Kleptomania is tough on those who suffer from the disorder

Ms. G was a 42-year-old, highly sophisticated and extremely successful single executive from a very wealthy background. Her fame and wealth knew no bounds. She helped the poor and needy and was eulogised by all for the grandeur of her achievements and for the greatness of her character.


Despite these assets, Ms.G had a solitary behavioural disorder, which tarnished her brilliant life-style. It was her repetitive theft of small beautiful items that were usually of little monetary value and she did not need. Ms. G often used to experience an increased tension before stealing, a feeling of relief and gratification during and after the performance, but eventually feeling guilty, remorseful and depressed, invariably coupled with the fear of loss of prestige and punishment. This syndrome is Kleptomania and is profoundly repugnant to those who suffer from it as it is incompatible with their otherwise ethical behaviour. Persons indulge in kleptomania because they cannot resist their impulse to steal, and they do not steal things for personal use , or for monetary benefit. Customarily, the stealing is not committed in retaliation, anger or vengeance , but it is done to reduce personal tension that is generated just before committing the theft and to get pleasure, happiness, gratification and relief from the act. The act is not better accounted for by conduct disorder, a manic episode or antisocial personality disorder.The word kleptomania was first coined in 1938 by Dr. Esquirol, who was at that time the Medical Director of the Charenton Psychiatric Asylum near Paris. Esquirol subsumed kleptomania under the "instinctive monomania" condition and said a single irresistible impulse would be sufficient to make the person act out during that moment. Compulsive stealing is a very powerful self-reinforcing behaviour by virtue of its repetitive and highly ritualistic nature. Most episodes of this disorder seem to occur spontaneously and suddenly without any planning or pre-meditation. Patients often experience a mixture of dread and pleasure before stealing.When a well-defined pattern of stealing is developed by the individual through repeated episodes, it is found to happen at frequent intervals in public stores, supermarkets and malls. Kleptomania classically begins in late adolescence to the mid-20s and may sometimes remain undetected for years. It is likely to become a chronic illness if persons indulge in repeated thefts over decades. Some patients find relief through therapeutic or spiritual intervention or by both combined. There is no consistent personality type for this disorder, but there manifest obsessive-compulsive or narcissistic traits along with the malady. Multiple modalities are undertaken in the treatment for this disorder , which may include psycho-analysis, group and family therapy, individual psychotherapy, behavioural and cognitive strategies and selected medicines to block the impulse to steal. Very few strict programmes exist for this disorder per se, owing to the victim's sense of tremendous shame combined with an unwillingness to expose themselves to the public for fear of legal consequences or incarceration.DR. C.P.SOMASUNDARAM