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Compulsive Shoplifting Spikes in the Holidays

The good news is, there are plenty of ways to cope with your urge to steal, an expert tells The Fix.

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By Chrisanne Grise

12/18/12

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The holidays may become an excuse to indulge for many—but for compulsive shoplifters, a very different kind of temptation can become almost impossible to resist. Estimates suggest that approximately one-third of shoplifting in any given year takes place between Thanksgiving and the beginning of January, with the heightened commercialism of the season a key aspect. “There are people who have already been shoplifting who find this to be a very tempting time because there’s a lot of pressure to buy or to give,” Terrence Shulman tells The Fix. He's the founder and director of The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding, and a recovering shoplifter himself of 22 years' standing. Increased financial, relational and emotional stress during this time—along with “winter blahs” creeping in—make people more likely to steal, he says. But it’s not just experienced thieves fighting the urge; many people will also shoplift for the first time during the holidays. “Because the stores are very crowded and the lines are longer, people are waiting in lines and they’re impatient and they maybe are thinking they can’t afford to get all these gifts,” says Shulman. “And they make an excuse like ‘I’m buying all this stuff, so what’s the harm if I take this one thing?’”

For anyone dealing with compulsive stealing issues during the holidays, Shulman recommends avoiding stores as much as possible; shop online, or order gift cards if possible. And if you must go to a physical store, bring someone else along with you. “I would also encourage people to remember the true spirit of the holidays,” he adds. “It may be about giving, but that doesn’t mean giving gifts, per se. You can give your time. You can give your love. You can create a gift. You can go out to dinner or a movie or a concert. There are a lot of ways you can give a gift without having to go into a store and buy a thing.” If you have children or family members expecting lots of physical gifts, have a talk with them ahead of time to explain that this holiday is going to be different: “Reassure kids that this has nothing to do with anything they did. Say ‘I don’t love you less, I’m not punishing you, but money is a little tight and I realize in the past I’ve gone a little overboard,’” he says. Instead, he suggests doing activities together as a family to make lasting memories. And of course, there are always support groups to help you out. “You’re basically in charge of how your holidays go,” says Shulman. “A lot of people are afraid to be assertive and take care of themselves, and there’s this pressure to give, give, give. But what about giving to ourselves in a healthy way?” 

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