Kleptomania is a recognised mental health problem which compels people to steal trivial items.
However, only one per cent of people with the condition are diagnosed. Kleptomaniacs steal to satisfy an emotional need – to gain a sense of control in their chaotic and unhappy lives.
Nadine Field, a consultant psychologist who specialises in treating people with kleptomania and hoarding fixations, explains: ‘Usually kleptomaniacs have had to deal with a series of traumas in their lives which make them feel that their choices have been taken away.
‘Stealing small items makes them feel back in control for a short time.’ Many kleptomaniacs report a surge of adrenaline which gives them the courage to steal, then a feeling of elation when the deed is successfully done. However, this feeling of being on a high soon wears off, leaving the kleptomaniac craving another ‘hit’ of adrenaline.
Of course, kleptomania is not just a bit of harmless fun. Dire consequences may include public exposure and humiliation. But many people who recognise the problem in loved ones choose to ignore it, even when it is becoming a major problem. The ‘end point’ may be a conviction for stealing.
Nadine Field comments: ‘The British fear of creating a scene causes more disruption and damage to families than anything else. If it is affecting your life, it is time to put your foot down and call a halt, but you need to have incontrovertible proof before you make your move.’ If you recognise the problem in yourself, seek the help of a trained counsellor or therapist.