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What hikikomori is and what isn't


The hikikomori phenomenon is slowly gaining attention. Articles that talk about it are increasing on the Internet and, in recent years, the issue has been repeatedly debated on television.

This attention is certainly positive because it helps to raise awareness and to sensitize more and more people to the phenomenon. However, dealing with such a complex issue without having gathered enough information beforehand, it's very easy to be mistaken, be superficial, or spread disinformation.

Hikikomori is frequently mistaken for diseases which have nothing to do with it, causing a lot of confusion around the phenomenon and, consequently, preventing those who have this condition from identifying with it.

For this reason, before understanding what hikikomori is, it's important to establish what hikikomori ISN'T.

Hikikomori is not Internet Addiction

The use of the web by hikikomori must be seen as a result of isolation and not as a cause.

The phenomenon has broken out in Japan before the spread of Personal Computers. This means that before there was the Internet the isolation of hikikomori was absolute. From this point of view, the use of the web can be interpreted in a positive way, because it allows people to continue to cultivate social relationships that, otherwise, they would not have.

Hikikomori is not depression

Many thinks that the isolation of hikikomori is only a consequence of a depressive state. We have already discussed why this is a false belief, a blunt instrument. First, according to the Japanese Ministry of Health in 2013, hikikomori is NOT a disease (unlike depression). Researchers have in fact demonstrated the existence of a "primary hikikomori", a hikikomori that develops before and apart from other diseases; a withdrawal that was not derived from any pre-existing mental disorder.

Hikikomori is not a social phobia

Just like the hikikomori's isolation is not caused by depression, it is not due either to some kind of social phobia, as opposed to, for example, Agoraphobia (the fear of open spaces and public places).

It's undeniable that, after a long period of isolation, a person can develop a dependence on computers, may experience a decline in mood or become afraid to leave the house, but can this lead us to say that Internet addiction, depression and social phobias are the causes of hikikomori? Are these the reasons that led the boy or the girl to shut themselves in their own room? The answer is obviously "no".

What is hikikomori?

Hikikomori is a coping strategy activated in response to the excessive pressure of social realization typical of modern individualistic societies.

(this definition of hikikomori is exclusively the result of of my own studies and refelections about the phenomenon. It's not an official definition. It has not been derived from scientific studies, books or journals).

More in detail...

The pressures of social realization (eg. "You have to take good grades", "you have to find a steady job", "you have to find a boyfriend/girlfriend", "you have to be funny, athletic and attractive") are obviously even stronger in adolescence and early adult life, when there are a lot of expectations about the future. Boys and girls will find themselves having to fill the virtual gap that is created between reality and the expectations of parents, teachers and peers. When the gap gets too big they could experience feelings of helplessness, loss of control and failure. In turn, these negative feelings can lead to an attitude of rejection towards those who are the sources of these social expectations. And since these sources are, as mentioned, parents, teachers, peers and, more generally, society, the boy or girl will spontaneously tend to stay away from them. Hence the refusal to speak with parents, to go to school, to maintain friendly relations and to undertake any type of "social career". Hence the feelings of hatred towards the source of their pain. Hence the choice to withdrawal, to isolate themselves.

Marco Crepaldi, founder Hikikomori Italia
Contact: info@hikikomoriitalia.it