Kleptomania is the recurrent failure by an individual, to resist urges to steal items that they don’t really need – and which usually have little value anyway.
The Kleptomaniac has a serious mental health disorder which can cause much emotional pain, both for themselves and their loved ones, if not treated.
Kleptomania: An Impulse Control Disorder
Kleptomania is a type of impulse control disorder –a disorder that’s characterised by problems with emotional or behavioural self-control. For a person to have this disorder, they have difficulty resisting the temptation to perform an act that is excessive or harmful to themselves or someone else.
Therefore, typical symptoms of a Kleptomaniac include:
- the inability to resist powerful urges to steal items that are not really needed;
- feeling increased tension, anxiety, anger, or arousal leading up to the theft;
- feeling a sense of gratification while stealing;
- feelings of terrible guilt, remorse, self-loathing, shame and fear of arrest after the theft; and,
- a return of the cycle of symptoms if not treated.
Kleptomaniacs are Not Typical Shop Lifters
It is really important to note that Kleptomaniacs are not typical shop lifters. They don’t steal for personal gain. Episodes of kleptomania generally occur spontaneously, usually without planning and without help or collaboration from another person. In most cases, what the Kleptomaniac steals, they can afford to buy, and, they tend not to use the stolen items. Sometimes, they even return them.
Kleptomania is related to addictive disorders and stealing may cause the release of dopamine (a transmitter in the brain) that causes a pleasurable feeling. An imbalance in the system can make it harder to resist urges.
Most Kleptomaniacs are usually afraid to seek help out of shame and humiliation. Occasionally a sufferer is brave enough to seek psychological assistance, but it is essential that the client trusts and likes the therapist or therapy will be ineffective.
Treatment for Kleptomania
When a person suffering Kleptomania seeks therapeutic support, they need help in understanding what emotions are driving them to steal. Unfortunately, they generally only seek help when caught, there is police involvement and a court case. However, if they don’t receive help, they tend to live lives of secret shame.
A Kleptomaniac suffers overwhelming anxiety, accompanied by shame, guilt, and anger nearly all the time – about anything and everything – without knowing why. The only time symptoms ease, is at the moment of stealing, when they give in to the impulse. The usual feelings of terrible shame and guilt soon follow once more.
Therapy can help significantly, but the client will need to attend regular sessions to manage unpleasant emotions and work on the techniques and strategies. Kleptomaniacs tend to have little desire to steal while the anxiety and other emotional symptoms are managed. The support of family is also very helpful, rather than treating the sufferer like a criminal.
If you suffer from Kleptomania, or know someone – a family member perhaps – that you suspect may be a Kleptomaniac, please, please come and see me. I can assure you confidentiality in a safe, friendly environment.
Author: Dr Jan Philamon, PhD, BA (Hons) Psychology, C Teach, JP (Qual) Qld, MAPS.
As a registered teacher and psychologist, Dr Jan Philamon has a wealth of experience with children, however she enjoys helping individuals and couples at any stage of life. Jan aims to help people to be the best they can be and find success: improved wellbeing, gaining a sense of empowerment that allows them to actively problem solve and manage obstacles constructively, as well as positively plan and achieve their personal and career goals.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129