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Why Do People Steal?
While researching the idea of why people steal, and delving deep into the psychological factors behind it, I have discovered that it is actually quite a large problem in America, but yet no one seems to be addressing the issue directly, or why it’s happening. People have an extremely negative connotation about it, and in turn, people are too scared and ashamed to admit their actions, so it doesn’t get addressed at all and the cycle continues to happen. My goal in this paper is to bring the reasons why people steal into light, educate on how we can make it stop, and show that people don’t just steal for petty gain, but for other reasons as well.

Who Does It?

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People of all ages, race and ethnicity, religion, gender and financial status steal. Stealing does not pertain to a selective group of people, and an estimated 23 million americans steal per year, which is an estimation of one in eleven people.Shoplifting is Even Celebrities, such as Winona Ryder, Farrah Fawcett, and Lindsay Lohan. These people earn enough from their jobs to easily be able to afford almost anything they wanted, so why would they choose to commit an act like this over small, material objects?


There are a multitude of reasons as to why people steal. Starting young, children under three don’t know that it is bad to take from others, so when they see something shiny or interesting, they just grab it. Stealing happens frequently in young people, so one has to assess the reasoning for this separately than the other groups of older teenagers and adults. In children, they probably know the behavior is bad, but they might really want something, or they might feel as if a sibling is favored over them, and receiving more gifts, so they are taking action to resolve that. In teenagers, It can be about wanting to be independent, wanting to rebel, or wanting to fit in. However, If the behavior is reoccuring, It can be an indicator of underlying problems, and professionals highly encourage seeking therapeutic help.
One of the main factors underlying shoplifting, accounting for about one third of people who do it, is depression. People with depression can start stealing as a way to temporarily relieve their extreme sadness. The reason this works is because, for repeat offenders, it can release a sort of chemical rush, equivalent to a high by doing drugs. Related to depression, a cause of shoplifting is low self esteem. Many people with low self esteem who turn to stealing often connect their self worth to their material possessions. They can feel the mentality of ‘I won’t be enough until I have enough'(Shulman). Peer pressure is also a major factor, mostly in the case of teenagers, whether it is because they want a material item that they feel they can’t afford, or just don’t want to spend money, or other students are shoplifting and stealing, so friends feel pressured to participate as well, so they aren’t looked down upon within their social group. The reason that this is so influential can be attributed to the fact that, although by age 15, one has developed logical reasoning abilities, so they can tell right from wrong, but psychosocial controls- emotional regulation, impulse control, resistance to peer influence and delay of gratification don’t develop until age 25, so resisting the urge to take what one wants, or trying not to give into peer pressure can be quite difficult, and if it becomes a habit, it becomes increasingly harder to resist.

Besides the common, general reasons for this behavior, there is the aspect of mental health issues. The most commonly heard one is kleptomania. Kleptomania only recently became recognized as a mental disorder, but this condition renders someone incapable of being to resist the urge to steal, no matter what it is. An individual with kleptomania will feel a sense of rising pressure before they steal something, and they feel a great sense of relief after they commit the theft. Usually, the afflicted persons take items that will have no value to that person, and they usually don’t end up even using the items, but instead horde them, throw them out, or give them to friends and family. However, some kleptomaniacs, like one of the clients of Jon Grant, lead researcher of Kleptomania, know that the urge to take something isn’t going to go away, so they figure they might as well take something they need and are going to use.

Another group that is very similar to kleptomania are the Addictive Compulsive Shoplifters. They make up for about 48% of shoplifters. People with this addiction often have repressed anger, and also have other addictive behaviors, such as gambling, binge eating, drugs, and addictive shopping. These behaviors can contribute to addictive shoplifting, because usually in these cases,

individuals will move from one addictive behavior to the next, or adopt multiple behaviors at one time, because they are used to the first one they developed, so people with drug habits, or an eating disorder, are particularly susceptible to becoming addicted to stealing and shoplifting. The reason that the behavior becomes addictive, and is so hard to stop, is because people with this addiction experience a chemical rush when they steal something, and drug addicts who are also addicted to shoplifting say that this rush is equivalent to the high that they experience when they take drugs, and experts agree that is the same level of high. It is a huge problem to try and resolve a drug or alcohol addiction, and it is the same for any other kind of addiction, but many people don’t see it that way, so it is hard to get sympathy if your situation is impulse control and/or a process addiction(addiction to an act or behavior), so people with these issues have a hard time getting the help they need. The difference between a kleptomaniac and an addictive compulsive theft is, while a kleptomaniac usually steals spontaneously, and takes items that are irrelevant to the individuals needs or wants, an addictive compulsive theft usually plans beforehand, and takes an item of interest to them. It’s similar, though, because, like a kleptomaniac, an addictive compulsive theft will experience a build up of tension and pressure prior to the theft, and will experience a release afterwards, along with a release of endorphins, the root ingredient in the chemical rush mentioned above, which contributes to why it is almost impossible for addicts to quit. Also similarly to kleptomania, the affected persons will lead otherwise normal lives, and may even be leaders and role models in their community, and usually have morals and ethics.

Additionally, a mental factor that can play a role in shoplifting and stealing behaviors is a personality disorder. There are different kinds of personality disorders, and different categories- Cluster A type, Cluster B type, and Cluster C type. Cluster A includes Paranoid Personality Disorder, Schizoid Personality Disorder, and Schizotypal Personality Disorder. This group is characterized by odd, eccentric thinking, and paranoid, wary feelings towards other people. Cluster B includes Borderline Personality Disorder, Antisocial Personality Disorder, Histrionic Personality Disorder, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Cluster B is characterized as having dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behavior. Finally, Cluster C includes Avoidant Personality Disorder, Dependent Personality Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder(not the same as obsessive compulsive disorder.) This group is characterized by anxious, fearful
thinking or behavior. The specific disorders that may lead to addictive compulsive stealing are Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder.
People with Antisocial Personality Disorder generally have a disregard for others feelings, and persistently lie, steal, and conn others. People with Borderline Personality Disorder often engage in impulsive and risky behavior, and stealing fits into that category, so some individuals with the disorder tend to steal.

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