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The fear of being judged is a “mental deception”


I have always pointed out the pressure for social realization as being the root cause of the hikikomori, the only transversal factor in all cases of voluntary isolation.

Even so, such a pressure, is nothing more than the fuel. The fire, the dominating emotion, is fear.

Losing You - LY.

The fear of failure, the fear of being judged for our failings, for one’s own shortcomings. The fear of not only living up to others’ expectations but also our own. The fear of not being able to use one’s potential, the fear of not reaching that which is our idealized self.

The hikikomori are often quite brilliant young people and used to receiving attention and compliments for their abilities from a young age, creating, in this way, a self identity that corresponds with received feedback.

If, for whatever reason, the gap between their own idealized self and reality becomes to wide, the pressure to achieve the idealized model increases, along with the fear of failure, to let others down and, consequently, themselves. Part of our identity, in fact, shapes itself in relation to how we perceive ourselves through other people’s eyes, that which sociologist Charles Horton Cooley called “the looking glass self”.

Therefore, the pressure for social realization feeds the fear for social failure, which, in turn, will activate, in those more fragile and predisposed subjects, that primordial defense mechanism that is triggered every time we are aware of a dangerous situation: flight (running away).

In the specific case of the hikikomori, the danger is represented by social exposition and judgement, the flight manifests fully with self-isolation and the house takes on the role of a “den”, a safe refuge that allows that danger to be reduced to a minimum. Careful, reduce, not eliminate, because, as we’ve said previously, the sources of judgement are always at least two: one is other people, the other is us. And there is no escape from our own judgement.

The role of shame

Another key emotion, often associated with hikikomori, is shame, which isn’t a primary emotion, like fear is, but an emotion of a social nature. It implicates those aspects of self-evaluation mentioned previously.

From a certain perspective, we could say that the hikikomori don’t run away from their family, school, or their peers: they run away from shame. They fear all those situations that can activate in them a social confrontation mechanism, that is to say an instinctive comparison between their own degree of personal success and that of a person, or group of people, considered to be relevant. From this balance feelings of inadequacy, inferiority, and shame can arise, which, in their turn, generate attitudes of rage, disinterest, and rejection.

Therefore, fear and shame in the hikikomori are two sides of the same coin. They coexist and fuse together in a single emotion: the fear of being judged. A factor that in modern society has developed a weight and centrality never before seen in humanity’s history.

How do you get over the fear of being judged?

Fear is a primary emotion because it’s been a part of humans since prehistory and is transversal both in humans and animals. Such an emotion was triggered, originally, only in those situations that could endanger safety and survival, but still it’s evident that the fear of being judged doesn’t fit into this category.

We are therefore talking about a “mental deception” that originates from a senseless overestimation of a minimal or non-existent danger. How does one get over it? Through experience and learning. This type of fear, in fact, deflates and defuses automatically the moment one faces it, that is to say the moment in which one realizes that it’s only an error of their judgement. Nothing more than an illusion.

To make this step it is necessary to undergo an internal process that allows us to consciously elaborate our phobias, to redefine, rationalize, and, in the end, master them. In this way all the suffering born of isolation can transform into energy, potential, willingness to fight back. In short: in a chance for personal growth.

Faced with danger, with fear, there are in fact always at least two ways you can react: one is flight, the other is to fight.

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