Theft is the act of seizing an item without permission that does not belong to you. When we hear the word "shoplifting", a common image that pops up in our head is “an unexpected visit” to our home or the image of a shoplifter trying secretly to pick up expensive products from the store. Although theft can be purely criminal, it can also be the result of poor impulse control or evidence of a compulsive disorder.
And what is really going on?
You can often meet a shoplifter apologizing for his "stupid and irresponsible actions" after the police detained him for stealing small items from a well-known clothing brand store. And such cases are repeated for numerous times for one person. Impulsive thieves claim that they feel ashamed and that they let their family and friends down. They find it difficult to answer why they decide to steal. Let’s dive deeper into the shoplifting causes.
Expert opinion on this issue
Experts agree that in these cases, shoplifting is rarely linked to the actual need for a stolen item. It is often a matter of using the opportunity to feel in control for a moment, in the conditions of feeling helpless.
Research by retail consultants Global Retail Theft Barometer and Checkpoint Systems has shown the following tendency. There is a new wave of middle-class store thieves hunting for high-quality groceries from supermarkets. The goal is to maintain a lifestyle they can no longer afford. These people often pretend to have authorities and often justify their actions by claiming that they have fallen victims to the economic recession.
But in most cases of theft, psychologists describe as "unprofessional shoplifters" as those who do not steal for profit or resale, or to maintain drug or alcohol addiction - there are much more serious mechanisms behind that.
Psychological causes of shoplifting
Kleptomania is a recurring inability to resist the desire to steal, a well-known cause of shoplifting. In most cases of kleptomania, a person steals things they do not need. Stolen items often have little value. Compulsive thieves often say they can easily afford this product if they decide to pay. This is not like most criminal theft cases where details are stolen or out of necessity or because they are very expensive or valuable.
People with kleptomania feel strong urges to steal, with anxiety, tension and excitement leading to theft. During and after the act of theft they feel pleasure and relief. Many shoplifters may also feel guilty or remorseful, but later they find themselves unable to resist desire to shoplift.
People with kleptomania also usually steal spontaneously and alone, while most criminal thefts are planned in advance and may be linked to another person. Pathological thieves rarely use stolen items. They're likely to hide or throw them away, or they'll give them to friends and family.
Emotional triggers for shoplifting
Everyone likes to get something free whether it is a bargain, a discount, a freebie, a "real theft." But most people who resort to theft actually "cry for help." Something wrong and unresolved happens in their lives, they feel an acute lack of resources. Psychologists note most common emotional triggers that drive shoplifting:
· Anger - the desire for justice
· Grief - the desire to fill a vacuum due to loss
· Depression – shoplifting gives a desire to disconnect from sadness, and cheer up
· Anxiety - to calm your own fears, to find solace
· Competition — desire to fit in
· Power and control - to combat the feeling of lost or powerless
· Boredom - living on the edge
· Low self-esteem - create a reason to feel bad, or feel competent in something, even if it is a bad act
· Right - to compensate for over-giving
· Rebellion - the desire to find your identity.
Shoplifting and depression
Shoplifting often occurs due to depression. Many scientific studies have linked depression and other mental problems and shoplifting. In fact, the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry has published a study confirming that more than 30 percent of first-time offenders were diagnosed with clinical depression.
The vast majority of respondents confirm that they have experienced significant losses such as death or divorce in the last six months prior to shoplifting incident.
A study in the well-known American Journal of Psychiatry found a link between shoplifting and impulse control, antisocial personality disorder, substance abuse, pathological gambling and bipolar disorder.
Interestingly, while some people may turn to drugs, alcohol, or binge eating, others choose shoplifting to satisfy the impulse. Many shoplifters say it gives them "an adrenaline surge" and "drive." It can also only bring temporary relief, as they repent of what they have done. Also, in the event of arrest, they may face legal consequences.
Conclusions on what causes shoplifting
According to American scientists, there are two categories of shoplifters. The first one is those who steal from shops according to their rational motives, and choice. The second one is those for whom shoplifting is a response to depression or leads to some psychological need.
To conclude, shoplifting has no single motive, and clinical consequences suggest that it is necessary to take into account the affective and cognitive aspects of the shoplifters’ behavior. A combination of medical and psychological methods should be used for treatment.