- Feb 19, 2022
- 85d 2h 49m
Understanding and Treating Incels
Case Studies, Guidance, and Treatment of Violence Risk in the Involuntary Celibate CommunityBy Brian Van Brunt Chris Taylor Copyright Year 2021
10 Incel Treatment Approaches
This chapter outlines some of the foundational treatment concepts that are most effective in addressing the incel’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. These include the humanistic, person-centered work of Carl Rogers (1961, 1980), the cognitivebehavioral approaches of Albert Ellis (2007), the narrative approach to therapy of Michael White and David Epston (1990), the metaphor therapy technique of Richard Kopp (1995), existential therapy with Irvine Yalom (1980) and Rollo May (1983), transtheoretical change theory developed by Prochaska, Norcross, and DiClemente (1994) and William Miller & Stephen Rollnick (1991).
Lost, Naked, and Alone [ExT]
In his book Existential Psychotherapy (1980), Irvin Yalom explains that we each confront four ultimate concerns in life. These are (1) dealing with the vastness of the freedom of our choices, (2) the anxiety that exists when contemplating death, (3) wrestling with what it means to be connected with others yet ultimately alone, and (4) coming to terms with an ultimate meaning in our existence. While there is an overlap in each of these areas, Yalom offers this broad picture for clarity’s sake and the expectation they will fold back into each other as the reader explores the different concepts.
These four challenges correspond well with the struggles faced by the incel. While a more advanced therapeutic concept, we believe it will be helpful to see how some of these struggles directly relate to the struggles the incel faces. They offer insight into some of the theorical challenges they may be facing that underpin their sadness and rage.
Freedom: While freedom may seem initially like a novel and easy concept to accept, Yalom encourages us to look at the other side of freedom: How do we all cope with the freedom we have? What do we see when we look out into the infinite space of possibility? Like many of us, the incel struggles with the vastness of his choices. Get married and have a family or be the jet-setting playboy. Settle for a femoid that is less than his ideal Stacy and there must be a reckoning as all other options become unavailable for a time.
Refuse this concept and date freely without restriction and miss out of the stability and ease that comes with being in a monogamous relationship. Everywhere you look, you are faced with more and more choices. How can someone look into their infinite options for life and choose a path that they can feel confident about? Yalom (1980) writes: “ ‘Freedom’ in this sense, has a terrifying implication: it means that beneath us there is no ground – nothing, a void, an abyss. The key conflict is how a patient struggle between groundlessness and our wish for ground and structure” (p. 9).
It is in this space that the “lost boy” described in Chapter 1 looks around and tries to find a philosophy that resonates with his experience in sea of choices. Perhaps he becomes invested in some sort of anarchistic philosophy railing against structure, order, and, in the end, life itself. Perhaps instead he looks for the order and assurance given by seemingly wise and experienced experts offering the “ultimate truth.” This may help explain the cult like following often attributed to the incel movement. While it may not be the answer, it proposes an answer. A solution against the unknown.
Death: We exist now, but one day will cease to exist. Death will come for all of us and there is no escape from it. The famous Dutch philosopher, Benedict de Spinoza suggests, “Everything endeavors to persist in its own being.” With this idea in mind, it becomes important for the therapist to help the client resolve “the awareness of the inevitability of death and the wish to continue to be” (Yalom, 1980, p. 8). For the incel, his own death and potential non-existence may be a motivating factor to have a beautiful woman on is arm. At least this makes sense to him as he looks around at a society that attaches a value to this “possession.”
Yalom describes this phenomenon as it relates to patients facing terminal disease. He explains they cope with a “myth of specialness,” when you feel as if medications won’t work on you because you are unique in the world, or that death comes for everyone except for you because of your distinction from others. The incel may become focused on achieving his sexual fantasies when faced with death and may embrace the fantasies of violence against others in an attempt to dominate death itself.
Helping the incel, finding a place of equanimity in his thoughts, may first require a real look at his own mortality. The stoic philosopher Lucretius offers a calming statement: “Where I am, death is not; where death is, I am not. Therefore death is nothing to me” (Yalom, 1980, p. 45). This may require the incel to face some difficult and challenging conversations about his own mortality. We can look for ways to help incels explore their own mortality and find a larger sense of direction and meaning.
Isolation: No matter how close of a bond we form with each other, there remains a distance. We are individuals in a collective community. A struggle for the incel is how he copes with this separation and remoteness present in our everyday lives. It is an undeniable fact that each of us enters the existence alone and must depart from it the same manner. The incel struggles to exist between his awareness of his isolation and his desire for contact; his need for protection within the community juxtaposed with the knowledge he is alone an ultimately can only depend on himself.
Yalom makes a powerful observation in his discussions of existential isolation. He writes, “I believe that if we are able to acknowledge our isolated situations in existence and to confront them with resoluteness, we will be able to turn lovingly to others. If, on the other hand, we are overcome with dread before the abyss of loneliness, we will not reach toward others but instead will flail at them in order not to drown in the sea of existence” (1980, p. 363).
Imagine those who have a fear of water or drowning. When learning to swim, they must put the fear of the water behind them. Those who face this fear, those who hold their breath and go under, realize they will be ok. Only mastering their fear of the water has allowed them to experience the many joys of swimming, diving, MarcoPolo, and the like. No one can learn to swim until they learn to overcome the fear of the water. Once the fear is released, they glide through the water and are comfortable to play underneath it. The water loses its ability to evoke fear. Only by letting go of fears, can they truly enjoy life. Yalom quotes Tolstoy early in the book saying, “he is dying badly because he has lived badly” (p. 33).
