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How to approach a hikikomori: good practices and behaviours to avoid

 

ITA | ENG

Dealing with a hikikomori is a delicate task for anyone, be it a parent, a teacher, a friend or a psychologist, since you have to deal with people who are deeply negative, discouraged and disillusioned with interpersonal relationships.

In order not to be pushed back, one must try to get around the barriers that they have built against the social world, avoiding any kind of forcing or opinionated attitude, but rather showing up as humble, empathetic and non-judgmental interlocutors.

In this post I will try to summarize the behaviours that, based on my experience, have proven to be effective in achieving positive results as well as those that, on the opposite, tend to generate further closure in the hikikomori and can sometimes make the condition of isolation even worst.

 

Recommended behaviours

1. Recognize the suffering

Although the choice of the hikikomori might seem absurd and incomprehensible, it is necessary to break down one’s own mental barriers and strive to truly understand the deep social and existential distress they are experiencing, without trivialising nor belittling it in any way.


2. Relieve the pressure on social achievement

Hikikomori chooseisolation in order to escape from social competition and seek in their own house a safe place where not being observed andconsequently judged. It is therefore important to assume towards them a certain attitude that is not perceived as an additional source of pressure to move away from.


3. Seek confrontation

Relieving pressure does not mean avoiding conflict at all costs. In fact, when properly managed, conflict can turn into an important tool for unlocking even complex situations. However, the ultimate goal of such conflict will always have to be encouraging dialogue and critical reflection about the problem, and not manipulating their intention.


4. Understand the problem systemically

Thinking that the hikikomori is a problem which only concerns the individual is not correct. Instead, it is necessary to deal with the problem in a systemic way, going to act on all those social, school or family factors that are likely to have an impact on the condition of isolation. It is not a coincidence that the support actions made by our association always start from the parents.

5. Empower them


Especially in case of hikikomori being adults, it is important to make them feel they are treated the same way as othersand not to show any attitude of superiority. At the same time, not to treat them as if they were eternal children who need to be constantly educated. It is crucial, in this sense, to give them the space, intimacy and decision-making autonomy they need, butalso trying to empower them on the consequences that their behaviours can have on the people around them, rather than satisfying all their needs.


 

6. Be transparent

It often happens that parents act without the knowledge of their children, with the aim of helping them, but this just contributes to generate distrust and suspicion feelings. It is therefore essential to share and, wherever possible, to agree upon any action undertaken towards them.

7. Break up routine

Since hikikomori tend to develop a rigid, solitary routine, it is important to try to get them involved in activities that help them break their patterns and bring a discontinuity from their isolation.


8. Focus on wellness

When you want to help a hikikomori, never forget that the priority remains to help him or her get better, not to immediately restore school attendance or the interrupted social life.

 

Behaviors to avoid

 

1. Showing an overprotective or dependence behaviour


When hikikomori begin to isolate themselves, it often happens that the parent instinctively reacts by increasing the degree of protection over the child. The problem is that this kind of behaviour entails the risks of hindering their psychological and social growth, preventing them from experiencing failure and disappointment.



2. Undertaking coercive actions

As much as the condition of hikikomori might be complex, an attitude of imposition towards them almost never produces positive effects. For example, the most common action is to forcibly deprive themof the Internet, mistaking it for the source of the problem, but condemning them instead to an even sharper and more dangerous isolation.

3. Self-denial and renouncing own well-being

It can happen that parents renounce their own well-beingin an attempt to help the hikikomori child in any way possible, obtaining instead the opposite effect. Such an attitude, in fact, does nothing but increase the pressure and sense of guilt experienced by the boy.



4. Treating them as sick persons

When hikikomori perceive that the person who proposes to helpconsider them as sicks to be cured, theywill automatically react with pride and will tend to push that person away.



5. Judging them for their own condition

In order to succeed in relating to a hikikomori, it is necessary to suspend any kind of judgment on his or her decision to isolate themselves, focusing instead on their malaise and what ledthem to that choice.


6. Pressing them to go back to school or hang out with friends

When hikikomori drop out of school or friends, parents will instinctively try to convince them to retrace their steps. This kind of attitude usually aggravates the situation and is likely to produce the opposite effect, generating in them the feeling of not being understood in their own discomfort.

 

Conclusions

In this article I wanted to try to expose myself, reporting several behaviours that, repeatedly observed, have often produced the same effect.

Obviously, what is reported here should not be adopted uncritically. It will have to be related to individual cases. All hikikomori have their own story and peculiarities, which make them unique and not framed within a pre-packaged set of actions.

For this reason, I invite all those who find themselves in the condition of dealing with hikikomori, to turn to a professional who can support and guide them in their daily actions. In this regard, we have recently introduced a free online help desk, which can be used for this exact orientation purposes.


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