Hikikomori Interventions

by Christopher Lovejoy on November 12, 2017

If I had the means, would I retreat into a room of my own?

Would I be making a deal with the devil if you offered me a room of my own with no strings attached ~ along with everything I would need and want to survive and thrive ~ and I took you up on the offer?

How might this deal not be sweet for me, myself, and I? I have all of my needs met; I have access to the internet; I have a laptop, a smart device, an entertainment system; I am building a “social” network online; I am building a business online; I enjoy my solitude as I wish ~ rarely, if ever, do I feel lonely; I keep my room neat and tidy; I keep my ensuite washroom clean; and I tip my errand runners well.

A fool’s paradise, you say? Perhaps.

However, …

As a contemplative, I can spend long hours alone with my thoughts, going out at night to gaze at the moon; as a creative, I can give of myself and my talents to a worthy cause online; as a sensitive, I can avoid the transitional rumblings of a 3D world going through yet another birth canal; and, as a true submissive, I can connect in peace and quiet with other true submissives online who likewise enjoy their peace and quiet. True, I do have the blisscipline to sidestep the sorts of indulgences that typically tend to trip up the average jane or joe; to schedule blocks of time throughout my day to minimize distractions and to maximize whatever potentials come up for me; to balance my time alone with time spent with others online in meaningful conversations or pursuits; and to be fiscally, generously, progressively conservative in the management of my finances. Am I missing anything here?

Wait, what’s this I hear? “Which worthy cause?”

Thank you, I am so glad you asked …

* * *

For the sake of discussion, and definition, let us assume that a Hikikomori is anyone who can find refuge in a room for long periods of time, with the support and assistance of others, albeit not indefinitely. This latter qualification ~ “albeit not indefinitely” ~ is not unlike a splinter in the finger (or the mind).

This splinter never goes away, generating just enough uncertainty to keep the game of life interesting.

On the one hand, the Hikikomori soul is given the potential to be at peace, to be safe and secure and comfortable and, with adequate resources, reasonably involved or engaged through digital means, and yet, on the other hand, the uncertainty of “how long can this last?” lingers …

For the pure Hikikomori ~ for the self-harmonizing, self-optimizing, self-actualizing, self-sufficient Hikikomori ~ this uncertainty can be managed if not mastered. That is to say, if, by chance, the room becomes at risk of being compromised, or even lost, then a new room (or home) can be found.

Could the ultimate goal of Hikikomori intervention be this: realize the ideal of being a pure Hikikomori?

For those Hikikomori who are less than pure ~ that is, who feel burdened by anxiety or depression, for example, or who are oblivious to the long-term risk of being a Hikikomori without means ~ this ultimate ideal of Hikikomori is clearly out of reach, at least for now, and so another means of intervention is called for, one that supports and respects a more gradual process of learning and growth towards autonomy.

Incidentally, when I say “less than pure”, I do not mean to imply “less than good”.

* * *

This world is a tough nursery school.

In the history of this dark world, too many souls have cast their lives away because they couldn’t cope; too many souls in this world have resorted to the dirty tricks of manipulation and exploitation to get their way and too many souls have been subjected to these dirty tricks. The exercise of authority in this world has been less about authorship through creatorship and more about authorization through domination and popularization. This latter condition has been the bane of humanity, and so, given its deeply troubled and troubling history, could it be that the human race suffers pervasively and profoundly, directly or indirectly, from a condition known as PTSD ~ post-traumatic stress syndrome?

In case you’re wondering, this is a rhetorical question. Why is it a rhetorical question? Because as the world continues to revolve into a time and a place where fear and manipulation can no longer be supported and sustained, all of our karmic garbage is coming up for processing.

And … a lot of people in this world are presently getting hurt, harmed, and killed in the process.

Let us keep this in mind as we explore means of intervention for the less than pure Hikikomori.

* * *

Conventional mental health professionals employ a standard protocol for helping those identified as Hikikomori: (1) offer up a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation to determine if any underlying mental condition is causing the extreme social withdrawal; (2) if the individual in question rejects the offer to examine and evaluate, then members of the immediate family are involved in a process of questioning to help determine the underlying cause; (3) if it is found, either through process (1) or (2) that no symptoms of a recognized psychiatric condition are present, then a client-centered approach is taken, one that addresses the root cause of the social withdrawal, steering any possible remedies to what is most distressing for the client; and (4) if possible, and with the permission of the client, treat any underlying conditions identified in (1) or (2) and, if possible, and with the permission of the client, apply CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) to any clinical depression that is present.

