Characteristics of Shoplifters


Used with kind permission of the New York City SA fellowship.
(Copyright pending.)

  1. Emotional deprivation

      As children we developed deep feelings of deprivation due to little emotional intimacy or trust with our families.  We rarely felt that we were ever “good” enough.  Stealing things compulsively has given many of us a sense of importance, fitting in or nurturing ourselvesthat we almost never got from the people who raised us.  Often we were just trying to get someone to pay attention to us.

  1. Material deprivation or overload

We almost never got new things of our own from our parents or caregivers as other children did.  Even getting things we needed was difficult.  We would resort to stealing to get things that we needed or thought that we always deserved to have.  Those of us who got overwhelmed with new things might end up stealing only from friends and family.  We were probably just trying to establish some kind of connection with them.

  1. Lack of sense of identity

      While growing up many of us experienced many emotional deprivations that prevented us from forming a healthy sense of selfesteem or identity.  We may have been treated like the outcast of the family or our caregivers may have gotten involved with us usually only to enforce rules or to discipline us.  As a result we may feel unlovable, like we are invisible or don’t really exist.  We may be easily mistreated or even want to be punished.  We ‘buy-in’ to our early caregivers’ attitude that we were worthless, and we now act in deeply self-destructive ways such as stealing.  We punish ourselves even if our caregivers no longer can.

  1. Boundaries and privacy

      Most of us were brought up by people who disregarded or violated the emotional and physical boundaries and the sense of privacy between us and them.  As a result we have very little sense of boundaries between what belongs to us and what doesn’t.

  1. Envy makes us angry and vengeful

      Due to our very low opinion of ourselves, which we may not even be aware of, we may often envy or resent people and businesses that are successful.  This may make us angry or vengeful and may motivate us to want to steal from them.

  1. Revenge and retribution

      We feel the compulsive need to seek revenge or retribution from the world for all the deprivation or unfair suffering we think we have endured.  We especially target people with a lot of money or stores owned by large corporations.  We feel that they can easily absorb any losses caused by our stealing.  We would not usually steal from friends or family.  While shopping we often want to steal merchandize to compensate for having to pay for the items that we are buying.

  1. Stealing to give gifts

      If we steal merchandise to give as gifts, especially expensive ones, it is probably because we want to impress others and somehow do not believe that friends or family will like us just for who we are and what we can afford to giveWe may also steal out of anger if we feel obligated to give a gift to someone we think does not deserve it.

  1. Feeling of entitlement due to “unfair suffering”

      Most of us feel like we have suffered unfairly in our lives.  We have convinced ourselves – without any real basis in fact – that we have suffered unfairly much more than most other people have.  Many people who are poor or suffering probably never steal.  In order to compensate for this apparent suffering, we feel entitled to steal things that we have convinced ourselves we feel entitled to have.

  1. Loss of a family member or someone we were close to

      If we become separated from or lose a family member or someone we have been close to or emotionally dependent on, we can become deeply depressed, miserable or lost and resort to shoplifting or stealing in a desperate effort to replace our personal loss, to ease our sense of being abandoned or to somehow comfort us.

  1. Career shoplifters

      Some of us steal in order to sell the merchandize to make a living. We justify such “career shoplifting” by the need to gain respect from peers in our community and to counteract perceived “oppression” from business owners and political leaders. Many honest alternative ways to earn a decent living are usually available to us.

  1. Can’t put off stealing unaffordable or affordable_things

      Some of us steal because we cannot put off buying something that we have convinced ourselves that we need or want for ourselves until we have the money to pay for it.  We seek instant gratification.  Many times most of us have enough money to pay for the merchandize we steal or can save up the money in a short time.

  1. Relief from anger, anxiety, depression & desperation

      While in stores we often steal impulsively and uncontrollably to achieve some form of “relief” from our anger, anxiety, depression and desperation.

      Stealing gives us an opportunity to bond with a habit that regularly gives us a thrill or a “high”.  We can achieve this “high” by stealing even the smallest thing.

  1. Regularly stealing things seems to fill a bottomless emptiness inside of us

      We often feel like we continually need to steal things to fill some kind of emptiness within us.  We go back  to stealing because that emptiness seems to have no  bottom.  Many times we feel that if we steal just one  last time something that we think we want or need, our problems will go away and we will never steal again.  We may promise ourselves that that will be the last time but usually go back to doing it.

  1. Stealing once is too many and a thousand times is_never enough

      We often cannot stop stealing once we start again.  Stealing one item seems to awaken an uncontrollable monster within us and usually leads us to steal many more times soon after.

  1. Stealing new things thrills us and gets us high

      As shoplifters we impulsively wander in stores to relieve our anger, anxiety, depression and desperation.  Acquiring new things thrills us and distracts us from our mental and emotional problems and gives us some relief.  However the thrill of acquiring new things is usually temporary and quickly dissipates.  Continually seeking this thrill or “high” becomes an unsatisfiable and addictive need.

      We eventually realize that acquiring things does not fulfill our real needs, which usually involve being able to share feelings of intimacy with other people in a trusting atmosphere.

  1. While stealing we are usually unable to think about_the possible tragic consequences

      The risks of being arrested, imprisoned, having our children taken away from us or deportation usually do not prevent us from stealing.  We become overwhelmed with the urge to steal and can think of little else.

      We are trapped in a fantasy of invincibility and entitlement and will do almost anything necessary to steal what we want.  We may get more daring to achieve the same thrill and may begin to steal more expensive items.  Sometimes we think that as long as we are risking getting caught, we may as well try to steal costlier items.

  1. Feelings of fear, guilt and paranoia almost never_leave

     Because we are regularly scheming and plotting about  what and how we want to steal the next time we act out, we usually live with a lot of fear, guilt and paranoia. If people we know are not aware that we steal, we may be afraid that they may suspect that we do. If people we know are aware that we steal, we fear that they will always suspect that we will continue to steal and may falsely accuse us of stealing.

  1. A cry for help in living a double life

      Many of us live a double life – seemingly living a normal law-abiding existence, while concealing our stealing habits from family, friends and others.  No amount of humiliation or self-disgust will stop us, yet all we really want is to have a normal life.  We may unconsciously wish we could get caught to be put out of our misery. Shoplifting or stealing is our “cry for help”.

  1. Suicidal thoughts and feelings are common both before_and after we get caught

      Because we are out of control, deeply miserable and repeatedly expose ourselves to arrest and imprisonment, we may feel like we no longer want to  continue living,even if we have children.  Such suicidal thoughts may become more intense once we get caught.  Only then may we finally become aware of  the tragic consequences of our actions.

  1. As habitual shoplifters, we are always at risk of_relapse

      Unforeseen and uncontrollable urges to shoplift or steal whether conscious or unconsciousmay overcome us suddenly, when we may least expect it, despite long periods of sobriety.  This may be triggered by stress and fatigue but is usually caused by some deep and perhaps unconscious emotional trauma that we might have suffered or remembered.