dehumanization and blame in order to justify their affair(s).

Components of Moral Disengagement

There are two more contributors to moral disengagement I'd like to cover: dehumanization and attribution of blame.

These two practices of moral disengagement are based on how we view those we betray or mistreat. Hopefully, we were raised in families where we experienced joy and suffering along with those we loved. It's that experience that teaches empathy and allows us to experience life with those around us. Being able to relate to the joy and the suffering of others is part of being human.


However, if we're able to blind ourselves to the human characteristics of other people, then we're less likely to relate to them and vicariously experience their pain. In other words, it's difficult for us to mistreat those we respect without experiencing their pain, but it's easy to act in harmful ways if we dehumanize them.


Dehumanization is a much bigger deal than most of us realize. During wartime, nations cast their enemies in the most dehumanized, demonic, and bestial images to make it easier to kill them (Ivie, 1980). The process of dehumanization is an essential ingredient in the perpetration of inhumanities.

The same is true of infidelity. The injured spouse, frequently, is confused by how their mate could do this to them, but if the unfaithful spouse divests their mate of human qualities by focusing only on their faults, they effectively dehumanize them and limit any empathetic response.

When dehumanization is in play, there is little, if any, consideration of the impact their betrayal will have on their mate.

Self-censure for cruel conduct can be disengaged by stripping people of human qualities. Once dehumanized, they are no longer viewed as persons with feelings, hopes, and concerns but as subhuman objects (Keen, 1986; Kelman, 1973).

The same principle can hold true to those responding to a betrayal. By labeling those who are unfaithful as nothing more than cheaters, they effectively dehumanize them, paving the way for additional inhumane treatment. To run your mate over with a car or to inflict bodily harm on a loved one requires seeing them as subhuman. To consider hurting someone you consider to be human evokes self-censure which prevents hurtful actions.

Attribution of Blame:

Of all of the previously mentioned ways people suspend their morals and values by having an affair, this may be the most damaging of all.

Blaming one's mate or circumstances not only pushes away any guilt, but it allows the perpetrator to become a faultless victim driven to their hurtful actions out of necessity. Guilt can be avoided by viewing their hurtful actions as having been forced by circumstances rather than a personal decision. By placing the blame on others or on circumstances, their actions not only become excusable, but they now also feel self-righteous and justified in the process.

Even worse, justifying our hurtful actions is more damaging than a situation in which the perpetrator takes responsibility for his or her actions.

When offenses are not cloaked in self-righteousness, the perpetrator bears the responsibility for what happened. However, when victims are convincingly blamed for the hurtful actions of others they may come to believe the negative portrayal of themselves. (Hallie, 1971). Justifying one's actions by blaming another is more likely to create self-contempt in the victim than those instances where the perpetrator takes responsibility for their actions.

Witnessing someone experience mistreatment for which they are held partially responsible can also cause others to look down on them. (Learner and Miller 1978) The devaluation and righteous indignation created by blame provides even greater moral justification for ongoing abuse.

For example: it's easy to play the victim and justify your affair if you tell everyone your mate is controlling. What's more, the efforts of the hurt spouse to change and become less controlling only add greater justification for being unfaithful and potentially increase the sense of righteous indignation. Not only that, but by blaming your behavior on their being controlling, others will look down on the victim and also blame your spouse for your infidelity.

It's easy to justify verbal or physical abuse if your mate has cheated on you. You can be righteously indignant because you've never done that to them and you would never be acting this way if they hadn't betrayed you. But, in the long run, we're all responsible for our actions. We will either see others as human and act according to our morals (even when we're hurt), or we will see them as less than human and act with no regard as to the impact of our actions. The choice is ours.

If you would like help as you make this choice, then I invite you to consider EMS Online. In our EMS course, you will walk the path of recovery alongside four other couples, providing an environment that will both support and challenge you. Let 2020 be the year that you take responsibility for your actions and for your healing.

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I experience being dehumanized because I was the cheater. Now, inspite of all my efforts, I am the scum of the earth and am made to pay for every single day by verbally being torn down. I know that the loving thing to do is to pray for my spouse to find peace and healing in their heart. It is evident that my past actions have been very hurtful. Yet I work on improving myself everyday, being aware of my actions, being committed to my family and doing the right things. I do this without anyone knowing. But I will pay for this forever because now the dehumization is on the foot of my hurt spouse and nothing I do will make that better until they decide to change that.


