Advice From the Trenches

Advice from the Trenches: Affluent Shoplifter

Dear C and Dr. B,

I am in college and my roommate is an upper middle class, well-heeled white chick. She is in want for seemingly nothing, but she has a secret habit – she shoplifts. I have seen her do it and it just boggles my mind. Why would she do this? I am not sure if I should say anything or do anything?


Dr. B says: The commonly held metaphor, “Man is created in god’s image” means that humans brains are built for, and meant to, create. Our brains are also meant to problem-solve. For many different reasons, these functions often get warped. The dysfunctional version of creative problem solving is all about shortcuts. Broken creativity can be destructive. It tends to manifest in addictions and compulsive behavior.

Shoplifting can function the same as gambling – it creates a drug-like rush, making it a shortcut to feeling good. It might also be a way to say, “F__k You,” to The Man, or it could give a false sense of power to someone who otherwise feels powerless. It might say, “If the world is screwed up and imperfect, what the f__k,” or it might fuel a sense of entitlement, as in “Those people are so stupid, clever me can get away with anything.” Some people do it to get caught, feeling they deserve punishment.   

Just as rape isn’t about sex, shoplifting is not about the object, it is about power.

She clearly needs professional help, you aren’t the one to provide it. However, you might suggest to her, “You seem to have a problem. Maybe you should see a therapist before you get caught.” I also suggest you get a different roommate.

C says: I read some interesting stuff by a criminal psychologist who said that many women who are now well-off are driven to theft because they feel they were dealt a bad hand somewhere in their lives, and they desire to “even the score.” He also noted that many women shoplifters are highly medicated and that drugs often make their thefts recur. All of this points to some fairly deep rooted psychological problems in the shoplifters. It is a sign of impulse gone rogue.

Should you report her? That is not your job – at least, not unless she steals from you. Should you say anything? That depends. Honestly, if she is a recent acquaintance rather than a longtime friend, I suggest you simply extract yourself from this scene. We are all affected by the people who are closest to us. You are living with someone who is involved in activities both illegal and dangerous. Whatever her reasons for pilfering, she seems to feel entitled to take what she wants, whether she pays for it or not. You’d better hope that there’s nothing in your apartment that she wants.

Here’s the justification given for stealing from a wealthy heiress who took an $8 jar of pickles from Whole Foods: “It’s faster to steal than to buy. I don’t want to have to wait for 10 minutes in line…and the world has given me a bad deal. Two husbands have left me. I’ve been unable to keep a job that pays decently even though I have good skills and I write well. Paying taxes is a pointless waste of my money. Shoplifting is a sliver of getting back my fair share. Plus, it’s an adrenaline rush.”

So, there you have it: a snapshot of one affluent shoplifter’s coping skills and reasoning. Impatient? Skip the line. Fired from jobs and abandoned by loved ones? Don’t examine yourself, just get even. Need an energizing thrill? Rip off some total strangers. Do you want this woman sharing your apartment? Not unless you are up for the possible adrenaline rush of coming home to find that both your roommate and your valuables have left the building.

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