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Hikikomori and existential depression: reflection possible links


I've stated multiple times that the isolation of an hikikomori isn't simply the consequence of a depressive state, because if so, using a new word for a known and widely spread pathology (because depression is a pathology) wouldn't have any sense. The hikikomori is an impulse towards isolation that can have numerous contributory factors (familial, social, scholastic, etc.), but that mainly originates from a personal self evaluation of the surrounding realities and environments: the hikikomori is a conscious refusal to be a part of society.

From this premise it's possible to theorize that the isolation of an hikikomori may be, at keast in part, the result of an "existential depression", which prof. Ludovico Berra, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, defines as:

"[...] a non pathological depressive modality, without any organic causes and independent from particular psychological dynamics, derived from a particular awareness of our existential reality. [...] the consequence of doubting the meanings that should characterise existence, and it's consequent emptying and annulment. The tone of the humour that can be observed in existential depression is the result of intellectual reflections on existence, and not derived from intra-psychic events or conflicts, as for example happens in neurotic or psychogenic depression" (Beyond the meaning of life. Depression and existence - Apogee)

The hypothesis of a correlation between the hikikomori and existential depression is then plausible, also if we consider the fact that the hikikomori are often particularly introspective boys and girls with high sensibility towards their own life.

Dabrowski's theory: existential depression as an opportunity for growth

The psychologist James Webb, in one of his researches, states this:

"[...] the most brilliant people are able to conceive how things could be, they tend to be idealist. However, at the same time, they are aware of how reality doesn't reflect their own ideals. Unfortunately, they also recognize their own capacity to make changes to the world is very limited. [...] for this reason they feel disappointment and frustration . They notice dishonesty, fiction, absurdity and hypocrisy in society and in the behaviour of the people that surround them. They challenge and dispute traditions, particularly those that seemed unjust to them."

Webb, in his reflections, also cites Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist and psychiatrist, author of an elaborate theory of personal growth, that I will try to simplify as much as possible.

Dabroski believed that at the base of personal growth there was a process called "positive disintegration", which brings the individual to doubt their own instincts and social conventions. The polish psychologist stated that this process was always preceded by a phase of existential depression, which he noted was more common in particularly sensitive and emotional people.

This "disintegration phase would be necessary step to ensure that the individual regenerates with a greater level of acceptance and awareness, therefore determining a personal growth.

However this transition doesn't always happen. What's decisive is what Dubrowski defined as the "third factor", that is to say an intrinsic force, which pushes people to find the determination to control behaviours and instincts, managing to live in full harmony with their own personal values.

It is possible, therefore, that some people fail in this reconstruction phase and remain embroiled in a limbo, without being able to regenerate to a new level.

Could this be the case with hikikomori?


Dubroski's theory isn't easy to sum up and is a lot more complex than has been described in this article, but I wanted to propose it as something to reflect upon.

We find ourselves in a historic period in which existential depression is favoured by numerous factors, like, for example, by the collapse of religious dogmas, or by a social competitiveness and an ever more rampant and unjustified race to personal success.

In other words, today's socio-cultural context  could bring the more sensitive and reflexive youth to deeply question themselves on the meaning of existence, contextually arriving to doubt even the contemporary life model. Some of them could experience a loss of meaning, not finding motivation in following the "material" objectives typical of modern society, and in so doing spiralling into a tunnel of confusion, apathy and demotivation, which in turn will lead them, in some cases, to the choice of isolation.

At the moment these are merely personal reflections, but it's only by digging deeper into what is the world of the hikikomori and into their interpretation of existance, that we'll be able to really understand this phenomenon.

Written by Marco Crepaldi
Hikikomori Italia Founder

Translated by Frederick Allen

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