What if the cheating spouse has not opened up, has not disclosed everything?  It is very difficult to forgive when you know your questions are not answered truthfully.  Some questions are completly ignored.  I get answers such as "I don't know" and  "I don't remember".  

11 years later

think that this article and the ones before that really help to pinpoint what happens when when people cheat. They give concrete examples of the misguided thoughts that allow those who cheat to deflect responsibility and live a lie. Until I decided to own up to this, I am afraid that the behavior could continue. Thank you Rick.

Take him to get a lie

Take him to get a lie detector test. That is what I did and was the only way I could feel like I got to the bottom of everything. I believe you need to know 100% what you are working with in order to make sound decisions for yourself and children. Still if my husband said the sky was blue I would have to look outside for myself in order to believe it.

How right you are!

You are absolutely right.  What they consider controlling is simply their resentment of the fact they are not free to do anything they want without hurting someone.

How right are you..

As the betrayed spouse, I could not agree with you more. Thank you, your comment hit the nail on the head and was right to the point. It's what I am always trying to spit out to my spouse when we argue but can never really explain it in such a simple way

I see clearly now

To be completely honest, I did not want to read this article, because after almost 3 years since the affair I had, my husband and I have been able to get back what I took away. With God's help, mercy, and grace our marriage has been restored. I didn't want to read this article because I feel like he and I have come so far, that some times I guess it's too painful to look back at the things I've done. I hate who I was, I hate that I didn't have boundaries, and I hate that I called my husband things like controlling and manipulative. I didn't realize then, that what I was doing was dehumanizing him. I have apologized for so much, and yes he has forgiven me, but I have never said the words "I am sorry I dehumanized you". I now feel that I need to do that. Earlier this week, out of the blue, he asked me "do you have a second phone?" It caught me off guard, and in the past I would have gotten defensive, but God calmed me. I remembered what he's been through, and how recovery has been as hard for him as for me. I answered "No, I do not have a second phone. What brought that on honey?" and it was then that I realized that this is another one of those times (coming fewer and farther between now) where he had been having a rough day, and he remembered how he felt like such a fool. He does not want to be a fool again, and so he needed to check. I'm so glad that I didn't get defensive. I told him that I understood, and that I love him very much. Later that morning when he was at work, I sent him a text message reminding him that I am still his faithful, loving, 100% committed, 100% truthful wife. I don't take him or his forgiveness for granted, He is amazing to me and I know how very richly blessed I am by God to have this mercy. Thank you for letting me share, and thank you for this article!

Re: I see clearly now...

Dear Joesgirl - I appreciate your perspective and sharing your experience.  I am the betrayed one. It's been 7 months since the first disclosures started dribbling in & I think the last ones came out in January.  It was both heartening and dismaying to hear that "rough days," where feelings and questions like your husband asked, can still come up after 3 years.  So I'm not crazy to have those thoughts continue to pop up and to have doubts after a comparatively brief time. 

I also feel like a fool, not only for being lied to and cheated on but sometimes I feel foolish for staying in this relationship.  When we go places I worry we will run into one of the many women he had sex with - I'm sorry I can't call them affair partners, that's just too sanitizing.  He has, like you, taken responsibility and wants us to work but is only now starting individual counseling (I have been going for several months; we did a few sessions of couples counseling but the insurance money ran out).  He tries to be patient with my doubts and questions but I get the feeling sometime he doesn't think it's productive and he's not totally invested in going to counseling for himself, he thinks it's for me.  Did you ever feel that way toward your husband?  How long did it take for you to understand and accept his perspective?  Thanks for your thoughts.


Recovery is harder for betrayed

Recovery has been HARDER for him not as hard as for you.

this is true, my husband had

this is true, my husband had an affair, and is there having the affair. he states that the reason why he's having this affair is because I pushed him away. which is not true I was advise by my doctor to get my stress under control, before had a heart attack or a stroke. during this time my husband was but then another city. unfortunately I found out about it. he is very mean and nasty to me, he blames me for everything that has went wrong in his life since we've been together. and yet for some reason he think he's a fair is right. my husband is a big believer of the Bible, and would not break any of the commitment. but all of a sudden, he has lost faith and believe what he is doing is right. how can you possibly justify his actions.


