False myths about the hikikomori: stop calling them “hermits” or “asocial”



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The hikikomori is a still widely unknown phenomenon in Italy, despite the the fact that young men and women who live with this social unease are very numerous, potentially in the hundreds of thousands.

Luckily, also thanks to the work done by our association, something is changing lately. The number of media talking about it is increasing as well as, on an institutional level, the level of interest.

The negative side of it is that not everyone talk about the issue correctly, contributing to the numerous false myths that surround the social phenomenon.



Losing You - LY


To provide an example, just a year ago there were many articles that confused the phenomenon of the hikikomori for internet addiction, generating misapprehension in the readers and running the risk of changing and distorting the very meaning of the term “hikikomori”, transforming it into a mere synonym. Through the use of this blog I struggled to avoid that from happening and I’m happy, now, to observe such a similitude with a sensibly reduced frequency.

Some of the stereotypes regarding the hikikomori are fruit of common banalizations, are due to limited information or to mental intellectual laziness, others, however, are more subtle and are spread mainly by the media, eager to label with already known terminologies a phenomenon that instead present peculiar and completely new characteristics.



“They are spoiled”


We’re talking about the stereotype “par excellence”, the one that describes the hikikomori as do-nothings who take advantage of the permissiveness of their parents to escape from scholastic or job related hard work.

This belief has been recently fomented by a few news services on the subject, for example that of Fanpage.it (you can find it here).

Two young men are interviewed in the documentary who are potentially linked to the hikikomori phenomenon (we don’t have enough information to determine it with any certainty), of different age, sex, social and familial environment.

Two in particular were the controversial statements that provoked thousands of angry comments on social media (especially on Facebook):

"My parents don’t tell me anything [...]"

“[...] at the moment I have no desire to work”.


Two phrases extrapolated from the context, in no way contextualized by the history and suffering of the two young people and that can’t be instrumentalized and generalized to represent such a complex and heterogeneous subject as that of the hikikomori.
Thanks to “Hikikomori Italia” I have the fortune to be in a privileged observation post. In these five years I’ve encountered, directly or indirectly, hundreds of stories of isolated young people, listening both to their point of view and that of their parents. In this way I’ve been able to collect a lot of information, making a distinction between those that are recursive elements, and those which instead represent personal and non-generalizable characteristics.

The isolation of the hikikomori is never finalized to avoid hard work, but rather is a way to escape from the strong pressure for social realization that cause in them an extreme daily suffering every time they have to confront any and all social situations (from school, to their peer group, to the parents and family members. I spoke of it more in this video).

At the same time, there exists no correlation between a permissive parental attitude and the tendency towards social isolation. It is, for the moment, a belief that has no scientific basis.



“They are the new hermits”


This is expression I hear used a lot, especially by the media, but again it is an inappropriate and forced similitude. Hermits are, and I quote from the dictionary, “A person who lives alone and apart from the rest of society, especially for religious reasons [...] not only spiritually , but also materially [...]”

There are, therefore, at least to enormous differences between a hermit and a hikikomori:

  1. The hikikomori, even though isolated in their own home, remain in full contact with the outside world thanks to television and the internet: they keep up with current events, they follow fashions regarding, for example, video games or TV series, they listen to current music. In other words, mentally there isn’t any separation from society, with the exception of the worst cases (those in the third stage).
  2. The hikikomori are not ascetics. Even with their isolation, they don’t give up the benefits of modern life

The only point of contention between the isolation of a hermit and that of a hikikomori could be, in some cases, the spiritual motivator (not religious). The choice to withdraw as a consequence, at least in my opinion, of a particular interpretation of reality, characterised by the refusal of the centrality of the body, by disputing social dogmas, and dominated by hostile feelings towards an image-focused society. In other words that which we can define as an existential depression.



“They are asocial”


This is probably the most complex myth to dispel, that is to say the one which portrays the hikikomori as “asocial”, essentially people who are disinterested with the social part of existence. However that of the hikikomori isn’t a lack of sociability but in fact a different sociability, that doesn’t require the exposal of the body, sometimes not even the exposal of one’s identity. A new, indirect form of sociability that today is allowed thanks to the spreading of so called virtual technologies.

I am of course talking about chats, forums, and social networks. The interactions originating from these digital platforms, though deprived of many of the characteristics of a direct relation, still remain to all intents and purposes social interactions. Therefore, to state that the hikikomori are asocial is technically incorrect.

There is also another important aspect. Even if a hikikomori states, often due to pride, to be able to live without interpersonal relations, the reality is that, it being an innate social need, it cannot be easily suppressed (let us remember that humans are social animals and part of our identity is shaped through relations).

This need also often emerges during clinical interviews and is confirmed by the abuse of digital media isolated young people enact, like, for example, the Hikikomori Italia chat, which has over 500 subscribers and tens of thousands of messages posted every day.



Conclusions


Those above are just some of the many of the existing false myths about hikikomori. The only weapon we have to oppose them is information and we mustn’t make the mistake of underestimating them. The risk is, in fact, that they spread to the point where they create a social stigma towards those who are affected by this condition, not to mention their parents, who will carry of their shoulders all the weight of their child’s condition, blaming themselves unduly and avoiding to ask for help for fear of being negatively judged.


Written by Marco Crepaldi

Hikikomori Italia Founder

Translated by Frederick Allen
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