Maybe you have heard of mania or being manic before. If you have not, mania are periods of high excitement and even euphoria often accompanied by delusions and over activity. Mania can look like someone who feels the obsessive need to reorganize their whole house at 2:00am or someone who suddenly quits their job to focus on their ship bottling hobby. Mania involves intense and often extreme behavior that is contrary from someone’s normal behavior. While it can help begin to explain kleptomania, it is only part of it. With kleptomania, it involves a euphoric and almost obsessive-compulsive need to steal (klepto meaning theft). People who deal with kleptomania are going to be focused on the high or intense urge they are feeling. It is like the itch that they just cannot avoid scratching. It might even feel unavoidable when those urges occur. Often the attempts to steal happen at random without any planning involved. The items stolen typically have little to no value, although it can be items the person cannot afford. For those dealing with kleptomania, the stealing is not about the stuff. It is about the feeling they get that they just have to satisfy in order to feel better. The other important distinction is the behavior cannot be accounted for by a delusion or hallucination, a conduct disorder, a manic episode, or antisocial personality disorder.
Inability to fight urges to steal things you do not need. Kleptomania involves stealing randomly and not out of necessity. A person who is starving might steal food, but someone with kleptomania might steal something random like 4 hairbrushes or kid’s toy. A person with this disorder will likely feel they cannot avoid satisfying the urge. They will steal regardless of necessity or riskiness in terms of getting caught.
Feelings of guilt or tension before stealing. This is where kleptomania seems to resemble obsessive-compulsive behaviors. They will experience the tension as the urge to steal builds. The stealing itself is the compulsion to ideally satisfy the behavior. Oftentimes, a compulsion is an undesirable behavior but it provides the person so relief to the tension.
Feelings of pleasure or a sense of relief as the stealing is occurring. Again, looking through the obsessive-compulsive lens, the act of stealing is to provide relief to obsessive and intrusive urges, feelings, and thoughts. It is almost like letting air out of an over-inflated balloon. They are experiencing discomfort from the urges and by letting it out (through stealing specifically) they immediately find relief from the discomfort.
Feelings of worry, guilt, or fear of consequences after the theft. After the dust settles, they tend to experience negative feelings afterwards. It is like someone who has anger issues yelling and screaming at someone in a rage feeling terrible after it is over. They realize their actions were not really reflective of who they are. They felt overwhelmed by the urges, but once the urges are satisfied, they are able to see the reality which upsets them.
Kleptomania is an issue that can often be accompanied by another disorder like depression, anxiety, OCD or bipolar. It can resemble an addiction in the way that a person might feel an inability to control their impulses. If you or someone you love is exhibiting these symptoms, it is best to seek a diagnosis and treatment. The good news is kleptomania and its symptoms can be helped through seeking treatment from a professional.
Michelle Overman is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist working as a counselor for students, faculty, and staff at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. She works with athletes, bridging the gap between athletics and mental health at ACU. She is becoming a Certified Mental Performance Consultant in sports psychology. Michelle ran her own private practice in Austin, Texas where she worked with a diverse population, including couples and families. Michelle earned a Master’s in Marriage & Family Therapy and has been working in the field for 6 years.