Like many troubled kids, Samuel, a 21-year-old media student from the Netherlands, is convinced he wouldn’t be here today had he continued down the path he was on as a teenager. “A few random miracles happened that led me to finding support,” he tells me. “That helped me steer clear of any radical actions I might’ve taken back then.”
He’s not talking about drug or alcohol addiction, though. Nor is he referring to a behavioral disorder. Instead, he checked himself into rehab in 2016 for his mindset. “I was an incel — or at least I identified as one,” he explains.
Here’s how he got there.
I grew up in a conservative neighborhood. And as one of the only brown children around, my experiences with people were honestly horrid. From a very young age, the people around me denounced me. They told me I should “go back to my own fucking country,” or yelled other profanities I won’t state here. That made it pretty hard to make friends during my formative years. The people who hated me did so with a passion, and the others were too scared to become their target as well.
Needless to say, my dating life didn’t go too well either — starting, actually, with my first date ever. I was 12 years old and had just met a girl I really liked. She asked me out to the club, where we danced awkwardly and did all the things teens normally would do. Then she confessed her feelings and told me she liked me. I was so excited: A girl I liked liked me back! Someone at all liked me back!
We dated for the next week. It might have been the best week of my life. She paid attention to me. Other people paid attention to me. Things were looking good for a change.
But at the end of that week, her friends broke the news to me: She’d been dared to do it, and the whole thing was a prank. I get it now, peer pressure can make people do stupid things, and it’s just kids doing things kids do, but it hurt. And it stuck with me.
There were other things that happened to me too — a bit more traumatic and a little too personal to tell anyone. With the help of the incel subreddits and forums, though, it all became connected in my head. I grew more and more pessimistic. I already knew what people were going to say before they said it, and it always turned out to be the most negative conclusion in my head. It was like a confirmation bias: Of course that girl played a joke on me; of course people are mean to me. I’m an ugly loser.
For years, I soaked up the incel dogma and spiraled further. Their hate was scary to me, but I was very impressionable and willing to believe them if it meant not being so alone. The hate and vitriol made the sadness and loneliness I was feeling more manageable.
At the same time, I never truly fit in with the incel community. That came to a head when one of the most famous moderators, Knajjd, discovered that I was bisexual. He told me that if I liked men I couldn’t be an incel because it’s too easy to find a partner. Then he banned me from their Discord, and I was back to being alone again.
After that, I rejoined the Forever Alone subreddit, which is a place where lonely people gather but without the toxic intentions. It was there that I discovered a couple of YouTube channels, BasedShaman and Monday Chad Monday, that helped me realize the path I was on and that I needed help.
So I went and got admitted into a clinic. It’s a “youth mental health clinic” in the Netherlands called Yes We Can, where you pack up and stay for a total of 10 weeks to work on yourself and get professional coaching. (We didn’t call ourselves clients or patients, but rather “fellows.”) I was young, but I was stuck, and I needed to find the tools to get me unstuck.
For the next 10 weeks, I worked with coaches and therapists on my emotions and empathy. My social skills were rustier than a 100-year-old iron nail — and my looks weren’t exactly anything to write home about either — but the coaches made clear we were going to turn that kind of thinking around.
I can’t begin to explain how much the coaches influenced me. I went in feeling like I’d never regain the confidence I lost during my childhood, because of the prank and other things. I felt too scared to ever really love anyone, but now I don’t think I’m doomed. I’m working on it, and I’m in control. They taught me a lot of the tricks I use today to stay motivated and wake up in the morning.
One of the main things was basically to “fake it till you make it,” which is forcing yourself to have a more positive outlook on life, so that in time you actually get a more positive outlook on life. At the time, it sounded overly simple and dumb. I didn’t believe it, and frankly, I didn’t want to be happy. I didn’t think I deserved it.
The coaches, though, helped me realize that it’s not always easy to have a positive attitude. It’s much easier to assume the worst. And if you always stick with what’s easy, you’re never going to grow or make something of yourself.
I’d always assumed I was emotionless and that I lacked empathy or the ability for sadness — maybe because of some more traumatic parts of my childhood. But I learned that there’s a well of sadness down there, which when tapped, will open the floodgates. Feeling pain is at least feeling something, and so, I know I’m now capable of happiness, too.
But what helped me the most was the general accepting nature of the people there. If you’re an incel, you must buy into the ideology. You must think as they do; otherwise, you get bashed. That’s at least how it is on the forums. I’d seen enough incel shittiness to assume I’d be ridiculed by the group, simply because I was an outsider. Yet that wasn’t the case at all. People at Yes We Can were extraordinarily willing to accept others who were different than them. And that’s exactly what I needed at that moment.
There was a lot of group therapy, at least four days a week. For me, that was the best. It helped me realize that even in different situations, there are always things that connect one another. I never thought about that, which is why I felt so isolated.
I should make clear that I never hated women for my situation. I mean, how could I? I’m bisexual, and men didn’t want to date me either! I was just lonely. The clinic helped me realize that I didn’t have any friends, so I put a lot of weight into select occurrences like what happened with my first “girlfriend.”
I even gained enough confidence after the clinic to post in r/IncelTears, the sworn enemy of incels. I figured I’d post about being a reformed incel and see what they said. They were so positive. All the comments were about how happy they were to see that there was still a capacity for change in people who come in contact with incel ideas.
But the story is, I went from an angry incel to a still-lonely-but-less-angry loner. I lost a few years to depression, but at least I’m out of it now, and equipped with some tools to fight it — or at least fake it.
As told to Quinn Myers