In light of this protocol, it is nice to know that we live in a world where intervention is not interference.

Hikikomori is not a diagnosis, but a condition in which young adults avoid social activities

~ Journal of Psychopathology, 2013; 19: 191-198 (this article is currently available online as a pdf)

note: this conditon also affects adolescents and older adults; the authors, I am sure, know this; perhaps their definition of “young adult” spans the ages of 15 to 40? Or …

Conventional protocols of social work revolve around home visitations that encourage meaningful dialogue with the Hikikomori; the offer of skills training to remedy any deficits in social skills; milieu therapy involving day programs, or even residential school programs, where fellow Hikikomori can interact and socialize beyond rigorous (some might say “rigid”) traditional school settings; support groups for Hikikomori and/or family members that seek to address their cares and concerns.

Possible (not proven) experimental treatment approaches include telepsychiatry or telepsychology by phone or through any one of several Web-based applications; the application of Oxytocin to improve social cognition and social behavior (used experimentally with those identified as schizophrenic); the use of arbaclofen and baclofen in clinical trials for fragile X syndrome, autism, and substance abuse disorder with a view towards treating extreme social avoidance; and (my least favorite) tough love disciplinarian approaches that seek to instill discipline (which amount to the imposition of a direct task orientation).

When you read about these approaches, I sincerely hope that you can find it within yourself to realize that this phenomenon is more complex than meets the eye, that a good many people are affected by this phenomenon, and that many good people are helping to redress it.

* * *

It is to Japan’s credit that it has been able to contain this condition as well as it has, instead of allowing it to bloom out of control in the form of homelessness or institutionalization. I would conservatively estimate that the numbers of Hikikomori or would-be Hikikomori worldwide to be in the tens of millions (possibly 100 million), which might seem like a drop in the bucket next to the 7.5 billion plus who live in this world today, but if this world is to stop paying lip service to We are One, then it seems like a good idea to give this phenomenon the attention and consideration that it deserves.

The journey of Hikikomori begins with the appearance of a reality as ubiquitous as cherry blossoms in Japan’s springtime: social pressure. I do not yet know if there is a word for social pressure in Japanese, but if there is, I would definitely put it at the top of my list of words to learn.

Social pressure.

Hikikomori would simply not be possible without social pressure ~ the social pressure of doing well in school; the social pressure of writing exams required to enter the best schools (or the school of one’s choice) and the related pressure of bearing the failure of not doing so (a likely source of school refusal or tokokyohi); the daily pressure of negotiating and navigating the sometimes unreasonable expectations of family life; and the unrelenting pressure of choosing and carving out a career for an entire lifetime.

If this was all that was involved, most people in Japan could handle it, and perhaps even thrive because of it, given how rigorous and resilient they tend to be, but there’s more to this story, much more …

It is not uncommon for human beings, the world over, to rub each other the wrong way: they naturally tend to remain at the center of their own worlds, they naturally tend not to trust strangers readily or easily, and they naturally have strong tendencies that favor getting over giving. The dominant ones will always favor meeting a challenge directly and positively to exercise a sense of dominance; the influential ones will always favor meeting others directly and positively to experience a sense of optimism; the submissive ones will always favor helping others whom they know well or do routine work with patience and care; and the compliant ones will always favor forging stable lives diplomatically.

In light of these characterizations, can you guess who tends to thrive under pressure?

Social pressure per se is not a problem, as long as it remains manageable, as long as social supports are available in the event that it gets to be too much, as long as it serves its intended purpose, and as long as it remains the invaluable, indispensable catalyst for growth that it is.

The dominant and influential ones among us thrive under pressure. Under a pressure to conform, the compliant and submissive ones will do just fine, but with this caveat: that they do not succumb to okashii (strange, peculiar, or improper conduct and behavior not easily tolerated in a group).

One student recruited a private detective who provided cameras that secretly recorded his classmates. The student’s camera ~ hidden in his pencil case ~ also caught a teacher joining in on the bullying. When parents presented the video to the school’s principal, the principal asked the parents of the bullies to contribute to moving costs for the family of the victim. The family relocated, the teacher kept her job, and “harmony,” we presume, was maintained at the expense of any lingering sense of human decency. (Source)

When the pressure gets to be too much, the dominant ones will fight to the death, the influential ones will gossip and backstab like it’s no one’s business, and the compliant and submissive ones will … well, I’m sure you can guess by now what they would do: withhold and withdraw.

