Hikikomori: social isolation syndrome

woman suffering from social isolation syndrome  in bed with her dog

We have seen a disturbing increase in social isolation syndrome among young people in recent years. This phenomenon is characterized by voluntary seclusion and solitude. These people seek extreme containment because they perceive the outside world as hostile, violent and aggressive.

This syndrome was originally known as Hikikomori, which in Japanese means to be confined. The term was coined by Japanese psychiatrist Tamaki Saito in the year 2000.  It defines this symptom as a new social disease based on intentional self-confinement for a period of at least 6 months. It usually affects young adults. The latter do not have any type of social relationship, academic or professional activity.

Main feature: social isolation

The person suffering from Hikikomori tends to avoid contact with the outside. His fear of leaving his safe environment or his  comfort zone  is very great. This is why she takes refuge in total social isolation. She therefore locks herself in a room of her house for long periods. Her main reason for not going out stems from her  deep desire to be alone and from a general apathy towards others.

According to The New York Times, doctors began to observe hikikomori as a social phenomenon around the mid-1980s, when young men exhibited signs of lethargy, refused to communicate, and spent most of their time in their rooms.

There’s no unifying reason why people become hikikomori. Some, like Kyoko, withdraw from society because they feel they don’t know what to do with their lives and can no longer cope with the pressure from people around them. Others are triggered by events in their lives, like bad grades or heartbreak, the BBC said.

The circle of friends is generally very limited or nonexistent . These young people only have contact with the outside world through electronic devices. And in the most extreme cases, they don’t even have this type of online interaction,  making the ostracism to which they submit all the more important.

Alteration of their circadian rhythms

Social isolation syndrome causes temporary oscillations in the main biological variables of the organism. For example, these young people sleep during the day, and devote their nights to video games. They take their meals at all hours, in a very uncontrolled manner. This therefore results in a significant dietary imbalance . They often use fast food delivered to their homes or eat ready-to-eat meals.

They also neglect their personal hygiene. It is characteristic of a Hikikomori to accumulate garbage around him, by his own refusal outside or from his room, even to throw away food scraps.

Role of modern technology

Although the connection between modern communication technologies, such as the Internet, social media and video games, and the phenomenon is not conclusively established, it is considered at least an exacerbating factor that can deepen and nurture withdrawal. Previous studies of hikikomori in South Korea and Spain found that some of them showed signs of Internet addiction, though researchers do not consider this to be the main issue.However, according to associate professor of psychiatry at Kyushu University in Fukuoka, Takahiro Kato, video games and social media have reduced the amount of time that people spent outside and in social environments that require direct face to face interaction.The emergence of mobile phones and then smartphones may also have deepened the issue, given that people can continue their addiction to gaming and online surfing anywhere, even in bed.

The role of parents

Shinguru  is a Japanese term which means “celibate parasite”. It therefore refers to  adults who live with their parents, under their tutelage and care . They seek to enjoy a comfortable life that they could not achieve on their own.

If we talk about a teenager and his room, the relationship with the other members of the house is practically nonexistent. These young children sometimes frighten their parents and adopt  aggressive behavior . Others are deeply consumed by the sadness that, over time, generates anxiety and depression. This confinement and this deep dissatisfaction sometimes push them to commit suicide.

Hikikomori variants

All the subtypes of social isolation syndrome have in common the voluntary isolation of the subject. However, not everyone is locked up in the same way or to the same extent. There are indeed 4 types of Hikikomori:

  • Pre-hikikomori:  the person goes out to go to college or university. But it avoids as much as possible any form of social interaction.
  • Social Hikikomori:  the person refuses to work and study However, he manages to have some social relationships, mainly via the Internet .
  • Tachisukumi-gata  : the person shows a very marked social phobia. Fear paralyzes her when she has to face the outside world.
  • Netogehaijin  : literally translated as “computer zombie”. These young people are completely isolated. They also spend all the time they are awake in front of the computer or other virtual media.

Different hypotheses to explain Hikikomori

The causes explaining the origin of this psychological deterioration are unknown at present. Some theorists believe that the loss of contact with reality is due to the technology itself. Other authors believe that the isolation is the result of excessive family pressure. The expectations generated by their parents about their future would lead them to cut communication with them and, gradually, with other people. We are also talking about socio-economic and economic factors.

This syndrome was first described in Japan. So we  thought it was exclusively related to Japanese individualist and competitive culture. Indeed, the people affected in Japan number in the millions. Hikikomori – or similar – cases, however, have increased in recent years in countries like Spain, Italy, the United States, Oman and India.

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