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Suzanne Power: A stolen luxury can mask a life spinning way out of control

January is a fun month for clever girls who like style without bankruptcy. Sales abound but, for some, 70pc off just isn't a big enough discount. A recent survey revealed a rise in kleptomania in thirtysomething women who are apparently well able to pay for the items they'd taken.

What makes a woman steal when she has money? Desperation. A need for something, a need for thrill and ownership and a definite desire to be noticed. Unless you are pretty much insane, you don't steal treats if your life is a party.

In Dunnes recently I saw a woman, young, attractive and not fitting any description of a shoplifter I've seen on screen or in print, leaving the store in handcuffs. I would do anything to avoid that moment. Stress has made me forget to pay for things, but honesty makes me go back and do so. I simply don't want the karma of kleptomania.

I know one woman who had everything you could wish for, and an addiction to stationery. She left a shop once with three notebooks and didn't go back: "I was too embarrassed, even though I hadn't taken them intentionally. I should have put a cheque in the post for them, or something, because for six months those books sat on my shelf and I couldn't use them. I gave them away in the end."

Well, not really, the shop gave them away in the end. She knows that.

A colleague, who is a psychotherapist, says: "It's the high of getting away with it, the sense they're controlling some aspect of their existence. They're often unhappy in work or at home, or both. They're often unhappy with themselves."

Another friend used to enjoy letting items stay in her trolley while she was checking through her groceries. I asked her today whether they were luxuries and she looked surprised: "God, you're right, they were." Getting away with stealing pan scourers doesn't offer the same release of endorphins.

A great friend who did steal regularly told her partner and this kept her out of the store manager's office. "I got really bad at one time. We were struggling with the mortgage and not relating to each other. I took a bar of soap and some chocolate. And that was the start. It just got bigger and worse and I started to scare myself. Then I copped on and told him, so someone would know and it wasn't this great secret anymore."

There is a clue in this. Charities such as St Vincent de Paul are currently helping people with two cars in the drive, who've lost jobs and identities, or suffered big wage slashes in the current financial crisis. When you've gone from eating out regularly and two holidays a year to getting letters from the bank about arrears, a lipstick in your pocket keeps the panic at bay, for a small minority.

But I don't go along with the idea of the stealing rush offering a sense of empowerment. Something gorgeous that I've earned, feels far better on my skin and in my soul, than something that wasn't mine to have.

If you have that inkling, or have started taking things, visit a GP, talk to a friend or loved one. Do something. The price of being caught is far higher than the object of your desire ever cost in the first place.


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