Hi there,

I'm with a lot of shame the cheating spouse, with all the regrets I could possibly imagine. We are in a recovery fase with just over a year of the disclosure of my affair. The dehumanising process is being used by my husband when he is hurting, and following it comes the blame, he blames me for every fail he had end every frustration of his life. It makes him blind towards me, he only associates me with the negative, but on the other hand he is still with me. I know that I'm the one responsible for his sorrow and I'm trying to find a way to rebuild our marriage, but I'm struggling at the moment. Some times I believe it would be nether to give up, but the feelings we have for each other is so great that I can't take that step. Any thoughts in how I could help myself and my husband to change our attitudes and focus in life now? Thanks for your posts, they are really helpful.

This is an excellant article.

This is an excellant article. It was so eyeopening to me and I felt the light bulb go off. My husband pastor had a three year affair with a woman in our church and we are almost a year out and doing very well in our healing process. This really helped me understand my invisability with him and the reasons (at the time) that he justified his affair. He has never blamed me since disclosure and has taken full responsibilty for his actions. I can't wait for him to read it as I am sure it will set off some light bulbs for him too. Thank you so much!

The most powerful statement...

In other words it's difficult for us to mistreat those we respect without experiencing their pain, but easy to act in harmful ways if we dehumanize them.

Interesting. This one sentence says it all, our spouses not only dehumanized us but did not respect us. Somewhere, somehow, there was a disconnect from us and they stepped outside of the marriage and they did it with no regard as to the impact it would have on us, our marriage, or our family. Lack of respect...so how in turn are we the betrayed to respect them once that trust has been broken and from what I have seen many people deal with this devastation over and over and over again with the same spouse. Insanity! That to me seems like the kid who plays with matches and is warned not to do it yet he does it over and over and over again, eventually he will get burned and possibly burn more than just himself and don't you think those in authority over that kid are a little bit to blame for not insuring the child's safety by putting the matches away for his own safety?

Let's think about that for a while...

As the betrayed husband, two

As the betrayed husband, two years into recovery, perhaps the hardest thing about this whole mess has been to not dehumanize my wife and do unto her what she did to me, which was to dehumanize me and thus  disrespect me at the profoundest level. I have fought deep urges to "give her what for", do to her what she did to me, but, by the grace of God, I have refused to quit being a Christian precisely when it has been hardest to do so. I often gaze at her and ask God to help me see how she herself has been a victim of Satan, to see her as a human, in God's image, who fell. I never thought the greatest test of my faith would come from the betrayal of my own flesh, my wife. I would have suspected it come from some rabid atheist or bigotted neighbor, but no, it came from the deepest, most precious thing in my life, which was my love for my wife. My faith and hope in heaven is being tested as never before; in fact it is often the only thing keeping me decent and loving in my marriage. I do pray however, that God takes this deeper and helps me regain the free, spontaneous love I once had for her.

This is profound for me

Not sure if you ever frequent these pages anymore since I see "Anonymous" posted this 3 years ago, but this comment hit me hard because, even though my wife had an emotional affair for 2 years, and it has been one year since I exposed this to our head pastor (her affair was with the youth pastor whom she worked with at our church), I am still trying to heal and get over the disrepect at the deepest level. She still never says she loves me (she says by staying and working through individual and couples counseling that this is her sign of commitment) and she still doesn't touch me in ways of snuggling, holding hands, kissing, hugging or giving me words of affirmation, so it is very hard at times to wonder just how committed she is.

Just like "Anonymous" in this above message, when I was going through the darkest days of my life battling two long bouts of unemployment over a 3-year span, I never for once thought my wife wouldn't have my back and be there for me emotionally and spiritually. But instead, she sunk into her own pit by disconnecting with me (she said she was for years even before the unemployment hit), so she has disconnected over the past 5 to 6 years and now is trying to "fall in love" with me again. I know it is her choice and it is her relationship with God that will lead her to wherever she ends up with how she will treat me going forward in our marriage.

