“Tis the season to be… stealing How rise of kleptomania during the holidays affects party hosts as much as department stores
There”s a certain sticky-fingered situation that always seems to exacerbate during the holiday season and Rachel Shteir perhaps knows that better than anybody.
As the author of The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting, she has logged more hours with shoplifting offenders than perhaps the law enforcement that nabs them.
And it seems compulsive kleptomaniacs are more likely to indulge their habit during the holidays than at any other time.
Taking chances: Kleptomaniacs are as likely to target dinner parties as much as department stores over the holiday season, a new book reveals
The problem is not just limited to retailers either. Shteir says kleptomaniacs are as likely to target dinner parties as much as they are department stores.
She explained that the rise in thefts during the holiday season are compounded by various factors including heightened stress and a downturn economy.
“I”ve seen for years and heard from retailers about the connection – really dating back to the Twenties,” she says.
“People want to give, so they steal. Giving and stealing aren”t that far away. Stealing is a kind of ritual, and giving is a ritual.”
She said several of the people she interviewed for her book freely admitted to stealing in order to give their parents Christmas gifts.
Expert: Author Rachel Shteir interviewed many shoplifting offenders as research for her book on the subject
The projections for stealing to spike this year in particular fall in line with the psychological basis for the disorder, says Dr Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist at UCLA”s Neuropsychiatric Institutewith expertise in kleptomania.
She explained: “The ongoing stress from the global recession compounds the suffering ofkleptomaniacs, making them feel more pessimistic about ever having “enough”.
“They fear that despite having been “good” girls and boys, they will not get their rewards from Santa or society, so they feel more justified in taking what they believe they deserve.”
She told how kleptomaniacs admit feelings of extreme stress or tension prior to stealing that is often described as unbearable if resisted. Post-pilfer, however, those feelings shift to one of supreme relief, a feeling of pleasure, even euphoria.
“Kleptomaniacs have unconscious psychological reasons for stealing certain things,” Dr Lieberman continued. “For example, if they”re jealous of your wealth, they may want to take something of monetary value.
“On the other hand, they could just as easily have an impulse to take something that reminds them of a gift they once received in the past, or that”s simply their favourite colour.In their fantasy world, you become their personal “Secret Santa.””
But being blindsided by a klepto in your own home can be jarring. Alice* is a victim of a guest”s sticky-fingered stench.
“People want to give, so they steal. Giving and stealing aren”t that far away. Stealing is a kind of ritual, and so is giving”
“I”ll never forget when this happenedto me,” she recalls. “I had a holiday party several years ago – and a few days later I noticed one of my favourite perfume bottles was missingfrom the bathroom!
“I”m sure that person who took it reeks of guilt now, but it won”t bring my bottle back.”
While there is some overlap, the percentage of shoplifters who are also kleptomaniacs is relatively small – between five and ten per cent.
Shteir”s research found that while shoplifters are primarily men, more long-term compulsive shoplifters are women.
“Women seem to stay in shoplifting,” she said.
She pointed out that other gender differences exist too: Women tend to steal cosmetics, and men are more likely to steal from places like Home Depot. Unless, of course, you have that rare male thief who”s in desperate need of a moisturiser from Sephora, she says the items stolen are almost always gender-specific.
Dr Tucker* is an unequivocal expert in the field of kleptomania. The LA-based psychologist is a former kleptomaniac whose episodes were much more pronounced during the holidays.
New book The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting reveals kleptomania is as much a ritual as giving gifts
“It was worst during the holidays because that”s when I was in the most severe emotional pain,” she admitted.
But is nailing everything down a la Budget Motel the only way to prevent pilfering
“No host wants to feel like Scrooge when opening their home,” explains Dr Lieberman. “But since it”s hard to know who is most likely to take a fancy to your most treasured possessions, it”s best to lock them up in a closet or in the trunk of your car temporarily so you don”t have to worry about them.”
It”s not explicitly about safekeeping the Faberge egg atop the wall unit, either. For Dr Tucker, even taking a food item was considered dangerous; it”s almost never about the monetary value of an item.
So while there”s no need to feel especially paranoid this season, it”s still smart to stay vigilant, since offenders consider private functions ideal since they consider the stakes to be higher.
As a young woman, Dr Tucker admits she stole nominal items from family and friends because she enjoyed the high of “getting away with it,” not because dollar signs danced in her head.
Indeed, Shteir reveals as much from her interviews: “One woman admitted to me attending a dinner party and stealing salt and pepper shaker figurines – because she hated the hosts…
“Anybody who is a compulsive shoplifter steals from other places, especially dinner parties,” she warned.
So for concerned hosts, a final piece of advice: Stay on your guests” good side!
*Some names have been changed