At first, the social withdrawal is gradual (unless the trigger that is pulled is unusually brutal or cruel, in which case the journey of Hikikomori begins without further incident): perhaps they refuse to pair up for paired exercises, perhaps they refuse to participate in group activities, perhaps they refuse to open up about why they feel so anxious, or depressed, or reluctant to do the things they used to enjoy doing.

Bullying to conform (ijime: silent treatments, malicious words and notes, strippings and molestations) is not the only trigger; other triggers include exam failure, chronic embarrassment at not fitting into the group, and chronic frustration or helplessnes at not being able to conform to “the rules”.

As the triggers continue to eat away at the affected person (yes, we are dealing with persons here), the withdrawal intensifies as a kind of regressive seclusion from peer groups towards family members, and with the support of parents, usually mothers, owing to a growing shame about the condition and a very real fear that the neighbours will find out and shun the family for not dealing with the problem.

Schools, hospitals, and governments in Japan have no apparatus in place to deal with this journey into Hikikomori, and so, they either (a) ignore the problem completely (or else give lip service to doing something about it) or (b) commit the affected person to mental care.

From there, it’s all downhill ~ unless, and this is a big “unless”, the person at risk of entering months or even years of isolation can do some quick growing up or, even better, be supported by someone who knows what’s going on to help this person do some quick growing up.

Otherwise, the Hikikomori enters into a spiral of seclusion that can last for many years, until such time that she either dies alone in isolation or is removed from her safety net and, if still willing and able, be given a purpose in a milieu that includes supportive social interaction.

To round off this journey into Hikikomori, let’s play a game called Contributor or Facilitator? For the following items on this list, please indicate which of the following serve as contributor or facilitator for sparking that journey known as Hikikomori and for keeping it going indefinitely:

  • parental expectations: around school, exams, and career ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • entry exams: failure to advance ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • futoko or tokokyohi (school refusal): the refusal to attend school ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • depressive mood: situational, possibly clinical (owing to various pressures such as cram school pressures) ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • ijime: bullying to conform, as okashii (strange, peculiar, improper) conduct and behavior is not easily tolerated ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • gogatsu byo (“May disease”): ~ not sure how to live beyond school years (“do I really want to spend the rest of my life doing this?”) ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • bimei (saving face): family fears that neighbours will find out; best not to talk about it ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • mother-son: a codependent relationship in Japanese culture (related to overwork by father, karoshi (death by overwork), or karojisatsu (overwork suicide) ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • koji attitude (orphanism): a form of individualism that favors physical or mental isolation in public, in which the surrounding reality is perceived as just one more form of fiction
  • the child’s room: sacrosanct in Japanese homes ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • family affluence: stay home, watch TV, listen to music, surf the Web, play video games ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • social institutions: little or no structure for recognizing or responding to the challenge ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • media visibility: emulation of more serious victims ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • ambiguity of male role: young men, unsure of future, lack strong, healthy, vital male role models ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • ikigai (a reason for being): finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self; such a search is important to the cultural belief that discovering one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life ~ contributes or facilitates?
  • hitorikko: a declining birthrate means more single child families ~ contributes or facilitates?

How did you do?

For myself, I counted four facilitators. All the rest I took as contributors.

Perhaps in time, a social milieu can be designed to take account of the less savory aspects of human nature, one that lends support to those who need it when they need it, to prevent that fateful outcome known as “the straw that broke the camel’s back” (or, if you prefer, “defeat without a struggle”).

* * *

My interest in Hikikomori might be summed up as follows: if a Hikikomori rejects an offer of help, what could this mean? In my view, it could mean either one of the following: (1) not all Hikikomori suffer from Hikikomori, or (2) not all Hikikomori need to suffer from Hikikomori.

Beyond the shame of seeking help and beyond the denial of needing help, rejecting an offer of help might just mean this: “no worries; please leave me alone; thank you, I really do appreciate it.”

As much as some would like to pathologize the phenomenon of Hikikomori with images of loners cloistered in rooms surrounded by clutter, it is within the realm of possibility that those who identify as Hikikomori choose, defensively and protectively, to pull away and self-confine, and do so without suffering, and with the strength to buffer any backlash. In psychoanalytic terms, the withdrawal and confinement remains egosyntonic (in keeping with the ego’s needs, values, goals, interests).