I can only hope and pray that some day she will cherish, love and respect me (none of which I have felt for years upon years now in our 22-plus years of marriage and have killed my spirit and led to resentment and bitterness on my end). While I have sunk into Christ's presence during this long and grueling process and sought His peace and love (which I know is why this whole ordeal was probably ordained way beforehand so I could re-establish my relationship with Christ), it has so hurt my relationship with my wife and I pray that some day we can truly reconcile and build a better marriage covenant!

It's been over a year since

It's been over a year since my ex-husband admitted to an affair and left us. I was 5 months pregnant with our third child at the time. He told me he didn't love me and blamed me, saying I'd made him miserable, I didn't pay enough attention to him, etc. He even said the baby was a mistake. The OW left her husband and their two kids. After the long divorce -- he adamantly refused counseling of any sort to fix the marriage -- he wasted no time in moving in with her. Now my boys, even the baby, are forced to have overnights at her house. My ex definitely has no empathy for me and what he's put me through, he continues to treat me like I'm the one who had the affair and left him pregnant. He's hateful and definitely has dehumanized me and the kids. He even blames me that the kids are bad when they are with him. He also seems to have no concern for how the kids feel about the whole situation. What does it take for someone to realize or acknowledge what incredible destruction and pain they've caused? Everyone tells me the affair relationship won't last and when it ends, my ex will change his tune. I don't feel as though I can forgive or heal when I'm still dealing with a monster who is not sorry or guilty in the least but is continuing to twist the knife in my heart ever deeper...

How could I?

Looks like this series has been posted a while. Most comments are 4 years old. You read my mail on how I talked myself into the most selfish and destructive acts of my life. I justified infidelity because it was a way to deal with "my" problem without bothering my wife about it. It was going to help our relationship to get it out of my system. I missed out on sowing my wild oats when I was young, so it's ok to do it now real quick before I'm completely erectile disfunctional... Minimized it with sanitized language--these are sex professionals in a legitimate business enterprise. No relationship involved, just a business transaction--fee for service. I cloaked it in secrecy--what my wife doesn't know won't hurt her. Until it's no longer a secret. And I guess it never stays a secret. And there are ways it hurts even when it is a secret--you (I) just don't see it as clearly. I finally truly believe the Lord disciplines (and outs) those He loves. Thank God he loves me, but damn I hurt my wife. And I did my share of blaming-if only she hadn't done this or had done that, I wouldn't feel this way and HAVE to act out (More minimizing language for your list)

These mind tricks are clearly crap in retrospect. Would God that I had recognized them as such so much earlier.


I can relate to this article. Being the innocent spouse, it took me a while to understand why my spouse did not seem sincerely regretful or sorry for the infidelity. Now that I've passed the wailing and tears, I can now think back on a lot of our conversations where I was 'blamed for things in which I had no control', I've been told that I am "self righteous", anything that has gone wrong after the affair has been placed in my lap. For the longest I could not make it make sense.....but then I realized my spouses perception of me has caused a huge disconnection with the ability to show empathy, care, or sorrow. This just makes it that much easier for them to go on about their business as if there is not a real issue going on. I very much can relate to this article. Thank you for sharing.

I have been dehumanized

My wife, who had the 2-year emotional affair, blamed me for playing the victim card in life (I was unemployed 3 times over a 10-year stretch and was really struggling with the whys of life). She felt she couldn't support me and I was sinking too much into her, so when an opportunity presented itself with the married youth group pastor at our church that she worked with, she started connecting more and more with this man and went into her fantasy land with him via texting (she says she didn't do sexting, but who knows).

It's been 2 1/2 years since I discovered the affair and exposed it. She has stayed in the marriage and says we both need to work on ourselves and find a way to rekindle our 20-plus year marriage. Maybe I'm impatient and expect too much for her to reconnect with me and try to make things right. I know I haven't been perfect as a husband, but I have tried my best to be a man of God and pursue Him.

My heart is just so shattered because my wife still makes no attempts to kiss, hug, cuddle or hold hands. She never says "I love you" (even though she says it to our kids, her relatives, her friends, etc.). She never tries very hard to connect with me and it feels like she is basically just dancing all over the millions of pieces of my shattered heart daily.

