How To Tell If Your Friend's A Kleptomaniac

It's a disease like any other, except instead of sympathy, you're likely to become a social outcaste if discovered. Worse, it's way more common than you'd think. Read on...




It's a disease like any other, except instead of sympathy, you're likely to become a social outcaste if discovered. Worse, it's way more common than you'd think. Whether it's yourself who's in trouble, or a friend who needs help, here's the lowdown on dealing with kleptomania.

You could have sworn that your Winehouse CD was on the top of the rack. That you'd put your pen in your bag. That your favourite earrings were on the dresser. But of late, somehow, no matter how organised you are or how certain about where you left something, you can never find it. Familiar? Sure, you may be distracted, or careless, or just plain losing your mind. But dont be so quick to blame yourself or the maid who cleans your room for everything you cant find. It may well turn out that a close pal or someone you trust completely is responsible. More importantly, the fact that kleptomania is so misunderstood is often why people dont admit to it, even if they know they have a problem. Thats where you need to step in, to recognise, understand and eventually lead a friend towards a cure for the disease.

It's far more common than you'd think

The accepted definition of kleptomania is an irresistible and obsessive compulsion to steal without any apparent economic motive. According to Dr Arti  Anand, Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, New Delhi, It is an impulse control disorder characterised by an urge to steal. The person becomes anxious, takes things on an impulse, feels relief right after the act and may have feelings of guilt later.

The thing to understand is that kleptomaniacs generally take objects that are useless to them its not about the object but the act. Research has shown emotional loss and related stressors, poor parenting, depression, and more, as causes. Interestingly, genetics also seem to have a role to play.

Having a relative with the disorder, or a head injury, or suffering from mood disorders, eating disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder makes one more vulnerable to this condition. But not everybody who steals on an impulse can be called a kleptomaniac. Psychologists have a list of criteria that has to be met before they brand someone a kleptomaniac.

It's not the same as stealing

{mosimage} Let's admit it, we have all at some point in time flicked a piece of stationery from the office, or stopped at the highway to grab some mangoes from an orchard. Is that kleptomania? Not quite, says Dr Richa Kapoor, an Occupational Therapist at Max Hospital, New Delhi, We all do things that are usually not allowed, but those can't be called kleptomania." So how does one distinguish stealing from kleptomania? Basically, stealing is a very conscious, planned, and organised crime committed to gain monetarily or materially. Kleptomania, on the other hand, is an impulsive act conducted more for psychological fulfillment than anything else.

The problem is compounded by the fact that wily thieves often use kleptomania as an excuse when caught out. Nine times out of 10, you'll find that kleptomaniacs lift trivial things that nobody seems to miss, at least not immediately. A classic example is the fact that there are a significant number of celeb afflictees-Winona Ryder made headlines across the world when her shoplifting came to light. Clearly, the financial value of the object a kleptomaniac picks up is often negligible compared to their financial status.


It can be someone you know very well

Before you set about trying to fix things, figure out whether what you're seeing, in a friend or yourself, is in fact kleptomania. It's critical to treat it like you do any other disease; accurate diagnosis is top priority. Kleptomania has often been observed to co-exist with obsessive compulsive disorder (like doing certain things repeatedly and feeling restless otherwise), mood disorders, eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia, and substance abuse problems.

It also seems to affect women more than men. But kelptomaniacs often instinctually get very clever about hiding their disorder; therefore, it gets difficult to diagnose unless the person is caught stealing serially or, according to Dr Anand, she comes to seek help or counselling for a related disorder.

A basic tool of diagnosis is alertness. Kleptomaniacs may operate in a range of ways; they may shoplift, or pick up things from someone's house, or dip into a friend's handbag. At a certain level, they feel secure in the thought that they wouldn't be doubted or suspected, precisely because there's no financial motivator. Also, the insignificance of the object stolen means it may never come to light. However, a few incidents is all it takes to put two and two together. If a friend behaves oddly around you, or starts to display a furtive manner when you enter or leave a room, be a little more aware. When out shopping together, keep an unobtrusive eye on them.

Once you are fairly certain that the friend concerned is indeed suffering from Kleptomania, figure out a POA. Confronting the patient is obviously the hardest part, and should ideally be done by someone very close to the person. "I know of a case where the relatives of the patient would start hiding objects they felt she might lift when she visited; they couldn't confront her and this was their way of dealing with it. Maybe they felt it wasn't their place to say anything.

One has to have a strong, healthy relationship with the patient in order to break the news. Else, the relationship is bound to turn sour," advises Dr Anand. Ideally a parent, spouse, or close friend should play this role.

Dr Richa Kapoor affirms, "We get cases of people who come and confess, but they're few and far between." Most people who suffer this disorder know they are unwell, but the risk of being misunderstood keeps them living secre t lives.