Pulling Inwards

” [W]e’re saying that if you only leave the home three days a week or less, we’re proposing that figure to be the threshold for social withdrawal. In other words, the threshold to meet the definition of hikikomori.” BBC, Science Focus

Who gets to determine where the normal spectrum ends and becomes a condition that needs to be altered – and for whose sake?

I remember reading about Hikikomori some years ago. About the “sisters” who help “coax” men out of their homes. It was presented as a primarily male phenomenon. At the time, I thought it was an odd perspective to force on what seems to me to be a common variation of human behavior. Masked or made visible according to gender norms in that society.

And there’s a weirdly geisha-like aura of these “rental sisters” (yes, that is what they are called) who are paid to “entice” men out of their isolation. I admit that I am bringing my own baggage to the situation, but the adjective “rental” before women kind of freaks me out. Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t sex workers, which in my mind would be a pretty straightforward bribe on the part of the concerned parents.

This is emotional manipulation.

The article says that it’s common that young men who were bullied as children to become hikikomori. And I think: it is probably common that young men who were bullied as children do not become hikikomori. And that: it is probably common that young women who were hurt as children stay “in the home”. Does anyone notice?

We know you were hurt as a child, but don’t make us deal with the person you are now. Suck it up. Mask. Here is a practice, rental girlfriend.

Well-intentioned condescension. It can feel like a kind of bullying.


But I won’t say more about that. That would just continue to be a wandering rant with no settled convictions. And no one likes ambivalence. There’s nothing to argue with.

One of my first jobs was to work as a car hop. I was the only “hopper” who didn’t smoke. So when the other (older) women took their smoking breaks I just stood around with them – not working either. I got fired.

They didn’t.

For centuries religious people (as far as I know every religion offers an option to) seclude themselves. Historically some (albeit few) individuals secluded themselves in tiny spaces, accumulating and ultimately dying in their own filth, and they were/are praised for it. Most often the hermits take time for a period of devotion. They come down from the secular or religious mountain.

Maybe the behavior isn’t the problem at all. Maybe the problem is the social framework that won’t allow for it.

Maybe it isn’t the isolation/solitude that is making these people suffer. Maybe the continuous signals of pity are turning a period of introspection and growth into a case for pathology.

That’s a lot of maybes.

Out of that, I believe we often create what we fear.

Of course, I don’t know exactly what these families are going through. And I really am able to feel compassion and empathy for these parents. I’ve been there. Looked at it from both sides now, as the song says. I know the fears.

But I also know that I’ve often needed to pull away from social contacts for periods of time in order to heal from the damage they do. If a relative paid someone to posture as someone who cares about me, to manipulate an emotional response, to treat me as though I were abnormal, and imply the verb ser instead of estar when describing my state of solitude, they may well create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There really is something wrong with me. And I start looking for the why – which I think has to be the path of the first ouroboros.

I don’t mean to criticize families that are doing their best for the people they love. I am questioning a society that contradicts itself in terms of recognizing and allowing for human diversity. I am questioning the motivation for slapping a diagnosis on behavior and forcing the kind of change on an individual that will make the rest of us more comfortable.

I don’t make people comfortable very often. I think that’s why I turn inwards for long stretches of time. If making other people comfortable is the measure of my existence, maybe converting to a religion that offers me long stretches of solitude is my only option if I want to stay “sane”.

Solitude can be the privilege of the artist, of course. But there’s the committee that will decide whether you (or them, or I) make what society deems art. Or whether we are just deluded. It’s the weirdo lottery.

There’s no safe bet for the outliers.

Just juggling the social pressures as the holiday shifts them. Thinking a week in my library is as good as a cave.

No worries. I am going to shower now.

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  1. This is a very complex post. It feels like some of it is addressing what many autistic people feel – that they are normal, and it’s normal people who aren’t, and that autistic people are being victimised by “normal” society. You’re right – how do we measure “conditions” or even decide a certain aspect of behaviour is a condition. And covid made us all hikikomori. There are folk who don’t understand my craving for solitude (and my simultaneous need music, and my simultaneous need to get things done quickly), and think it’s weird – is that a condition? I’m glad you wrote this.