Meaninglessness: If we must die, and if we are each ultimately alone, within an indifferent universe; then what meaning does life have? The dilemma for the incel is facing the reality that he is a meaning-seeking creature who is thrown into a universe that has no meaning. For some, this existential dread becomes a contributing motivator for his fantasies of being part of a larger rebellion and punishing others. If he has ingested the blackpill and his life as an incel is a forgone conclusion; why do his actions matter, if nothing matters? If we all must die, then why should he restrain his darker thoughts?
Many have avoided this existential conflict by finding religion and a hope the afterlife will serve to create meaning for our earthly experiences. Others choose to pursue a career or create great art or literature to define their lives. Some lose themselves in the loving of another – a wife, husband, partner, child, or friend. This love then becomes defining for them and staves off feelings and thoughts of meaninglessness. For the incel, this love is denied to them and the career path seems a poor second choice. The incel struggles to find a path to protect his mind from the inevitability of death and falls prey to a suicidal, desperate attack or “going out in a blaze of glory” that offers the promise of meaning and purpose that has been denied him for his existence.
Engaging and Changing the Incel Story [Na]
Everyone has a story. There are five stories of murders included in Appendix B (Sodini), C (Rodger), D (Mercer), E (Roof), and F (Ferguson) to further the understand the indoctrination they bought into regarding racism, misogyny, and the incel philosophy. It is these stories, and the attack cases included in Appendix A, that provide insight into the thinking, emotions, behaviors, and social and environmental experiences that helped shape their rage and violence.
In order to redirect the incel away from their harmful beliefs, treatment providers must learn their stories. It is in these stories, often shaped by experience, that we become seen as an interested party and potential ally to their health and well-being. The approach to treatment known as Narrative Therapy, created by Australian family therapists Michael White and David Epston (1990), suggest that we use our stories to organize and give meaning to our experiences. As such, incels construct their meaning through the stories they share and treat these as the “truth” (Corey, 2001). Further, these stories are not static, but rather ever-changing, giving opportunities to therapists to alter the course of the incel. White and Epson (1990), write, “With every performance, persons are re-authoring their lives. The evolution of lives is akin to the process of re-authoring, the process of persons entering into stories, taking them over and making them their own” (Van Brunt, 2007, pp. 27–28; see White & Epston, 1990).
Psychologists, counselors and social workers can help their clients with incel indoctrination to examine their lives through the stories they tell, by assisting them in revising their stories in a manner that gives him more ownership and ability to gain control over negative past experiences. Narrative therapy helps separate the incel from the negative, damaging stories he tells himself and find new stories that lead to a more constructive outcome. White and Epston (1990) suggest these new, hopeful stories develop as creations between the client and the therapist. Their book, Narrative Means to a Therapeutic Ends, has numerous examples of techniques to bring the therapist and client together toward a common goal.
The first step of this process is for the therapist to externalize the story from the client. White (1988/1989) writes, “Externalizing is an approach to therapy that encourages persons to objectify, and at times, to personify, the problems that they experience as oppressive” (p. 5). Prior to any change, White and Epston (1990) suggest the behavior, fears, and worries must be separated from the client prior to any attempt to reconstruct them. It would be reasonable to understand the indoctrinated incel would hold onto his stories in fear that he would risk losing the very fabric of what gives meaning, direction, and purpose to his life.
“As persons become separated from their stories, they are able to experience a sense of personal agency; as they break from their performance of their stories, they experience a capacity to intervene in their own lives and relationships” (White and Epston, 1990, p. 16). By externalizing the story, like taking the carburetor out of the car to repair it, we provide the freedom to examine the problem and create new, unique outcomes to their stories, which were previously restricted. This process of “storying” his experiences, the act of adding detail, sensation, emotions to his narratives, offers clues to the meaning he ascribes to his life’s pains, hardships and experiences.
Kopp (1995) expands on the narrative therapy approach and advises the therapist next focus on the language and metaphor used by the client. These narrative clues offer a critical connection to the incel’s inner worldview. Dr. Corsini summarizes in the forward of Kopp’s (1995) text, the client and therapist, acting like detectives, look for clues to understanding the essence of the mystery by exploring and transforming the client’s metaphoric language, hoping to find something that has little significance either to the client or to anyone who does not know the secret of the metaphor, but which, when the secret is revealed, becomes the key that opens the lock of the door that has stood between the person and freedom.
It is precisely these breadcrumbs of metaphor and language that offer insight and a framework toward the introduction more optimistic and constructive outcomes Kopp (1995) offers an example of a patient who describes her husband’s poor behavior. She describes a lack of attention, disrespectful communications about when he will be home and when he is away, and a lack of effort looking for employment. She shares, “he barges into the house like a locomotive” (p. xiv). Kopp pounces on this descriptive clue to create a springboard into the client’s dissatisfaction with the marriage.
He asks her, “If he is a locomotive, what are you?” She clarifies what was being asked and replies with, “a tunnel” (p. xiv). Kopp asks, “What if you could change the image so that it would be better for you, how would you change it?” She thinks a moment and then suddenly exclaims, “I’d be the derailer!” (p. xv). This “self-as-derailer” metaphor becomes a shared construct between the therapist and patient. It offers a focal point for the patient to shift from a passive model (the tunnel) to an active model (the derailer). This provides her ways to visualize new, unique, and optimistic outcomes.
For incels, it is these stories they tell themselves about being a failure, genetically insufficient to find a mate, unable to find personal value and self-esteem and the resulting anger and rage that feed into increasingly negative outcomes. By understanding and engaging in their story, the therapist creates opportunities to bring about lasting change.