The idea of being a victim of a robbery or a mugging is not pleasant for anyone, and in fact it is among the most frequent fears.
This is an adaptive fear, since it is, after all, a risk to physical integrity and at the very least it is the theft of something that belongs to us. However, despite the fact that it is a real risk, most people live their lives without this possible fear limiting their functionality.
However, for some people the idea or fear of being robbed can become a barrier to living a peaceful and even normative day-to-day life. This is what happens to those who suffer from kleptophobia , something we are going to talk about along these lines.
What is kleptophobia?
Kleptophobia is the phobia or irrational fear of being robbed, stolen or accused of such action . This is a specific phobia of a situational type, which implies that the fact or even the idea of experiencing or being close to the type of stimulus or situation feared (in this case the theft) generates an extreme and even irrational level of panic in relation to the real risk that the stimulus or the probability of it happening pose.
The idea of being exposed to theft generates high levels of anxiety that can trigger physical symptoms such as hyperventilation, tremors, tachycardia, sweating, tingling or even trigger an anxiety crisis. In order not to feel it, the person with the phobia will escape or avoid any situation that puts him/her at risk of facing the feared situation.
In the case of kleptophobia, the fear in question is how we have seen the experience of theft. However, while the fundamental fear is often that of doing so as a victim (a condition also known as harpaxophobia when it specifically addresses the fear of being a victim of theft or of thieves), kleptophobia also includes the fear of embracing the opposite role: stealing/converting into a thief. And it even includes the fear of being accused of theft.
Affect on daily life
Kleptophobia is a condition that can greatly affect the day-to-day lives of people who suffer from it, especially in severe cases.
Someone with this phobia can avoid doing things like going out at night (whether in a leisure, work or personal context), not going to places where there is a minimum chance of being robbed or stolen (banks or public transport, for example) or they could become a thief.
You may also have difficulty going to stores, since someone might interpret that you are trying to steal something.
This phobia can also cause social difficulties , to the point that some people may avoid physical contact or stay away from others (especially if there are large groups) in order to avoid possible risks of theft.
It’s even possible that this fear can cause problems in one’s own home, and that the person may have difficulty staying home alone, especially at night and when sleeping. Kleptophobia has the peculiarity that even if there is no stimulus to think about stealing or being stolen, it can persist and generate great anxiety .
In addition, the need to justify every act that has to do with dealing with money or objects in order not to be accused of wanting to steal may also arise at the work level.
In short, there are many possible facets that a phobia like kleptophobia can limit.
As with other phobias the causes of kleptophbia are not completely known , although there are hypotheses about it. It is important to note that there is no single cause, but that the origin of this phobia depends on the interaction of multiple factors.
To begin with, kleptophbia is based on a fear that has a real basis: being robbed is dangerous. A mugging and robbery could end in injury, rape or even murder in some cases. And even the idea of stealing or being accused of stealing has implications: the thief is judged and despised on a social level and even sentenced to prison , which is also not a good thing.
However, it is not so common to be the victim of a robbery or to commit it (much less a violent one) and most of the robberies that exist are thefts that are sometimes not even perceived by the victims until much later.
This fear has some explanation at the evolutionary level, at the phylogenetic level: for all animals, suffering a theft can mean losing resources in nature that we need to survive, such as food. In this way, those people who were afraid of theft would tend to keep a closer eye on things and might find it easier to survive. This fact could mean that we have inherited a predisposition to fear the loss of our possessions, to end up taking them away from others or to be accused of doing so.
But one of the main hypotheses as to why kleptophobia is based on conditioning, the acquisition of a learned reaction to certain stimuli after associating them with consequences or aversive stimuli.
This learning can be done through the culture or through the experience of aversive or traumatic situations that have made fear appear. For example, having experienced a robbery or theft (or being accused of one), especially if it has led to severe consequences or has mediated some type of aggression or violence. It is also possible that it has not happened to us but it has happened to someone close to us, or that we have conditioned ourselves in a vicarious way from the reactions of others to it.
They can also mediate different aspects at the personality level. The fear of stealing may also be an indication of a high level of insecurity in oneself, one’s capacity for self-control or one’s moral values.
In addition, in the case of fear of being accused we can see the existence of a sensitivity to punishment and concern for the judgment or consideration of others.
Regarding the fear of being a victim, there may also be a low sense of control over what surrounds us , in addition to the aforementioned insecurity.
Treatment of fear of theft
As a general rule, phobias are some of the disorders whose psychological treatment is more effective and relatively simple to carry out, and there are various techniques to combat them.
One of the most commonly used techniques to treat phobias is exposure therapy, in which the subject must face a hierarchy of feared situations elaborated together with the therapist in order to reduce the anxiety and fear they generate.
Obviously, the exposure itself will not be to theft in real life, but to situations where theft could occur. These could include going to an ATM, getting a car out of a parking lot, going to a concert or going out at night.
Of course, the exposure should be gradual and keep in mind that there is a risk of theft after all. It is also possible to make exhibitions in imagination or in virtual reality to recreate and work on the fear of certain situations.
One of the fundamental elements to work on is the cognitive aspect, in which aspects such as the fear the subject has, what he attributes it to and what beliefs he has about himself, others and the world in which we live must be worked on.
You can work to modify existing beliefs in this respect towards others that are more adaptive and that allow the person to live normally. If there is a previous traumatic event it should be worked on and reworked so that it can be processed in an adaptive way.
Since some of the fear is due to perceived insecurity, it may be necessary to work on personal safety and the ability to manage stress and uncertainty. In some cases it may help to carry out activities such as self-defence training, as this will help to improve the sense of competence in the event of physical confrontation.
- Hamm, A.O. (2009). “Specific phobias.” The Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 32 (3): 577 – 591.
- Rogers, K. “Fight-or-flight response”. Britannica.com.