Inside the mind of an incel: Disturbed young men in women-hating cult driven by clinginess, paranoia

Incels are usually clingy wannabe momma’s boys, according to one of the first studies into the hate group. 

Involuntary celibates — who advocate violence and rape against women — have been responsible for a growing number of terror attacks in recent years.

They make up a dark and depraved online community of young heterosexual men who blame society in women for their lack of romantic success. 

Now researchers from the University of Rome have found similar personality traits that band members together. 

Incels score highly for anxiety and paranoia, which may explain why they are distrustful of women and jealous of other men who have successful romances. 

They also had higher depression scores, which may also lead to self-hatred, and suicidal and violent tendencies.

The researchers found incel members had a ‘fearful attachment style’, which includes being clingy or emotionally absent.

Their hatred of women and misogyny stems from a fear of trusting others and getting hurt, which may have arisen due to emotional neglect or abuse as a child, according to the study. 

The team hope their findings and the scale can be used by doctors to identify people at risk of becoming incels. 

In September, a self-described incel in Southern California was charged for a series of attacks on women using pepper-spray.

Alex Minassian killed 10 people with a van in Toronto in 2018, claiming it was a ‘rebellion’ which would ‘force’ women to have sex with men like him.

Elliot Rodgers, who killed six people in a gun and knife attack in California in 2014, posted a video shortly before his attack in which he complained about being a virgin at aged 22 and how he had never kissed a girl.

Being depressed, paranoid, anxious all make men more likely to become an incel, researchers from the University of Rome found. Attachment styles causing clingy behavior and a fear of rejection are also predictors of a hatred towards women, they discovered

Elliot Rodger (pictured) who killed two women and four men in a gun and knife attack in California in 2014, before killing himself. Multiple incel attacks since Rodger claim to be inspired by him

Alek Minassian (pictured) was found guilty of 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder in connection with the April 2018 attack, when  he used a van to kill 10 pedestrians in Toronto. He told police he belonged to an online community of sexually frustrated men, some of whom have plotted attacks on people who have sex

Elliot Rodger (pictured left) was 22 when he shot and killed six people in a sorority house mass shooting in 2014. He carried out the shooting because he was frustrated that he was still a virgin. He said he was driven to kill after numerous women had rejected him. Alek Minassian  (pictured right) used a van to kill 10 people in Toronto in April 2018, and claimed to police he had been in contact with Mr Rodger

He also published an 141-page document going through his deep-rooted hatred of women, in which he said he could not understand why women would not want to have sex with him.

Mr Rodgers was never formally diagnosed with a mental illness.

A total of 770 men aged between 18 and 69 were given a set of questionnaires online identifying incel traits, depression and anxiety levels, attachment style and paranoia symptoms.

Incel attacks in the US 

May 2020 – Incel gunman shot and wounded three people at a mall in Arizona while livestreaming the attack on Snapchat 

February 2020 – A machete attack in a Toronto massage parlor became the first incident of alleged incel violence to be prosecuted as an act of terrorism

November 2018 – A gunman who posed as customer at a Tallahassee yoga studio killed two women and wounded five others. 

He said he wanted to ‘blow off’ a woman’s head and expressed other disturbing and misogynistic views four years ago on his YouTube channel.

April 2018 – A man used a van to kill 10 pedestrians in Toronto. He told police he belonged to an online community of sexually frustrated men, some of whom have plotted attacks on people who have sex.

The incel trait scale, developed by Dr Scaptura and Dr Boyle in 2019, includes factors such as confused, sad, fearful, excluded, weak and insecure. 

Men who scored highly on the scale were more likely to also display paranoia, anxiety and depression. 

Paranoia is an unjustified mistrust of people and can include unwarranted jealously.

In the case of incels, they are mistrustful of women specifically and jealous of other men who are successful in romantic relationships.

Depression and anxiety also contribute to an incel mindset, as both can cause diminished self-esteem and isolation.

Incels believe they are unable to attract women and will often retreat to online forums to discuss their unhappiness and frustration.

The researchers found that men who had a fearful attachment style were also more likely to score highly on incel traits.

On the other hand, those who had a secure attachment style scored lower in the questionnaire of incel traits.

Attachment styles are ways people behave in relationships with others and are based on the bond individuals had with their parents or primary caregiver while growing up.

A secure attachment style is when people feel protected by their parents, leading them to feel comfortable in relationships with others later in their life.

But if a child’s primary caregiver is neglecting or unpredictable, the child can become needy as they work harder to get the attention they feel they are lacking.

When they become adults, children with a disorganized attachment have low self-esteem and an intense fear of rejection and abandonment, which is consistent with an incel attitude.

Boys may grow up resentful of women due to a lack of healthy relationships developed in childhood. 

A caregiver might have behaved in a frightening way, including abuse towards the child. 

Or they may have been inconsistent and unpredictable in their interactions with their offspring — being highly loving at times and then neglectful at others.

Boys can be left feeling unlovable and mistrustful that people will support and accept them.

The researchers concluded that paranoia and depressive-anxious symptoms play a ‘pivotal role’ in the incel attitude, and suggested that fearful attachment styles can contribute to a misogynic attitude.

Children may grow up resenting women if they feel their primary caregiver did not give them the love they needed, and may also leave them with a negative self-view.

The study was published in the The Journal of Sexual Medicine

In the UK last year, Plymouth gunman Jake Davison killed his own mother as well as a father and daughter.

He had previously made references to incels in videos posted on social media, including hateful rants about single mothers and particularly his own, who he called ‘vile, dysfunctional and chaotic’.


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