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Ask the Mental Health Expert Archives 2001-2004

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Klepto Narcissist

Q. Several months ago, someone visited my home whom I would describe as narcissistic. Weeks later, I needed a vase and couldn't find the one I was looking for. Just this week, I visited this man's home and saw my vase in his den. Is there a connection between narcissism and stealing? Do narcissists feel that they have a right to certain objects simply because they want them?

A. A learned colleague of mine once defined a narcissist as "Someone who cries out his own name at the moment of peak sexual fulfillment." Certainly, some individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) feel entitled to the possessions of others, but what you describe sounds a bit atypical for NPD. These individuals usually show a grandiose sense of self-importance; preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success; an excessive need for admiration; interpersonal exploitativeness; a lack of empathy; envy of others; and an arrogant, haughty manner. But actually stealing the possession of another might be more suggestive of Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), or perhaps of kleptomania.

People with APD are usually described as "lacking a conscience". A good example is the infamous bank robber, Willy Sutton. When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton replied with a shrug, "That's where the money is!" In contrast, individuals with kleptomania have a need to steal items that belong to others, even though the item is not needed for personal use, and even if it has limited monetary value. The kleptomaniac typically experiences a rising sense of inner tension before the theft, and a feeling of relief or gratification when committing the theft. Unlike the person with Antisocial Personality Disorder-who has no sense of right and wrong--the person with kleptomania is aware that the stealing is wrong, and often feels guilty about the behavior. I do hope you get your vase back!

November 2001

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