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Kleptomania (impulsive theft): 6 myths about this disorder

Kleptomania (impulsive theft): 6 myths about this disorder

July 18, 2024

What is kleptomania? Because often the wrong information, the clichés of television and film and the stigmatization of those who ignore the seriousness of this disorder; lPatients with kleptomania have been an easy target for decades , not only being mocked and prejudiced but also unfair legal battles against them.

This, with the passage of time has only reaffirmed that there is a profound lack of knowledge about this disorder. That is why today, we have proposed to refute some of the most widespread myths about kleptomaniacs .

What is kleptomania?

However, it is necessary to clarify from the beginning exactly what this disease consists of. Kleptomania is cataloged by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (in its fourth edition) as a disorder belonging to the group of impulse control disorders and whose main characteristic consists of the recurrent difficulty in controlling impulses for stealing .

The kleptomaniac often has an uncontrollable urge to steal things he does not need. Among the fundamental components of those who suffer from this disorder include recurrent thoughts of intrusion, the feeling of helplessness that pushes them to perpetrate the theft and a feeling of release of pressure and a certain euphoria after committing the theft.

Diagnostic criteria of kleptomania

In addition, the DSM-IV also provides diagnostic criteria for this disease, among which are the following:

1. Habitual difficulty in managing and controlling the impulses to commit theft even in objects and goods that are not indispensable for their personal use or for their economic value.

2. Feeling of uncertainty and tension in the previous moments commit the theft.

3. Wellness, feeling of euphoria and success at the time of perpetrating the theft.

4. Theft does not have an angry motivation nor is it a response to a delusional disorder or to hallucinations in the background.

5. ETheft is not explained by the presence of a dissocial disorder , an antisocial personality disorder or a manic episode.


People diagnosed with kleptomania They frequently have other types of disorders that negatively influence their mood . The comorbidity of kleptomania is varied, but the most common disorders are: anxiety, problems related to food or also within the same impulse control group.

It is also important to clarify that kleptomaniacs are usually classified into three groups, these being: sporadic kleptomaniacs , among whom the time between robbery and robbery occurs at very long intervals; the episodic kleptomaniacs , in which case robberies are committed more frequently but in which there are certain periods of "rest" and chronic kleptomaniacs , who steal in a latent and continuous way to the point where this activity constitutes a severe problem for the person and bursts with their daily activities.

Dismantling myths

Among the myths most frequently related to this disease and those who suffer from it, we find the following:

Myth 1: They feel pleasure in stealing and are unable to feel guilt

The kleptomaniac experiences an accumulation of negative emotions and a certain increase in internal tension before stealing an object, so he feels that only by stealing can he alleviate this discomfort. While it is true that this feeling of relief of tension is present after carrying out the act, the sensation is different from that of pleasure, because it is usually accompanied by a latent feeling of guilt after the act. In other words, anxiety and internal tension (increasing in the moments before the act) are mitigated through theft .

Myth 2: They will steal whenever they have the chance and they are incurable

As we mentioned above, the number of robberies that a person with this condition will commit will vary as the type of kleptomaniac that is (episodic, sporadic or chronic). In addition, it is important to emphasize that kleptomaniacs only commit robberies in response to an increase in anxiety and previous tension, which is why the belief that they are capable of stealing everything if they have the opportunity to do so is false. Regarding treatment, various therapies (especially behavioral) have shown very good results in mitigating anxiety prior to the act and, thereby, eliminating the need to steal.

Myth 3: The robberies of kleptomaniacs are climbing and are professional thieves

When kleptomaniacs steal, they are only responding to an inner urge . That is why they do not share any characteristic with the "common" thieves beyond the fact of stealing, so they are not able to premeditate or plan their thefts, they simply do it occasionally. For this same reason, their robberies do not go in escalation, such as those of career criminals who went through a criminal evolutionary process (for example, who started by stealing a wallet, then assaulted a store, then a bank, etc.). The kleptomaniacs are not professionalized in what they do, they simply do it. It is true that they will find the best opportunity to do so, but at no time this pretends to be for them their modus vivendi (the way they earn their living) because, for them, stealing does not entail any lucrative profit.

Myth 5: They are perfectly capable of controlling their desire to steal but do not want

Completely false The kleptomaniacs are able to understand the act of stealing is wrong , but they simply can not control their need to steal things. For them it is as necessary to commit the act of stealing as that of a gambler to gamble. That is why it is sometimes debated whether it should be classified as part of the obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Myth 6: They are crazy / deviant / mentally alienated

Neither crazy, nor alienated: they are perfectly capable of fending for themselves, since they do not have delusional or paranoid characteristics , so they perfectly understand reality. Sometimes, it is true that the act of stealing can interfere with their daily activities (as in the case of chronic kleptomaniacs), but a correct treatment can redirect the situation and provide them with a completely normal life.

Differences of the kleptomaniac with the common thief

Here we outline some of the differences that kleptomaniacs have in relation to common thieves.

1. While ordinary thieves commit their acts out of self-conviction, the kleptomaniac responds to an inner impulse , so that the latter does not commit his acts with free will.

2. Commonly, in thieves there are some mild psychopathic traits (for example, the need to satisfy immediately their drives, egocentrism, perversity, etc.) while in kleptomaniacs there are no features of some of the previous characteristics.

3. The thieves generally seek to profit from the goods they steal; the kleptomaniacs do not . Likewise, while common thieves steal the goods they consider to be of greater value, kleptomaniacs are only motivated by the act of stealing in themselves, and do not make judgments of monetary value on the goods they steal.

4. Within the distorted scheme of values ​​of a thief, what he does is right or is "fair" . A kleptomaniac, however, knows that what he does is not good but it is very difficult for him to control it.

5. The thief does not usually have remorse (or more specifically yes, but mitigate this with intricate defense mechanisms) while the kleptomaniac, as soon as he consummates the act, is invaded by enormous amounts of guilt and anguish.

What therapies can help a kleptomaniac?

The current therapies that seek to blur the impulses to steal in kleptomaniacs can be pharmacological and / or behavioral. In many cases antidepressants are given in order to regulate the levels of serotonin released by the subject at the time of committing the act.

As we mentioned earlier, among the most effective psychotherapeutic works for kleptomaniacs are behavioral therapies with an emphasis on the cognitive. This type of therapy achieves an adequate development in their daily activities. On the other hand, some psychoanalysts report that the real causes of compulsive theft focus on unconsciously suppressed discomforts during early childhood. It is also advised that those who suffer from this disorder share with a third party their experiences, feelings and thoughts, so that this trustworthy person exercises a "vigilant" role.

What is Conduct Disorder? (July 2024).

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