Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Kleptophobia

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Kleptophobia (also known as cleptophobia) involves the fear of theft. This phobia can actually be used to describe two distinct fears. The first is a fear of being stolen from or robbed. The second is a fear of stealing from someone else. The two fears are often related and may exist simultaneously.

While kleptophobia is not recognized as a distinct mental disorder, it may meet the diagnostic criteria established in the DSM-5 for a specific phobia. A specific phobia involves an irrational and excessive fear of a specific object or situation.

Causes

While the exact causes of specific phobias are not known, it is believed that past negative experiences often play a role. For example, if you have been robbed in the past, you may be at a higher risk of developing a fear of being robbed.

News coverage of robberies and thefts may also contribute to this fear. Phobias may be formed through direct experience, but it is also believed that observing other people's experiences and behaviors can also contribute to the formation of these fears. If you see news stories on robberies, it may seem that these events are more common and therefore more likely to happen to you.

Symptoms

The symptoms of kleptophobia vary depending on the type that you suffer.

  • If you are afraid of being robbed, you are likely to develop defensive strategies. You might lock up valuables before anyone visits, maintain a guarded attitude with strangers, and avoid walking anywhere alone, particularly at night. You may obsessively check contracts, avoid loaning money even to close friends or be afraid of large crowds. You may be more likely to install extra locks on your door or install a security system at your house.
  • If you are afraid of stealing from others, you might become scrupulously honest, giving, afraid of inadvertently stealing from others. You might double-check received change, refuse to accept loans, and even consciously avoid eating the last serving of any food. You are likely to go out of your way to avoid situations that might tempt you to steal, such as money handling jobs or social gatherings. Some people with this type of kleptophobia find that their fears extend to cheating, and are extremely careful to follow every rule when playing games.
  • Both forms of kleptophobia can lead to isolation, low self-esteem, depression, and other types of anxiety disorders. You might develop social phobia or even agoraphobia due to the fear of exposing yourself to what you perceive as high-risk situations. It is common to develop feelings of worthlessness and shame.

Treatment

Like most phobias, kleptophobia can be successfully treated using a range of techniques. Exposure therapies, particularly systematic desensitization, are first-line choice and most effective. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may help people learn to stop your negative self-talk and think more logically about theft. You will also learn new behaviors and coping strategies that you can use in stressful situations. Medications may also be helpful to manage some of the symptoms associated with kleptophobia.

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  1. Samra CK, Abdijadid S. Specific Phobia. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. Updated January 29, 2020.