The four types of hikikomori: alternative, reactionary, resigned, and cocoon-like


The hikikomori isn’t an easy phenomenon to understand, also and especially because the causes and motivations that can cause the choice of isolation are different, numerous, and often peculiar. In fact it is always difficult to generalize when talking about the subject and it should be done with great caution.

Maïa Fansten, French sociologist who for years now has been studying social isolation, has tried to propose one of the first classifications for the different types of hikikomori, taking as a point of reference precisely the different motivations that can be the basis for the decision to withdraw from society.

Starting from a few short quotes, I will try to interpret, develop, and expand upon her thoughts.

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Alternative withdrawal

Defined by Maïa Fansten as “a way to avoid normalized adolescence and live in a different way”, this type of hikikomori decides to isolate itself because they do not accept having to adapt to the typical social dynamics of modern human existence.

It is a sort of rebellion towards society, that is experienced in a particularly negative way and as an oppressive entity, bent on limiting one’s personal liberty.

Often, this type of withdrawal is preceded and determined by a strong existential depression.

Reactionary withdrawal

Is defined as “ a symptomatic reaction to situations of great familial stress”.

The hikikomori that are a part of this category live, or have lived, in unfavourable contexts that have contributed in worsening and already pre existing tendency towards isolation.

Often they link their decision to withdraw to an event considered to be particularly traumatic, taken place within the familial environment, or in the scholastic or social environment.

All of this contributes to generating in these subjects strong feelings of anxiety, shame, and stress, which then become generalized to all social situations and strongly undermine their capacity to form satisfying social relations.

Resigned withdrawal

Defined as “ a way to escape from strong social pressures”, concerns those hikikomori that aren’t able to sustain the pressure for social realization derived from their parent’s expectations or, more in general, from society.

These hikikomori simply decide “not to play”, refusing to pursue any scholastic, work or social career. They feel so oppressed by other’s expectations that they decide to hide, and in so doing alleviating, in part, the suffering.

It seems in fact to be this, that is to say the great social competition, one of the main causes of the rapid spreading of the hikikomori in Japan.

“Cocoon-like” withdrawal

Maïa Fansten defines this type of withdrawal as “a suspension of time which belies the inability to be an autonomous adult individual”. In this case the hikikomori looks for an escape, in isolation, from his responsibilities and his duties as an adult. They feel like they’re not competent enough to face them and this feeling causes in them a great feer.

Existence is approached with a flattening on the present, while thought regarding the future, cause of great anxiety, are refused through a process of avoidance.

In this way, it’s like the hikikomori wished to freeze time, adopting consciously or unconsciously strategies aimed to that effect (for example inverting the sleep-wake cycle so as not to suffer the feeling of being inactive during the day).

Final considerations

Be careful not to consider these types in a rigid way, as if they were stagnant behaviours. It is in fact very probable that, at the base of the hikikomori’s choice of isolation, all four motivations described above coexist.

However, it is equally true that the proportions with which the former ones will impact such a choice will inevitably be different: It is probable, then, that there might be a preponderant motivation to withdraw with regard to the others.

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