Hikikomori is a juvenile disorder? Wrong!



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The vast majority of Italian hikikomori seem to be between the ages of 14 and 25, with particular focus around 17 years old. A fact that has also been confirmed by the latest survey carried out in our group dedicated to the parents, that now counts almost 900 subscribers.

Starting from this evidence, it would be natural to think that the hikikomori is a phenomenon that specifically regards young people, but it would still be a mistake.



Losing You - LY



The first generation of hikikomori


The average age of Italian hikikomori is a lot lower simply because they are the first generation. In Japan, where this phenomenon appeared before it did over here, roughly around the 80’s, the average age of social recluses is noticeably higher and there is a great number of isolated people who are over 40 years old, in the order of hundreds of thousands.

The problem of adult hikikomori is so bad in the Land of the Rising Sun, that the government is obligated to provide a minimum pension that allows them to survive after their parents death. I am personally in contact with one of these subjects, who confirmed all of the above.

Even in Italy the average age of social retirees is destined to constantly increase over the coming years, especially if the problem will keep being ignored and there won’t be considerable changes from a governmental and social point of view.


Hikikomori can affect everyone


Affirming, therefore, that the hikikomori is a juvenile issue is incorrect and runs the risk of being a misleading concept with respect to what should be the correct approach to the matter.

But the fact remains that hikikomori seem to manifest itself, for the most part, in subjects from 14 to 18 years of age. What happens on this period of our life?

At least two potentially favourable factors come into play:


1. Psychological fragility and lack of resilience


The impulse towards social isolation (that is to say the hikikomori) results in an effective isolation when the subject experiencing it doesn’t possess the adequate tools to elaborate, rationalize, and contrast it. From this point of view, we well know how adolescence is a particularly delicate phase of evolution, characterized by great psychological instability and fragility.

It’s possible to add other risk factors to this, like, for example, a timid and introverted character that makes establishing satisfying relationships with one’s peers more complex, familial instability (characterized, for example, by a divorce or imbalance between the parental figures), or from being an only-child and feeling greater expectations for social realization.

This being said, it’s important again to point out that the hikikomori can happen in any moment in life, especially connected with events and circumstances that can, directly or indirectly, favour a condition of social isolation, like, for example, an unsatisfying experience at university, or the loss of employment, as well as the difficulty of finding a stable and gratifying occupation.

In general, what seems to be missing from the hikikomori is the so called “resilience”, that is to say the capacity to face potentially traumatic or adverse events, re-elaborating them positively.


2. Existential depression


The hikikomori isn’t a virus, such as allows the body to heal once it’s been disposed of, but represents a condition within the individual that intrinsically linked to their way of interpreting life. It’s the solid manifestation of an adaptive difficulty, not only on a social level, but often also existential. The suffering, unease, demotivation and apathy that affect a hikikomori originate from a strongly negative evaluation of the contemporary life model and a lack of sense regarding all those social objectives considered to be necessary and obligatory.

It’s not by chance, in fact, that the hikikomori’s age of insurgency is often correlated with the level of introspective maturity of the person in question, who could start to perceive this deep unease from an early age, without, however being able to consciously elaborate it. There exist particularly premature cases of hikikomori that can manifest even around 10 years of age.

Understand well, then, that an internal conflict like the one described is difficult to rationalize and overcome, especially in a short period of time. It is therefore necessary to undergo an internal journey of indeterminable length, that may last a few months of potentially your whole life, in which phases of openness and deep setbacks will alternate with each other.


How does one help an adult hikikomori?


This article was created as a request by a few parents of the our Association, particularly perturbed by having a 25 to 35 year old child, or even older, be completely inactive from a social, scholastic, and occupational point of view (bear in mind we are talking about direct, not virtual, socialization).

Their fear is born particularly from the fact that the types of intervention that are most talked about today aim mainly at scholastic reintroduction. Even our association works a low to raise awareness in schools, but we do it particularly with a preventative point of view, not because we believe that the hikikomori are only adolescents.

The most often recurring question is: how does one help a person who’s been isolated for several years, no longer of scholastic age, and without any job experience?

Obviously there is no definitive answer to this question, but I will take the liberty of sharing some conclusions on the matter.

Personally I believe there aren’t many differences, from the intervention approach point of view, between an adolescent and an adult hikikomori. In both cases the objective remains that of modifying their negative view of the social world and help them to re-elaborate their fears. In particular “the fear of wasted time”, that often envelops those hikikomori who became aware of the impossibility of forever dragging isolation with them and willing to take the social road again. The effective duration of the time believed to have been lost is irrelevant, it could be a month, like it could be 10 years. It all depends on how it’s interpreted.

“The fear of lost time” is nothing other than a mental trick, responsible for the fallacious belief that it’s impossible to take back control of one’s own life, regardless of age.

The real difference between an adolescent and an adult hikikomori is that the former will have a negative view of recent sociability and so is more easily modifiable. On the other hand, however, the adult hikikomori has ruminated for years in solitude on their concept of existence, crystallized due to the absence of alternative perspectives caused by isolation, and so more internalized and eradicated with more difficulty. It is for this reason that it’s fundamental to intervene before the isolation becomes chronic, regardless of the age at which the hikikomori starts to manifest.


The hikikomori does NOT need to be cured, but supported


When a person starts to manifest the first alarm bells of the hikikomori, how is one supposed to behave? How does one help a hikikomori not to drown in the abyss of solitude?

This question is also certainly complex. My first suggestion is always that of being calm and not creating in them even more pressure. Before urging them to immediately return to school, to work, or to social life in general it’s necessary to understand what kind of unease they’re living and trying to lower the expectations for social realization that they perceive coming from the parents, from their peers, from school, and from society in its entirety.

I do not believe the hikikomori can be “cured”, simply because they don’t have any disease, but it can certainly be supported in what is a particularly complex phase of their existence. One mustn’t help them actively, or even worse invasively, but rather behave as a father who teaches his child how to ride a bike: he doesn’t hold them for the whole ride, but at the same time doesn’t abandon them completely because they know that they may fall and hurt themselves if left alone. He stays close to them and intervenes only when he sees them having trouble, without letting it weigh on them and without being noticed.


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