What Is Kleptomania And What Can You Do To Treat It?

Updated November 24, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When many of us picture someone who steals, we think of a criminal. We may not feel sorry for these individuals because we think of someone who steals for personal gain, on purpose, and takes from others. What we might not consider are those who struggle with kleptomania, a mental health disorder characterized by compulsive theft. 

We’ll be exploring the intricacies of this disorder and how it can be managed and treated. 

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What Is Kleptomania?

Kleptomania is a mental health condition that causes a person to compulsively steal things without reason or need. Someone living with this disorder is not the same as an individual who steals because they want to. In fact, many people with kleptomania feel guilty, shameful, or remorseful after stealing things. Whereas some individuals choose to steal because it's a thrill or because they're bored, someone with kleptomania has an irresistible urge to steal, even when they don't want to or don't have any purpose for the items that they take. 

Once someone with kleptomania steals, they often feel a release of pleasure, relief, or other positive emotions. However, these feelings do eventually wear off, and that’s when the negative emotions can come rushing in. Sometimes, the individual will go back and return the items they took, pay for them, or even donate them to charity. 

Although kleptomania is extremely rare, it's a serious disorder. It can cause a great deal of harm to the individual who has it, as well as their friends, family, and even society at large. After all, stealing is a crime, and it's treated as such, no matter what kind of disorder you might have. This means that if the impulse isn't curbed, controlled, and managed, the individual could end up with some serious consequences for their actions. 

Treating Kleptomania

Recognizing the signs of kleptomania is vital, as the individual can then start receiving treatment to control their behaviors more effectively. While some people try to heal on their own, they’re usually unsuccessful. Compulsive behaviors are incredibly difficult to manage alone, and a professional’s help is normally needed. Kleptomania is most commonly treated with medication and talk therapy, or a combination of the two. Self-help groups can also be beneficial. 

Often, admitting there’s a problem is one of the most difficult steps. Someone living with kleptomania often feels a lot of shame and guilt as a result of the disorder. This can make them feel very isolated from their loved ones. Having support from family and friends, as well as a professional, can give them the motivation to stick with treatment, increasing their ability to live a productive life.

Consequences Of Kleptomania 

Kleptomania can come with plenty of consequences, one of the biggest being criminal prosecution. At a minor level, they could be banned from a store and face the embarrassment, guilt, and shame of the theft. At a more extreme level, they could receive fines or even jail time as a result of their stealing. They may end up in jail for stealing items they didn’t need or want in the first place. It can be difficult to avoid these consequences because someone with kleptomania can’t help but go along with their impulses.

Those who have this disorder may also find themselves abandoned or shunned by their friends and family because of their actions. Being alone or isolated can cause emotional hardship or mental health struggles, making it even more difficult to overcome the compulsions and make changes to seek treatment. In the end, the kleptomania may become an even more shameful secret and something that the individual continues to feel worse and worse about but doesn't know how to fix.

Symptoms Of Kleptomania

The number one symptom of kleptomania is a strong and irresistible urge to steal items that are not needed. Feelings of increased tension or anxiety that occur before the stealing and a sense of relief or even gratification during the act are typical symptoms of the disorder. Once the activity has occurred, it is common for the individual to feel guilt, shame, fear, self-loathing, or some other negative feelings related to the event or the possibility of arrest as a result. However, the individual is not able to stop the cycle from continuing.

These individuals will often have no problem with money, which means that they don't steal items because they need them or because they can't afford them. Rather, someone with kleptomania steals simply because they have an irresistible urge to do so. That urge can occur at any time and may result in stealing from public places or even from friends and family. This can lead to even more isolation and rejection from loved ones. 

The act of stealing must be a spontaneous act as well, which means the individual doesn't plan for it, doesn't have help, and often doesn't go somewhere expecting to steal something. Since the individual has no use for the items they steal and they feel guilt and shame about the theft, they will usually put the items away somewhere, rather than use them for their personal needs. The individual may also choose to give away these items to others, donate them, or secretly attempt to return them to where they were stolen from. In this way, the individual can partially assuage their guilt about the theft in the first place.

Are You Struggling To Control Your Compulsive Behaviors?

Online Therapy With BetterHelp

It’s crucial to get prompt help for kleptomania. Mental health disorders involving compulsions can take a toll on one’s daily functioning, and every act of theft carries potentially severe consequences with it. Facing these harsher consequences can make it harder to get the help you need. Working through the symptoms alongside a mental health professional can help you get the disorder under control, or at least to a manageable point. You can connect with an online therapist through the BetterHelp platform. 

Admitting that you’re struggling with kleptomania can be difficult, as the disorder often produces feelings of shame and guilt. While you may not have loved ones you can confide in, online therapy can be a viable alternative outlet to talk about how the disorder is affecting your life and well-being. You can open up in a safe environment, confident that you’ll be respected and not judged. 

The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy

Online therapy has been proven effective in treating a variety of mental health disorders, including those involving compulsions. One study considered the efficacy of an internet-delivered therapeutic intervention for adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Researchers found that the online CBT intervention just as successfully treated OCD symptoms as traditional, face-to-face therapy. They also found the online option to be more cost-effective. 

The Takeaway

Beyond causing difficult mental health struggles, kleptomania can create real-life consequences, up to and including hefty fines and even jail time. Seeking treatment for kleptomania is essential, as every act of stealing poses the potential for these harsher punishments. Barriers that often keep someone from getting help include shame, embarrassment, or guilt. Online therapy allows individuals to discuss their compulsions with a professional. Compulsions can be hard to overcome, but treatment options exist to help individuals with kleptomania manage their symptoms and overcome what’s holding them back.

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