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What is a Kleptomaniac?

Kleptomania is an obsessive and uncontrollable impulse or tendency to steal, especially when one has no economic need for the article involved. This impulse to steal is unrelated to rational motives.

Persons afflicted with the obsession are usually unaware of the immorality of stealing and of the social consequences of theft. Nevertheless, the desire to steal is so irresistible that thefts frequently committed with little or no attempt at concealment. Because kleptomaniacs obtain gratification from the act of stealing rather than from possession of the stolen articles, they often steal objects of little value that they could easily buy.

Although psychiatrists regard kleptomania as a neurosis, the obsession is not recognized as a legal defense for theft in American or British courts. The kleptomaniac is not legally responsible for his thefts, however, if he cannot distinguish right from wrong.

Psychiatrists consider kleptomania a symptom of mental illness. They seek to cure it by finding the underlying cause in the individual's personality. Kleptomania results from unconscious wishes that vary from person to person.

Some kleptomaniacs unconsciously wish to be caught and punished. Others are unconsciously envious or greedy.

The word kleptomania comes from two Greek words which means to steal and madness. It was coined in the late 1800's to describe what was then thought to be a form of insanity.


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