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Mental Processes Causing Uncontrollable Theft: Kleptomania

Living in modern society is all about individual desires – the analysis of our wishes and the control of our needs. Due to the availability of infinite items at our fingertips, we have perfected a give-and-take system of possessions through our financial system. For most, this system works; it is understood and abided by. However, for others, it is not as simple to follow the man-made rules of money in exchange for goods.

Think about it this way: Have you ever walked through a clothing store and locked your gaze onto a great outfit, one that you would love to wear? Now, imagine if – when you caught a glimpse of that great outfit – you couldn’t resist the urge to take it. Your heart rate increases and your head throbs. It is as if the outfit is simply meant to be yours. You have to take the item without paying for to find relief from the overwhelming feelings in your mind. The risk brings a rush of pleasure. An individual who suffers from this urge to commit theft is typically diagnosed with Kleptomania.

But what does it mean to be diagnosed with Kleptomania?

Kleptomania can be defined as an impulse-control disorder in which an individual finds immense relief of mental tension through risk-taking stealing behaviors. Individuals with Kleptomania experience severe mental compulsions, in which the individual must steal items that are easily afforded and unneeded. The actions of individuals with Kleptomania may sound similar to the actions of individuals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), as the desire to give in to an obsession is irresistible.

Although Kleptomania is considered to be an impulse-control disorder similar to OCD, the disorder is no longer listed in the DSM-5 – the most recent update of the Psychological manual of mental disorders. The reasoning is due to an inability to place it under a specific category, as it is unique in an individual’s feeling of relief in committing illegal stealing behavior. This does not mean that Kleptomania isn’t treated by therapists, especially psychotherapists.

Psychotherapy is very beneficial for individuals with Kleptomania, as the disorder often tends to root from unresolved needs in childhood. A psychotherapist treating a client with Kleptomania will utilize the psychodynamic approach of Psychology to explore the unconscious triggers of stealing behaviors – most likely developed from childhood. The development of Kleptomania can be analyzed through a psychotherapeutic technique called object relations theory. The theory claims that individuals are born with internalized “objects,” which are typically connections to parents. If parents are neglectful, children will begin to find unconscious comfort in external objects – such as the ones found in stores.

Individuals who grow up with Kleptomania find intense gratification in stealing items to resolve unconscious mental tension caused by childhood neglect. The disorder is very dangerous, as many end up in trouble with the law. Thankfully, many studies have found that psychotherapy can be helpful in uncovering the reasoning behind the behaviors. Individuals with Kleptomania can find support through psychotherapy strategies of self-awareness and self-management.

Gozde Gokozan, MS, MA


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