Cleptomania (impulsive theft): 6 myths about this disorder

What is kleptomania? Because of the misinformation often made, the clichés of television and the cinema and the stigmatization of those who ignore the seriousness of this disorder; lyour kleptomania patients have been an easy target for decades, Not only the object of ridicule and prejudice, but also of unfair legal battles against them.

This, over time, has only reaffirmed that there is a deep ignorance of this disorder. This is why today, we have sought to dispel some of the most common myths about kleptomans.

What is kleptomania?

However, it is necessary to clarify from the beginning what exactly this disease is. Kleptomania is listed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (fourth edition) as a disorder belonging to the group of impulse control disorders and the main feature is recurring difficulty controlling impulses to fly.

The kleptomaniac often has an uncontrollable urge to steal things he does not need. The basic elements of those who suffer from this disorder include recurring thoughts of intrusion, the feeling of helplessness which prompts them to commit theft, and a feeling of release from the pressure and some euphoria after having committed the theft.

Diagnostic criteria for kleptomania

Likewise, the DSM-IV also provides us with the diagnostic criteria for this disease, among which:

1. Usual difficulty in managing and controlling the urge to fly even in objects and goods which are not essential for their personal use or for their economic value.

2. Feeling of uncertainty and tension in the moments leading up to the flight.

3. Well-being, feeling of euphoria and success at the time of the theft.

4. Theft has no angry motivation nor is it a response to delusional disorder or background hallucinations.

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 with eating or also within the same impulse control group.

It is also important to clarify that kleptomans are generally classified into three groups, namely: sporadic kleptomaniac, Among which the time between flight and flight occurs at very long intervals; the episodic kleptomaniacs, In this case, thefts are committed more frequently but in which there are certain periods of “rest” and the chronic kleptomaniacs, Those who fly in a latent and continuous way to the point where this activity is a serious problem for the person and gets broken in their daily activities.

dismantle the myths

Some of the most common myths associated with this disease and those who suffer from it include the following:

Myth 1: They enjoy flying and are unable to feel guilty

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

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

As mentioned above, the number of thefts committed by a person with this disease will vary depending on the type of kleptomaniac (Episodic, sporadic or chronic). In addition, it is important to point out that kleptomans only commit thefts in response to a previous increase in anxiety and stress, so it is wrong to believe that they are able to steal everything if they have any. the possibility. In terms of treatment, several therapies (especially behavioral) have shown very good results in reducing anxiety before the act and thus eliminating the need to steal.

Myth 3: Thefts of kleptomans are on the rise and are professional thieves

When kleptomans fly they only respond to an inner impulse. This is why they do not share any characteristics with the “common” thieves beyond theft, so they are not able to premeditate or plan their thefts, they just do it every now and then. For the same reason, their thefts do not escalate, like those of career criminals who have gone through a criminal evolutionary process (e.g. who started stealing a wallet, then robbed a store, then a bank, etc. ).). Kleptomans don’t professionalize what they do, they just do it. It is true that they will find the best opportunity to do so, but at no time does this claim to be their modus vivendi (the way they make a living) because for them stealing does not bring any lucrative benefit.

Myth 5: They are perfectly capable of controlling their desire to fly but don’t want to

Completely wrong. Kleptomans are able to understand that stealing is badBut they just can’t control their need to steal things. For them, it is as necessary to commit the act of stealing as that of a player in order to bet. This is why it is sometimes debated whether it should be classified as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Myth 6: They are crazy / deviant / mentally crazy

We are mad, we are alienated: they are perfectly capable of defending themselves, as they do not have delusional or paranoid characteristics, So that they fully understand reality. Sometimes it is true that the act of theft can interfere with their daily activities (as in the case of chronic kleptomaniacs), but proper treatment can redirect the situation and give them a completely normal life.

Differences of the leptomaniac from the ordinary thief

Below we outline some of the differences that kleptomans have from ordinary thieves.

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

2. Usually thieves find mild psychopathic traits (For example, need to immediately satisfy their urges, egocentricity, perversity, etc.) whereas in kleptomans there are no traits of some of the above characteristics.

3. Thieves generally seek to profit from stolen goods; the kleptomans do. Likewise, while ordinary thieves steal the goods they consider to be the most valuable, kleptomans are motivated only by the fact of stealing themselves and do not pass judgment of monetary value on stolen goods.

4. In a thief’s distorted value scheme, what he does is right or “right.”. However, a kleptomaniac knows that what he is doing is not right, but it is very difficult for him to control it.

5. The thief usually has no remorse (Or more precisely yes, but mitigate that with complex defense mechanisms) while the leptomaniac, as soon as he consumes the act, is overcome with enormous amounts of guilt and anguish.

What can therapies help a kleptomaniac?

Current therapies that aim to suppress the urge to fly in kleptomaniacs may be pharmacological and / or behavioral. Antidepressants are often administered to regulate the levels of serotonin released by the subject at the time of committing the act.

As we discussed above, among the most effective psychotherapeutic works for kleptomans are behavioral therapies with a cognitive emphasis. This type of therapy allows adequate development in their daily activities. On the other hand, some psychoanalysts report that the real causes of compulsive theft focus on discomfort suppressed unconsciously during infancy. People with this disorder are also advised to share their experiences, feelings and thoughts with a third party, so that this trusted person can play a “watchful” role.

Leave a Comment