It is quite common for teenagers to experiment with taking risks and stepping outside society’s boundaries, through behaviours such as shop lifting.
However, experimenting with shop lifting does not mean that your teenager is a Kleptomaniac. The outward behaviour may seem the same, but the motivation is quite different.
What is Kleptomania?
Kleptomania is the recurrent failure by an individual, to resist urges to steal items that they don’t really need – and which usually have little value anyway. It is a serious mental health disorder which can cause much emotional pain, both for themselves and their loved ones, if not treated.
Episodes of kleptomania generally occur spontaneously, usually without planning and without help or collaboration from another person. In most cases, what the Kleptomaniac steals, they can afford to buy, and, they tend not to use the stolen items. They are not stealing for personal gain.
The shop lifting teen however, is usually a victim of peer pressure, and succumb because they badly want something which usually they cannot afford. Parents can take comfort that rather than a severe psychological disturbance, their teen is caught up in a fairly common behaviour in this age group.
True Kleptomania is a type of impulse control disorder – a disorder that’s characterised by problems with emotional or behavioural self-control. For a person to have this disorder, they have difficulty resisting the temptation to perform an act that is excessive or harmful to themselves or someone else.
Therefore, typical symptoms of Kleptomania include:
- the inability to resist powerful urges to steal items that are not really needed;
- feeling increased tension, anxiety, anger, or arousal leading up to the theft;
- feeling a sense of gratification while stealing;
- feelings of terrible guilt, remorse, self-loathing, shame and fear of arrest after the theft; and,
- a return of the cycle of symptoms if not treated.
Kleptomania is related to addictive disorders and stealing may cause the release of dopamine (a transmitter in the brain) that causes a pleasurable feeling. An imbalance in the system can make it harder to resist urges.
Most Kleptomaniacs are usually afraid to seek help out of shame and humiliation. Occasionally a sufferer is brave enough to seek psychological assistance, but it is essential that the client trusts and likes the therapist or therapy will be ineffective.
Kleptomania or Shop Lifting?
Whether your teen is suffering from Kleptomania, or shop lifting due to peer pressure, therapeutic support can help.
In the case of a true Kleptomaniac, therapy aims to help them understand and better manage the emotions which are driving the behaviour. Unfortunately, Kleptomaniacs generally only seek help when caught, there is police involvement and a court case. However, if they don’t receive help, they tend to live lives of secret shame.
The individual suffering from Kleptomania is overwhelmed by anxiety, shame, guilt, and anger, nearly all the time – about anything and everything – without knowing why. The only time symptoms ease, is at the moment of stealing, when they give in to the impulse. The usual feelings of terrible shame and guilt soon follow once more.
Therapy can help significantly, but the client will need to attend regular sessions to manage unpleasant emotions and work on the techniques and strategies. Kleptomaniacs tend to have little desire to steal while the anxiety and other emotional symptoms are managed. The support of family is also very helpful, rather than treating the sufferer like a criminal.
Help for You and Your Teenager
If your teen is caught up in a negative spiral of peer pressure, leading to shop lifting behaviour, or you are concerned that there may be more serious problems indicated, please come and see me. I can assure you (and your teen) confidentiality in a safe, friendly environment.
Author: Dr Jan Philamon, PhD, BA (Hons) Psychology, C Teach, JP (Qual) Qld, MAPS.
Dr Jan enjoys working with people from all walks of life and helping them to be the best they can be and find success: improved well being, gaining a sense of empowerment that allows the individual to actively problem solve and manage obstacles constructively, as well as positively plan and achieve their personal and career goals.
To make an appointment with psychologist and hypnotherapist Dr Jan Philamon, try online booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.