Looking over the events leading up to her affair, she basically dehumanized me and focused on all my flaws. She has spent our entire marriage being critical of me and not very encouraging even though I have tried to be her biggest fan and emotional support during times of need (which she never was for me during my times of trial and need). So in her mind -- according to this article -- she actually became her own "victim" due to what she felt were her times of trial due to the circumstances in our marriage.

Even to this day, I still feel very unloved, lack any kind of real encouragement emotionally, spiritually or physically from her. I question myself daily as to why I even stay in this marriage. It is a constant life of misery and pain and I find myself wondering if there is someone else out there who would actually like to be a loving and caring wife. I hate even thinking this way because I am very loyal and committed to my marital vows and the covenant I made before God, but if my wife continues to keep this disconnect (and it is her choice -- not mine) then I really don't know what else to do. I find myself having a very hard time being forgiving due to her disconnect and hate wasting my days on this earth with a woman who is only breathing the air around me and taking up space around me. Why do I still love her and want to be with her when she has very little desire to be with me? The pain is always there and I just don't see any hope as to God redeeming this by some miracle and reconciling our relationship.


"Why do I still love her and want to be with her when she has very little desire to be with me? The pain is always there and I just don't see any hope as to God redeeming this by some miracle and reconciling our relationship."

Your love for her is true love. It's not dependent on what she does or doesn't do, and you don't react negatively as a response to her actions. That's the way God loves us, and it's rare. You're in the right place on this website - I hope you are a member. God can and does redeem marriages; he OVER redeems them. Continue your path as a Godly man, and just love her, in any way you can. Don't lose hope. Pray for God to work a miracle in your marriage. Affair recovery has seen it happen thousands of times. God starts where we end. And, instead of working on yourselves, perhaps you can pick up some ideas here on how to work on your relationship, including communication. May God bless you and reveal his love to you.

Don't give up - talk

I can feel your pain and desperation in your written word and am so sorry that you are suffering. But, do not make this bigger than it needs to be. Your wife had a fantasy that did not turn into reality. This relationship is still salvageable if you really want it to be. Your wife has not committed a physical sin and you are not suffering the consequences of that pain, or an illegitimate child; or an STD; or a divorce; or her being labelled a home breaker or slut. Don't wait for her to chase you - go grab your lovely wife and show her the man that is still inside of you and the desire that you still have for her. If she pushes you away, talk to her. Let her read what you have written. Tell her that this is mendable if she really puts some effort in. And, remember, that God is only there to guide you both, it is up to you two to make this work. Far far worse things can happen to cause a broken heart, believe me!!! Just think how you would feel if your wife were to die tomorrow - would you wish that you have put some perspective on your problems, talked it out and really enjoyed your remaining years together? If so, don't take the risk of only realising once its too late. Love, cherish and hopefully forgive your wife - don't give her a reason to engage in any more fantasies. Good luck.

The most comforting thing a

The most comforting thing a counsellor ever said to me after seeking counselling following revelations of my husband's affair was that in her 30 years of relationship counselling she is certain that it is almost always the case that the partner who ends up having the affair is the one who is putting the least effort into the relationship. I know there were family saying he must have been miserable or driven to have the affair. Her words were comforting and spoke truth to my experience and alleviated some of the shame and responsibility others wanted to attribute to me...

Shame Blame

I wonder if others have experienced this reasoning behind having multiple affairs, Ashley Madison membership, etc. I still get the reason that my UH gives for his infidelity is what I call the “shame blame why he did it.” His reason is because we weren’t having sex.

I too have been dehumanized

My husband and I separated 10 months ago. We decided to work on things to save our marriage. As took a trip to FL in April together which went ok. He has increased his drinking over the past four years and that has become a major priority. The plan was for me to be moved back home by April but his drinking hasn't changed so I didn't move back. Over the summer without my knowledge he decided he wants a divorce and began his second affair. I have been called controlling, manipulating, a liar, crazy, unstable, the list goes on. He refuses to call it an affair, he's just seeing someone. I had started to believe the negative, went to the hospital just 2 weeks ago because I had thoughts of taking my own life, which I did attempt a year ago due to all the dehumanizing and other stressors. That all being said, after reading this adticle, I see that after his first affair I am guilty of the later In this article. I had said I forgave him but I couldn't let it go. So I DID throw it in his face, and started Rguements with him, questioned his every move using that as my excuse. In essence I truly had not forgiven him. I see now that I need God's help with that and now as well. I also see that it is his guilt that is causing him to dehumanize me. This has been enlightening, I know how to pray for us both.

