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Hikikomori Syndrome

Hikikomori Syndrome

Hikikomori. What is it? Am I affected by it? And when the answer is positive, how can I deal with it?

What is Hikikomori?

When people talk about the word “Hikikomori” they referred to a Japanese word, which etymologically means “pulling in inside, limitation”. Hikikomori’s syndrome is the acute social withdrawal and refers to the isolation phenomenon of adolescents or adults, withdrawing from social life and seeking isolation and self-confinement. This syndrome, which began to appear in Japan, seems to spread, slowly and insidiously, all over the world. There are already cases in Spain, Italy, South Korea and France. People, who want to close themselves at home in a volunteer way, sometimes also in a room, and live with the dependence of the internet and online games. They avoid and deny any contact and any personal relationship or communication, including their family, and this happens sometimes a lot of years.

This is a particular type of serious social withdrawal that affects mainly adolescents or young adults, who live separated from the world, isolated in their parents’ homes and locked in their bedrooms for days, months or even years. Researchers have shown that people with this syndrome spend more than twelve hours a day in front of their computer. As a result, more than half of the patients are at risk of internet addiction, and about one-tenth of them would respond positively to diagnostic criteria for such addiction.

Causes of the syndrome

At a psychological level, researchers talk about the correlation of this syndrome with traumatic childhood experiences. “It seems that many of the people who presented Hikikomori faced social exclusion as children, or were victims of school bullying, or experienced other forms of rejection by their peers.”

It seems that the family plays also an important role as well as the wider social environment. When these two factors point to disruptions, parental rejection, overprotection and dysfunctional family dynamics, globalization, or even rapid the technological progress, the affected people may have a predisposition to distance themselves from the society in which they live.

Psychologists have shown: “In 2010, there were already 230.000 Hikikomori cases in Japan, the next year 34.000 more cases were reported and it is estimated that this figure will soon reach one million people living in isolation, choosing withdrawal and self-restraint as a way of life.” Also in other countries like in Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, more than half of young adults live now with their parents (Giuliano, 2007). In the United Kingdom and North America, rates are significantly higher than in previous decades (Berrington, Stone, & Falkingham, 2009; Settersten et al., 2005).

So it seems to be the responsibility of parents to maintain good relationships with their children, by postponing the necessary emotional proximity and depriving them of a substantial opportunity of communication. Just as parents are completely isolated when they are involved in their activities, so the children learn to do the same. The result is to be part of a society that teaches their people to enjoy all the privileges and comforts that are provided to them, without being connected with the rest of the world.

Furthermore, the economic situation in the society plays an equally important role in the appearance of the Hikikomori Syndrome. The crisis came to make the situation even worse since the unemployment among young people seems to be numerous. Especially in Mediterranean countries, young people, circa 67,4%, are victims of the crisis and are compelled to live with their parents for more than 25 years. On the other side, a lot of older people also return to the family home, because of different economic problems and find a consolation by being isolated.

Maybe the Hikikomori Syndrome is a reaction, a rebellion against an inhuman society that turns people into automated consumers, who don’t have time for feelings. Unfortunately, the end of this passive situation is often accompanied by outbursts of rage, which are able to end in crime or suicide.

The only solution? Taking distance, isolation, and immaturity, avoidance of decision-making, inaction, and apathy!

You will see that the diagnostic characteristics of dependent adults are rather different. They may suffer from social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, behavioral disorder, attention deficit disorder, and learning difficulties. Parental complaints, on the other hand, are often quite similar, and often include school drop-out, avoidance of work, money and other services requirements, and computer meltdown.

The new 20th-century disease

It is true that people have to deal with a new kind of disease- a disease of the 20th century. At a time, when new technologies are disturbing people’s lives and ordinary means of communication with others, it may be difficult to make a clear distinction between what is thought to be developmentally normal and what demonstrates the onset of a wide range of disorders. Individuals, who are addicted to the Internet are three times more likely to abuse alcohol than non-addicted people. Some common elements are the loss of interest in study or work, difficulties in interpersonal relationships, loss of interest in other activities, and the use of the internet as a way out of a dysphoric mood. 56% of people with Hikikomori syndrome may be at risk of being addicted to the internet.

How can I act against the Hikikomori Syndrome?

Specific paths to solve the problem may not exist. But useful points can be placed in psychological and clinical centers, in social actions, or in alternative therapies. Whatever form the treatment will be, its purpose is in any case to disrupt the physical and social isolation of the individuals and to induce them to take an active role in society.

Dr. Takahiro Kato, a doctor who suffered from this syndrome in his teenage years, now specializes in “cure” and says: “Fervent and brilliant young people are completely demolished by any kind of social activity, even of themselves. At that moment, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that almost 1,000,000 people in Japan suffer from Hikikomori.” His final goal- the lack of suffering from this Syndrome for the next generations.

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Hikikomori Syndrome


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