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The Incel (Involuntary Celibacy) Problem

How are incels different from others who struggle with romance?

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

The tragic death of 10 innocent lives in Toronto is a reminder of the vitriol and hate stemming from a minority viewpoint within a fringe group known as “involuntary celibates,” or incels for short.

25-year-old Alek Minassian intentionally struck a number of people on a busy Toronto street with a rental van and was charged with 10 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

Police say that messages on the suspect’s social media accounts read: "The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!"

Elliot Rodger was a purported incel who went on a killing rampage in 2014 near his campus of UC Santa Barbara after having written a manifesto seeking “vengeance against attractive women” for denying him sex and affection. He killed six people before shooting himself.

In 2015, Chris Harper-Mercer shot and killed nine people at a community college in Oregon before taking his own life. He was a self-described incel saying, “Here I am, 26, with no friends, no job, no girlfriend” in his own manifesto.

What makes the incel community confusing to the general public is many of us have also gone through romantic rejection, job loss, and other social challenges. So what’s the difference?

I believe, psychologically speaking, that incels believe they have no sense of control, hence the term “involuntary.” While we may go through phases of rejection when it comes to dating or romance, incels may feel such a sense of defeat, rejection, and unworthiness that they start to believe it themselves, that they will be “forever alone” (FA).

In my therapy practice, some of the men I have counseled have expressed similar sexual frustrations. While they don’t self-identify as incels, I hear echoes of the same idea. They berate themselves for not feeling like they’re dateable and become highly angry at the stereotypical, attractive men and women (Chads and Stacys) who seemingly are able to effortlessly date and mate.

Part of the process is to help validate the frustrations and grief of desiring to be romantic with another person and continually facing struggles whether due to physical appearances, race and ethnicity, or other social challenges.

Once trust is built, the other challenge is helping people recognize their own role in the dynamic of rejection. This is very difficult because it’s much easier to blame others than take responsibility for our own challenges. Sure, we can’t change our appearances or other limitations, but we can learn to start with self-love instead of self-hatred. Self-hatred not only fuels self-hatred, but in certain profiles, it can lead to hating others so much that they want to see people hurt or killed.

This is why I believe the incel problem isn’t necessarily an external romantic issue as much as a self-image issue. In short, it's not society rejecting incels but incels rejecting themselves.

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