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Kleptomania: Stealing which will steal from you

answered 09:05 PM EST, Wed December 14, 2011
I steal stuff for no reason at all. Sometimes I’ll just be in some store and I’ll start feeling all tense and I’ll get this ridiculous urge to just take something and the urge is really strong. So I’ll pocket something that and I’ll walk out and I’ll feel kind of a high for a few minutes but then I’ll feel just so stupid for having done it again.

Yesterday I was a drug store I go to all the time and they totally know me there and I was with my 4 year old son. I took a pair of 9$ sunglasses and stuck them on my hat, like I had been wearing them when I came in. Unfortunately, I set off the alarm when I went out. The owner is this very nice guy and I must have walked through the alarm system like 5 times while we tried to ‘figure out’ why it was going off. I was so scared and embarrassed but I was just trying to act like it was a mystery. They never clued into the sunglasses and eventually they just let it go, but I think they think I took something but since I am such a regular customer and a nice guy in their eyes, they just let it go.

How do I learn to overcome these urges I have to steal? If I was arrested yesterday in front of my son I don’t know how I could have lived with myself ever again.

Delisted Expert Says...

First, I would like to acknowledge you for caring enough about your child and yourself to begin problem identification. This is a major factor in problem-solving. With behaviors which cause embarrassment, shame, or loss of control are often frequented by strong denial. Individuals may rationalize impulse control behaviors, like stealing, with self-talk, such as, “Everyone steals something….I don’t need to worry about this because no one knows… If I get caught it will only be a first offense…I will never do it again… I haven’t done this in a while so it doesn’t matter,” and other minimizing, self-soothing, or rationalizing self-talk. This self-talk can serve to delay taking action for treatment.

This impulse control disorder is called kleptomania. A diagnosis only serves to give a language for clinicians and clients, and to develop a treatment plan. What we know about any behavior is it is

  1. purposeful;
  2. measurable;
  3. predictable and
  4. likely to repeat itself.

Any treatment plan would need to address these four aspects of this behavior.

Please note that kleptomania is not found in career thieves. However, it usually has a higher incident in women than men. It is usually out of character to steal, or as psychologists call it, ego dystonic, which means the person does not want to steal, and does feel guilty about the behavior. Two functions of this behavior are

  1. an anxiety release, and
  2. a temporary feeling of gratification.

Let’s discuss treatment for kleptomania. I recommend that you seek treatment for this problem is unlikely to improve without intervention; according to research literature. As you indicated, the loss of control of the behavior can result in legal, career, family, parental failure, image, and self-esteem problems. Tripping a store alarm, repeated examination by store employees/managers, and having you and your child stopped by store personnel sounds like a highly anxious and threatening situation. Remembering this incident could be used to motivate you to seek treatment as soon as you are able. Most people are reluctant to seek treatment because of their feelings of humiliation or embarrassment. Despite any reluctance, it is important that you seek help.

Treatment typically consists of, some combination of, behavioral self-control techniques, stress management, cognitive behavioral therapy, self-help groups, and medications. For additional reading about kleptomania and common medications utilized, please go to these sites:




It would be helpful to have an assessment and treatment by a knowledgeable mental health professional or program. My hope is that this information and recommendation is helpful to you. You and I both recognize that this behavior threatens your future and well-being. Please do not wait to address this problem with the same rigor and honesty you have exerted in this request. If you ever need anything from me, please let me know. I wish you every success and a Happy Holiday.

John W. O’Neal, Ed.S, LPC, MSW, MA, NCC


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Page last updated Dec 19, 2011

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