When Incels (Involuntary Celibates) or those with "Incel-like" tendencies come into my office or ask about my services, they will often first distance themselves from describing themselves as extreme Incels as some have been associated with misogynistic, angry, and violent men who endorse killing men and women based on their sexual frustrations.
Yet they empathize with the Incel community’s concerns and share many of the similar ideologies with the exception of supporting the violence. What’s characteristic of many Incels is their cognitive distortions also known as “thinking errors” often referenced in addiction recovery circles.
Terms like the following: denial, minimization, globalization, all-or-nothing thinking, victim stance, defensiveness, blaming, diverting. These are all ways the brain can lie to us and create faulty means of interpreting events, relationships, and obscure the origin and solution to our problems.
Many Incels blame society and specifically attractive men and women (known as “Chads” and “Stacys”) for their sexual lot in life. But in recent years, I’ve seen a shift where not just attractive people are targeted but also men who Incels feel are not as worthy of dating (i.e., loud, obnoxious men who mistreat women).
The statements below come from a young man who detests the label “Incel” as he sees it as a pejorative label but at the same time articulates the struggles of their ilk.
“Imagine you are a 23-year-old skinny and hardworking guy. You were called “nerd” growing up. You are also shy and don't know what to say to girls but all around your town, you see thugs, dealers, rednecks all with models?
"You ask out girls every chance you can but they shut you off. You cut your hair nice, shave beard nice, have a car, do your best to get ahead and you have a motorcycle and you’re kind and EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU ARE AROUND A WOMAN THEY ARE TREATING YOU LIKE THE WEIRD UNCLE OR LIKE A GODDAMN INFERIOR BEING and yet you meet the guys these women married and they are arrogant, crude, lying obnoxious pricks. So then you AS A NORMAL GUY sign yourself up for POF (Plenty of Fish), Tinder, Match, etc and you message HUNDREDS of women like 400 on POF and you swipe right on EVERY tinder profile and you wait a week or 2 and check back to see how many messages you got and you have ZERO messages on POF and one message on tinder.
"You just weren't born with Brad Pitt’s face. That is your sin. You can be fit, make more money, etc but if you are deemed unattractive you are put in a corner of rejection.”
If you look at this with scrutiny, you can see that evidence of cognitive distortions abounds. There’s usually a reference of self-disgust at one’s appearance (skinny or not attractive enough). But more than that, it leads to a globalized, all-or-nothing assumption that because they don’t have “Brad Pitt’s face” they are relegated to relational purgatory. Another aspect is the blame of others and in this case the other guys who are in relationships with women whom he views as inferior (i.e. "thugs, dealers, rednecks").
He then proceeds to get defensive by sharing how he’s done everything he deems as appropriate to attract women only to be met with rejection. While anger in itself isn’t a thinking error, his distorted thinking leads to what I call “misplaced anger” as indicated by the use of all caps with the anger now being displaced on women who rebuff his advances. Finally, there’s a resignation or a pity-stance where he is the victim of rejection.
In therapy with Incels or men with incel-like tendencies, it’s imperatives to point out these cognitive distortions as they come up, time and time again. In addition, they must learn to reframe these negative thoughts if they are to ever get out of this perpetual cycle of anger, self-defeatism, and victim-hood.
Having worked with a handful of young men with this ideology, I can attest that it’s a slow process but given time, much like work with other populations with similar thinking errors, progress, healing, and healthy living is possible.