One question, if they are dehumanizing so as not to deal with the reality, the guilt doesn't that show they feel guilt which shows they still have the Bility to have remorse for their actions?

Bad thinking

How can you get past how they have made you feel. Maybe they did think like that and treated you awful. But just because their thinking was all screwed up doesnt make it right. How do they make it right with the betrayed. Just saying I'm sorry I dont think that now does not work. What do they need to do.

To Bad thinking

Time actually does dull and heal some of the pain. I kept thinking, "I should be over this...."
6 years out, and I'm still reading this site.
Time, prayer, and sites likes this have helped tremendously.

I'm so sad, and I get it

I am where you are right now. It's so hard to get past how the fact that although I wasn't perfect by any means, I tried to change into everything he accused me of not doing right and made me feel horrible at home, and then made it seem like he was such a great guy to everyone else and no one knew the hurt over all the years. And I was made to feel like it was all my fault. And now when I have those triggering thoughts, it's like I don't have a safe place to even say I am being triggered because I completely lost myself for so many years not knowing who to be trying to be the "good wife". I don't think the cheater gets just how traumatizing it is to do this to the betrayed.

Do unto others

How do we get over what has been done to us, the betrayed. It’s taken me a year to be able to say this but there isn’t anything we ourselves can do. If they choose (as my CS has) to hold you accountable for their choices that is their problem. They are the ones who destroyed the marriage, destroyed their spouse and destroyed their lives. I cannot make my husband stop blaming me or the situations he found himself in at the time where he CHOOSE ( not made a mistake) to betray me. You cannot make them feel remorse or empathy. They either will or they won’t. I have decided I will not accept blame or his blaming external situations. I do not feel remorse or empathy from my husband and I do not feel he is sorry. I feel he is sorry he got caught. But I have been meditating going to church and have decided to now look inward. Why? Because I am no longer the person I once was and because the person I have become I don’t like. So for right now I am concentrating on healing myself , breaking unhealthy bonds ( like my obsession with the OW) and ridding my self of negative attributes that have become part of my new personality. Maybe that will change him, maybe it won’t. Maybe he is a sociopath lol. The things he has done and said to me are reprehensible and will never be forgiven unless he decides to change himself. Whatever happens though remember. You stayed faithful you stayed true in the eyes of God and everyone else , you are beautiful and he cannot and should not take that away from you. I am not throwing the towel in yet. We are in therapy and individual therapy. But maybe count what blessing you have and decide what and will allow you to forgive him and move forward or move forward alone

Thanks so much Wayne for this

Thanks so much Wayne for this series on insight into the mind of the unfaithful. He is and was and did and does all of the things you talked about. He still has no remorse (18 months after D-day and OD day) and still thinks he is completely justified and is the victim. He did horrific things that my adult daughter also had to witness. He ruined not only a more than 3 decade marriage but he obliterated the relationship with his child, but yet, he still thinks he did nothing wrong. I have given up on him ever changing and it would be a miracle if he did. The self righteousness after the unfaithfulness is almost even more hurtful. The blame, to cheat and lie and steal and be addicted, blaming it all on me, was also even more painful than finding out he did all this stuff for decades and lied throughout the marriage. I am now, through counseling, finding that he has no desire to own it, no desire to make amends, so I am now giving up on the marriage, and finding that I can move on, I can leave behind a decades long marriage, I can become someone without him, I am someone, and he is messed up. I love Samuel's videos, but Wayne, you brought so much to light with this series of 6, thanks.


This series has been very helpful. The point you made about taking the blame and “changing” only adds to his self righteousness was key for me. I never thought of it that way. Also, my question is, how can he dehumanize me and still say that he loved me during the affair. He says that he always loved me and still does. But how can that be if I was stripped of humanity in his eyes.

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