Cleptophobia (fear of theft): symptoms, causes and treatment

The idea of ​​being the victim of a theft or robbery is not pleasant for anyone and is in fact one of the most common fears.

It’s adaptive fear, because ultimately it poses a risk to physical integrity and at least involves the theft of something that belongs to us. However, although this is a real risk, most people live their lives without this possible fear limiting its functionality.

However, for some people, the idea or fear of being able to suffer theft can become an obstacle that prevents them from living quietly and even leading a normative everyday life. This is what happens to those who suffer from kleptophobia, A bit of what we are going to talk about in this sense.

    What is kleptophobia?

    It is known as kleptophobia in the phobia or irrational fear of being robbed, robbed, or accused of such an action. It is a specific situational phobia, which implies that the fact or even the idea of ​​living or being close to the type of stimulus or feared situation (in this case theft) generates a level of extreme panic or even irrational. relative to the actual risk posed by the stimulus or the likelihood of it occurring.


      The idea of ​​exposing yourself to theft generates high levels of anxiety that can trigger physical symptoms such as hyperventilation, tremors, tachycardia, sweating, tingling or even trigger an anxiety attack. In order not to feel it, the phobic person has escaped or avoided any situation that would put them in danger of facing the dreaded situation.

      In the case of kleptophobia, the fear in question is how we came to be robbed. However, while the basic fear is usually doing so as a victim (a condition also known as harpaxophobia when it comes specifically to the fear of being the victim of theft or thieves), kleptophobia also includes fear of playing the opposite role: stealing / becoming a thief. And that even includes the fear of being accused of theft.

      Assignment in daily life

      Kleptophobia is a condition that can have a major impact on the daily life of people who suffer from it, especially in severe cases.

      And does anyone with this phobia you can avoid doing things like going out at night (Whether in a leisure, work or personal context), do not go to places where there is a minimal chance of being the victim of theft or theft (banks or public transport, for example) or could become a thief.

      You may also have difficulty getting to stores because someone could interpret that you are trying to steal something.

      This phobia too it can cause social difficulties, To the point that some people may avoid physical contact or stay away from others (especially if there are large groups) in order to avoid possible risks of theft.

      It is even possible that this fear affects the house itself and the person has difficulty staying at home alone, especially at night, and sleeping. And it is that kleptophobia has the peculiarity that even if there is no stimulus that leads to think of theft or theft, it can persist and generate great anxiety.

      In addition, it may also be necessary for the job to justify every act related to the handling of money or things so as not to be accused of wanting to steal.

      In short, there are many possible facets that a phobia such as kleptophobia can limit.

      Possible causes

      As with the rest of the phobias the causes of kleptophobia are not fully understood, Although hypotheses exist in this regard. It is relevant to note that there is no single cause, but the origin of this phobia depends on the interaction of several factors.

      To begin with, it should be borne in mind that kleptophobia starts from a fear with a real basis: being robbed is dangerous. Robbery and robbery can result in injury, rape or even homicide in some cases. And even the idea of ​​stealing or being accused of doing so has its implications: the thief is judged and socially despised and even sentenced to prison termsSo this is also not a positive thing.

      However, it is not so common to be a victim of theft or to commit (let alone violent) besides the fact that most of those who are stolen there are sometimes not even perceived by the victims as much more. late.

      This fear has some explanation at the evolutionary level, at the phylogenetic level: for all animals, being stolen can mean in nature the loss of the resources we need to survive, such as food. In this way, these people who were afraid of theft they would tend to keep things more careful and might have easier survival. This fact could lead us to inherit the predisposition to fear the loss of our possessions, to end up taking others or to accuse ourselves of them.

      But one of the main assumptions about why kleptophobia is based on conditioning, the acquisition of a learned response to certain stimuli after associating them with aversive consequences or stimuli.

      This learning can be done through culture or by experiencing aversive or traumatic situations that have made fear appear. For example, having suffered a robbery or robbery (or being accused of theft), especially if it resulted in serious consequences or some kind of assault or violence. It may not have happened to us either, but to a loved one, or that we conditioned ourselves by proxy reactions of others to it.

      Likewise, different aspects at the level of the personality can also intervene. Fear of flying can also indicate the existence of a high level of insecurity in oneself, one’s ability to control oneself or one’s moral values.

      Additionally, in the case of the fear of being accused, we can see the existence of a sensitivity to punishment and concern for judgment or consideration that others have for us.

      As for the fear of being a victim, it can also exist a weak sense of control over what surrounds us, In addition to the aforementioned insecurity.

      Treatment of fear of theft

      Typically, phobias are some of the disorders psychological treatment is more effective and relatively simple to perform, there are several techniques to combat them.

      One of the most used techniques for treating phobias is exposure therapy, in which the subject has to deal with a hierarchy of feared situations developed with the therapist in order to reduce the anxiety and fear they generate.

      Obviously, the exhibit itself will not be to be stolen in real life, but to situations in which theft could occur. Among them, it could be withdrawing money from an ATM, pulling a car out of a parking lot, going to a concert or going out at night.

      Of course exposure must be gradual and keep in mind that ultimately and after all, if there is a risk of theft. It is also possible to make exhibitions in imagination or in virtual reality to recreate and work on fear in certain situations.

      One of the fundamental elements to work on is the cognitive aspect, in which aspects such as what the subject is afraid of, what he attributes to him and the beliefs he has about himself, others and the subject. world we live in.

      You can work for change existing beliefs in this regard to more adaptive beliefs and which allow the person to live normally. If there is a previous traumatic event, it needs to be worked on and reworked in such a way that it can be treated adaptively.

      Since part of the fear is due to felt insecurity, it may be necessary to work on personal safety and the ability to deal with stress and uncertainty. In some cases, this could help carry out activities such as self-defense training, as they would help to improve the sense of competition in the event of a physical confrontation.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Hamm, AO (2009). “Specific phobias”. Psychiatric clinics in North America. 32 (3): 577-591.
      • Rogers, K. “Fight or flight response.”

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