Kleptomania is a type of psychological disorder defined, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in its fourth edition (DSM-IV), as ” the recurrent difficulty to control the impulse to steal any object, even when it is not necessary to personal use or for its economic value “. According to the classification of mental disorders developed for this manual by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), kleptomania is a type of impulse control disorder. These types of disorders are characterized by the fact that the person is not able to control the motivation or the temptation to carry out a behavior that he knows is harmful to him .

A kleptomaniac person is not a sick person, but he does have a behavior that causes a disruptive functioning in his life. The person who steals on impulse does not do so because he needs the object or objects that he steals, nor because he likes them, nor does he lack financial resources to do so, but he has to eliminate the tension he feels about the possibility of stealing. Thus, kleptomania has the following features:

1. The person cannot control the impulse to steal the object, and it is not necessary for the person and does not have a specific economic value .

2. Before removing the object, the person feels great tension.

3. By committing the theft, the person experiences a sense of relief, well-being and liberation.

4. Do not steal for causing harm to the person who owns the object, or for revenge, or anger.

5. The person does not suffer hallucinations that lead him to commit theft, nor is the behavior explained by other psychological disorders.

In short, for the person with kleptomania, the behavior of stealing is an impulse that they cannot control. In doing so, he feels a release that makes it easier for him to activate that same mechanism (that of succumbing to the urge) on future occasions that he suffers from it, and he cannot control it.

Kleptomaniacal people don’t steal for pleasure

There are different situations or factors that can lead us to commit a robbery, be it smaller or larger. One can be the need (to steal food, for example), also on a whim, ignoring the damage that the theft can cause or that we are violating a norm of coexistence; it can be stolen out of rebellion, anger or revenge. Also for pleasure, in the sense that planning a robbery, exposing oneself to danger and getting out of it unscathed gives us a feeling of success. But none of these cases have to do with kleptomania .

People with kleptomania often do not use the items they steal, or sometimes they also return them. The disorder may or may not be accompanied by subsequent guilt or remorse , and it is not uncommon for a person to feel bad about doing it but still do it: they cannot control it. Neither are they planned robberies, nor done in collaboration with anyone else. If there is a clear risk of being discovered, the act is not committed.

Why steal?

The causes of kleptomania, something common in psychological disorders, are not very well understood. It has elements in common with addictions, and also with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder , since the person does not control certain acts and needs to perform a behavior in order to feel good. However, it has great cultural significance that the relieving behavior performed is stealing.: It is harmful because socially we have created the rules that the things in a store must be exchanged for money, or those that are in the house of a person or an establishment, belong to the owner, we cannot take them. To begin with, by the concept of property, and to continue because that person will have cost money, will have sentimental value, will like it or will be of use, and we do not want to cause harm to others. And it is that on many occasions, psychological disorders are more related to the symbolic relationship that we establish with the behavior we perform (stealing is wrong, I do not like to do it and it will bring me problems, but I have the need to do it) than for a mere biological fact. Thus, compulsive behaviors may be relatedwith our levels of serotonin or dopamine in the brain, they are dumped on elements of our environment in a non-random way.

Kleptomania can be treated

As a psychological disorder, kleptomania has therapeutic treatment. This must be of a behavioral type, to prevent the person from having that feeling of tension again before the possibility of stealing . From psychology, plans and strategies will be put in place to achieve this, and even if you feel anxiety, obsessive thoughts or are unable to concentrate on other aspects of your life, it is possible to overcome it without the need for psychotropic drugs .

What is very important is that we do not stigmatize, point out, or judge the person with kleptomania . If it happens to someone close to us, we should encourage them to go to therapy , but we don’t need to tell them that stealing is wrong, because they already know it. It is not that you have to go because the behavior is a crime, but also because it is a disorder that generates, like everyone else, a great discomfort r. On the other hand, it will not always be easy for him to return what he has stolen, since that would imply on many occasions exposing his behavior, or his problem, and the consequences will not be good. But, for example, if it is a relative or a friend of yoursand he steals something from you, you can tell him that you are not angry, but that you need him to give it back. Each case is different, but little by little you can get to ask for help and overcome this problem. 

Elle Mcdonald

I am Elle Mcdonald Specializations in Psychology . Graduated in psychology from the University of Tennessee in 2000. Diploma of Advanced Studies in the Department of Personality, Evaluation and psychological treatments with excellent results.

First Level of Master in Clinical Psychology at the Center for Behavioral Therapists (recognized with a scientific-professional nature by the College of Psychologists)

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