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The Incel Breakdown: How To Talk To Your Incel Friends

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Fundamentally, talking to your incel friend is simple. All you need is compassion. If you stop reading now, and you take one thing away from this, it should be the word compassion.

Okay, but compassion is a big word. It can be tricky to implement. What does applying compassion mean in practical terms? Especially towards someone who believes things that you think are disgusting? Let’s examine this with a quick thought exercise.

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Imagine that you don’t work out as much as you’d like to, or at all, and your diet isn’t amazing — in fact, half of your calories come from ice cream and Doritos. Also imagine that you have a friend who cares about your health, who wants to help you out. That friend comes to you and says, “why aren’t you exercising? Don’t you know that it’s amazing for your health, and you won’t look like an amoeba with eyeballs? And why are you such a slob? You know that sugar is poison, right?”

In the face of this concisely-delivered wisdom, would you immediately say “you’re right” and change all your habits? Nuh-uh. You would correctly regard your friend as a jerk and get defensive in response. After all, you’ve heard all this stuff. You know you should exercise more, and eat less trash, and you’re aware of the benefits that will come if you do these things. It’s just hard to get going.

Similarly, after talking to a bunch of recovering incels, I can say with confidence that a lot of them, even when they were at their worst, knew they had a problem. They were aware that their ideology was absolutely miserable best, and hateful at worst, or they were at least skeptical. A lot of them just get into it because they’re impressionable, and then they stay in it because the movement seems convincing just because their members trumpet their beliefs so confidently. Take the words of Jay, a recovering incel from Australia, in his early twenties: “I actually disagreed a lot with the stuff I read, but I felt like I was wrong and that the internet would know better than me, especially because of things such as ‘upvotes’ persuading me against my intuition.”

All this means that you absolutely should not start the discussion aggressively. Don’t say things that are unhelpful like, hey, you know that a couple of incels shot a bunch of women, right? This will not help — it’ll just sound like you’re implying that they’re a future mass murderer, which they probably aren’t. There are many thousands of incels, and the vast majority are just quietly expressing hateful attitudes on the Internet, or getting indoctrinated. If you say, “incels hate women, and I don’t like that you hate women,” he’ll probably just respond defensively and say that he doesn’t hate women, he just sees them for “who they really are.”

Instead of starting with an unproductive argument, actually get to know your friend’s situation. The best way to get people to listen to what you have to say is by listening to what they have to say first. Why is he so uncomfortable about women, or so resentful towards successful men? It might come from having a lousy family life that gave him a bad model for relationships. If you’re the child of a bitterly broken home, finding a fulfilling romance probably seems less likely, because we take our parents’ lives as models for our own. Maybe the first few girls he tried to flirt with happened to be cruel, and it set him on the wrong path. Maybe he’s unconfident about his appearance because he was bullied, or because he just wasn’t blessed with good looks.

Also, remember that we all have at least a trace of the insecurities that lead incels to be incels — they’ve just contracted a thought virus that weaponizes the same insecurities you have. You can relate to feeling undesirable. You can relate to feeling like you’ll never be with the person you want. Because, after all, it’s fundamentally true that some people have a way harder time with sex and love, often because of circumstances they can’t control. Even if you think being an incel is obviously an irrational and toxic way of looking at the world, you can probably empathize with the feelings that made your friend susceptible.

Oh, and remember that he’s not a bad person. Given a different set of life circumstances, you might have become an incel, too. It’s just the truth that almost nobody is evil, but a lot of people are temporarily misguided.

Then, don’t look to him to make a change immediately. Just make it a two-way conversation. Ask him what the incel mindset is doing for his life, like, what concrete improvements it has made in his daily experience. The answer is it probably hasn’t done a single thing. Ask them, honestly, what it would take to change his mind, and try to accommodate that request. It should be a calm dialogue, rather than a yelling match. Don’t hurl personal accusations about his character. Give him support.

And giving him support doesn’t mean just giving him a couple of compliments and exposing him to a sunnier worldview. After a few hours of talking to him, he’s not going to change completely and tag you in an uplifting Facebook status. This is because inceldom is an extreme worldview, and extreme worldviews are both appealing and hard to break out of So, you’re actually going to have to be a friend. This might involve helping your incel buddy to accept a more social world. Maybe you go out with him and help him make more friends and give him the courage to face his fears. It might involve a lot of late-night conversations about his pain, which might be exhausting. But it could make a huge difference.

To sum up, being compassionate means actually being on your friend’s side. Ultimately, to talk to your incel friends, just be a real, actual friend.

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