In other words, it is not the Hikikomori who can be deemed by anyone to be at fault for pulling away and self-confining, but rather the offending social milieu or the brutally offensive cause that compelled, even forced, the Hikikomori to pull away and self-confine in the first place.

My view of intervention for Hikikomori looks like this:

  1. promote the prevention of involuntary Hikikomori
  2. affirm the right of Hikikomori to choose Hikikomori
  3. support the cause of Hikikomori to reap its benefits
  4. encourage Hikikomori to advocate on their behalf
  5. construe Hikikomori as a respectable option in life

For these calls to action to work well, however, everyone needs to be on board: those who tend to be direct and task-oriented (dominant), direct and people-oriented (influential), indirect and task-oriented (submissive), and indirect and people-oriented (compliant). Also, these calls to action are best applied to those who identify as Hikikomori, who identify as being at risk for Hikikomori, who identify as being survivors of Hikikomori, and who identify as advocates of those who identify as Hikikomori.

The upshot of this fivefold view of intervention is that it respects individual choice: the right not to be forced to choose Hikikomori, the right to choose Hikikomori as a viable option for dealing with perceived difficulty in life, the right to treat Hikikomori as a valid way of living, the right to reach out to others who feel the same way, and the right to embrace Hikikomori as one more option in life, albeit a basic option that can be adopted or discarded at any time throughout life.

Elaborating on all five points is beyond the scope of this post, and so I restrict the remainder of this post to speaking to the second point on this list: affirming the right of Hikikomori to choose Hikikomori.

Parents can do this in five ways, simply by fostering trust between themselves and the Hikikomori in question, using tried and true methods in the investigatory field of counterintelligence, as follows:

  1. suspend the ego (deference)
  2. surrender judgment (acceptance)
  3. value the experience (validation)
  4. exercise restraint (rationality)
  5. give generously (generosity)

Suspending the ego is not an easy thing to do, even during the best of times; the temptation to correct and criticize is sometimes too much to bear, especially when dealing with someone who cannot, or will not, heed reasonable expectations around living and contributing beyond the confines of a cozy room, and yet, the Hikikomori has a context that can neither be denied nor argued ~ rather, assume there is a very good reason why he or she has withdrawn and self-confined. When you feel ready to take your involvement to the next level, validate the value of this concerning experience by listening without judgment; by performing random thoughtful acts of kindness; and by serving as a sounding board for thoughts and opinions sensibly expressed (uncommon patience and skill are required for those not sensibly expressed).

Interpersonal validation is an unusually powerful means of drawing someone out, if not physically, then at least emotionally. From there, it is best to exercise restraint within the bounds of reason when attempts at validation go unacknowledged or unappreciated. You can knock this process up a notch by giving generously, and by that I mean making generous offers on a daily basis without any sense of expectation that are geared towards drawing someone out. Here are some examples: “I am always here if you need me”; “we’re going out to have some fun and you’re welcome to join us”; here is your favorite food (or drink); here is a book on cultivating presence by a Zen master, here is a figurine of a samurai warrior; here is a friend or relative who has dropped by to say hello ~ whatever seems appropriate at the time.

Casual offers to converse delivered without expectation are especially helpful.

Keep in mind, too, that Hikikomori can be usefully divided, with the aim of intervention, into two groups: those who need time and those who need help. The latter group includes those with emotional or mental issues such as ASD, HFA, PTSD, OCD, AD, BD, ADHD, ADD, or PD.

In my experience, I know first-hand the kind and amount of patience and perseverance required to support and encourage someone who has chosen to withdraw from a world that no longer seems to care.

To the parents of Hikikomori, I would advise as follows: I know all too well how much patience and perseverance is required, but rather than wallow in shame and sweep this so-called problem under the rug, why not embrace Hikikomori as a choice with a view towards moving beyond it with choice?

Having said this, I also imagine some parents are already doing this, treating this condition with a view towards intervention as a kind of circumvention that is mindfully, skillfully, and artfully applied towards assimilating the values and virtues of securitas, eros, and areté with gratia.

To share information and inspiration on what is happening on this troubled yet promising world, I drew up two lists of sites that are serving the causes of personal, global and/or cosmic awakening.

This post has been filed under Application in the Ultimate Outline.

Note: my evolving outline on approaching a realization of the ultimate in personal fulfillment can be found here, accessible from the nav menu under the page “Be Here Now”.

Note: this ever growing perspective began here: Ultimate Perspective


Previous post:

Next post: