Should I return stolen goods?
December 18, 2015 8:04 AM   Subscribe

I stole from a daycare and am too ashamed to admit it to the carers. My kids will be going to this daycare next year. I am worried they know of my problem and will think less of me.

I have a long-term problem with stealing and am in the early stages of seeing a therapist (three sessions so far). Over the years I swore I would stop when I had kids and am terrified to discover I just. Could. Not. Stop.

My partner is aware of my other issues but not this particular one.

Yesterday I stole two packs of garbage bags from my kids daycare centre and put it in my kids school bag. (I don't even recognise myself ... this is so shameful and disgusting.)

Therapy has helped me identify feelings and triggers. One of the suggestions towards recovery is to be fully honest and return the goods.

My hesitation is to do with shame and the fact that I have stolen other things from them. Small things such as a scented candle. None of these things taken are things we need. I feel intense disgust and hatred of myself when I think back to these acts and my inability to just stop.

Today is the second last day of the year.

The carers have left half eaten goods (half a pack of sultanas etc.) and unclaimed clothes (leftovers in the lost bin that do not belong to us) packed in my kids bag. "Because we thought you could do with these items."

I think they know.

I am ashamed to admit that knowing that they know has prompted the urge to return items.

I think I am an awful person and the idea of confessing to the carers who have been taking care of my kids is terrifying.

I fear that they will think less of me. And consequently of my kids.

The urge is to run away and find another daycare (my kids like this place and have made many friends). If it was not for the fact that we have to see these people again, I would not confess. (Argh I am a coward.)

Their last day is tomorrow before the holidays.

Help please.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (37 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
They sound like kind people who will be understanding toward you. Kind people like this are less likely to judge your kids based on this -- they may not even judge you that harshly, but I'd wait to read others' responses before deciding on your course of action.
posted by amtho at 8:11 AM on December 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Why not return them quietly without the fanfare? Just put them on the shelf as simply as you took them.
posted by AugustWest at 8:18 AM on December 18, 2015 [40 favorites]

Look, I am not a professional, perhaps other mefites will have better ideas, but I can give you my ideas as just an average person. I don't think that you need to come clean to these people to punish yourself. If the result is going to be extreme anxiety and embarrassment, then perhaps its not the best idea... you will feel embarrassed to return after the holidays, your kids will be caught up in it- then your problem will be compounded, since part of your problem is probably anxiety and shame ANYWAY! Nope. In my opinion, if you were my friend I would tell you to replace the bin bags VERY quietly... or donate something else to the school. In the future maybe don't bring your own handbag into the building and maybe find a way not to be alone there. I think if you feel safe in your marriage that you could confide in your husband, and if you don't then perhaps call a helpline to get this off your chest. And of course, continue with therapy! But please forgive yourself. And consider tomorrow a fresh start, or today even.
posted by catspajammies at 8:18 AM on December 18, 2015 [22 favorites]

It's totally understandable that you wouldn't want the extreme awkwardness of confessing.

I'm coming at this solely from a social-norms standpoint, knowing nothing of kleptomania therapy. From a social norms standpoint I think the thing to do would be to put the items back without comment, just as stealthily as you took them. Graciously refuse any more offers of hep/charity, saying something like "you're so kind, but I think things are going to be ok now, so we don't need this, but it was so thoughtful of you to think of it." This is all true, just not in the way they think.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:19 AM on December 18, 2015 [28 favorites]

I'm so sorry you're struggling with this. There is so much shame in what you've written, which I hope you can get help in addressing.

I can't speak for the day care workers, but if someone told me they had stolen these small, inconsequential things and felt shame and embarrassment about it, I would feel a great deal of sympathy. I guess it is possible they would think less of you, because some people don't understand mental illness. I can't picture someone judging a child for it, and I hope you won't let fear of that prevent you from taking whatever steps you need to help yourself.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 8:19 AM on December 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Ask your therapist, but take the stuff back and put it quietly back where you found it.
posted by Etrigan at 8:19 AM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

By the way - the reason I think you should just quietly return the things and not confess, is that it is kinder to them and to your children (not just to you) to not get into the details of your mental health situation with the daycare people. It'd be intensely awkward for them to hear it, and the stigma could ultimately affect your kids as well. Just do the right thing, put the stuff back, and work out your issues in therapy.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:22 AM on December 18, 2015 [74 favorites]

I have a great deal of sympathy for you and I hope you get the help you need. You seem like a good person.

I fear that they will think less of me. And consequently of my kids.

I can't promise that this is not true, but I agree with amtho - I think they sound like kind, caring people. I think at this point, you should do the easiest thing that will 1) help you feel better about yourself, even a little bit, and 2) help you stop. If confessing will do those things, then yes, you should confess. If just wordlessly returning the items would be best, then do that. It might be good to discuss it with your therapist to determine which course of action will best meet those two goals.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:23 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think that, as you work on your problem, there are a lot of steps between "continuing to take stuff and never owning up to it" and "full confession." Like AugustWest, I think quietly returning them is a fine step for right now. It undoes the small harm you did, gets those damn trash bags out of your life, and preserves the good relationship you and your kids have with the daycare. This is an OK thing to do when you are early in recovery. It's a baby step. You can't get all the way to "completely recovered" in a day—and three therapy sessions under your belt is not a lot. Return the bags quietly, commend yourself for taking that step, and keep working with your therapist.

Good luck to you.
posted by not that girl at 8:24 AM on December 18, 2015 [12 favorites]

If they know, either by seeing you on camera or by mentally putting the pieces together, they *already* feel however they feel about someone stealing from them. Returning the stolen items can only improve their opinion. I think doing it silently is fine, as would mentioning to someone that you are getting help.
posted by tchemgrrl at 8:30 AM on December 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

It sounds like these people are very kind and understanding. Try to think what they would want most. They wouldn't want an awkward confrontation, or for your kid to leave the group. I'm pretty sure they don't care all that much about recovering the garbage bags.

They would want you to get some help. That's the best form of restitution, letting go of the shame and your disgust with yourself. Do the work you need to do to get better now and then thank them for it someday later.
posted by Garm at 8:35 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

The day I stopped stealing was the day I finally got caught. It was absolutely shameful to me. From one particular bookstore, I had been stealing more and more each time I went in. Friends knew, and counseled me to stop. But there was no ethical argument that was going to stop me...which sounds like the place you are at, too. The store security caught me in a stairwell, shoving over a dozen thick books into a knapsack. There was no rational way I could have gotten out of there with that much stuff. Any more than there was any rational way I could explain the huge piles of other stolen stuff back at my apartment, the books I'd never read (and didn't want to), packs of cards, trinkets, cigarettes, toys, just stuff that for some reason I was compelled to take.

Being caught helped. There wasn't a lot of emotion involved, at that moment. I kept myself in check--no crying fits or anything--and they were very professional, taking their merchandise back, showing me the door, and inviting me to never return.

Take the stuff back to them. "Here, I stole these. I have a problem, and I'm getting help." It will be embarrassing. It will absolutely be. But it is a healthy embarrassment, and can be a motivating one, too. I have never gone back to stealing, not after my experience of getting caught. I have found other ways to manage my compulsion to take and hoard, and especially to do so without judging myself for having the compulsion. No need for a big guilt reaction...that kind of self-destructive reaction that can send you right back into compulsion. awareness of the embarrassment. A gentle nudge. An honesty.

You can't control what they think of you. You don't need to. You just need to do what helps you grow past and through this compulsion. You are not awful. It's not like you're holding people at gunpoint. You are taking little things for reasons that probably aren't even super-clear after some therapy. For reasons that might never become super-clear. But being awful...that's not the reason. Awfulness isn't what's going on here. Pain maybe, control maybe, but not awfulness.

I wish you all the best, and hope your experience leads you to a better place.
posted by mittens at 8:46 AM on December 18, 2015 [18 favorites]

Your question reminded me of this Dear Sugar column. The comments are really good too (one of the few places on the net where that's true) so I encourage you to read those too. Take care.
posted by foxjacket at 8:47 AM on December 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's possible the note was meant to convey something along the lines of "We know you are stealing but think it's because you are too poor to buy garbage bags or raisins or whatever".

It sounds like you are on the right path with therapy and are honest with yourself that this is an addiction, not a hobby. The impulse to run away so you don't have to face your actions is a classic addition one, but it's important to stay in that feeling to remind yourself that your choices are influencing everything you do, and not in a good way.

Is it possible to talk with just one person at the daycare? Let them know you have a problem and ask them to keep it confidential? It might be useful to have someone who can help you with accountability without assuming every missing item is your fault. And if you do mess up, you can tell him/her without any fanfare and then return said items? It's a responsibility to give to another person, but if there's a good person there, it could work.

I would underscore the previous advice: ask your therapist. If you won't see him/her until after school begins again after the New Year, then that's okay. No one is going to be thinking about your garbage bag theft over the holidays anyway. New year, new you.
posted by mrfuga0 at 9:10 AM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

My family business was a daycare center, and we had it for almost my entire childhood, until I was a late teen. We regularly had parents who we'd notice would steal things from time to time. We always assumed that it was because they were in trouble, were very poor and needed those items... we never figured anyone was a kleptomaniac. My guess is that if the workers are also giving you things, they're assuming you are in need and too ashamed to ask for help. If a parent told us they were a kleptomaniac, we immediately would have been very concerned for the child, and miiiiight have considered calling child protective services if we thought it was part of a pattern of child abuse or neglect. All staff were mandated reporters. (In my home state, committing a crime in front of a child was considered child abuse, but YMMV depending on your location and it was a very broad law.) So, if you're getting help and not neglecting your children, I would not recommend confessing anything to the staff. Make a living amends instead, where you consciously do the right thing on an ongoing basis.

Write the carers are nice card, thanking them for doing a good job this year, looking out for your family in tough times, and focus on gratitude. It will get easier.
posted by juniperesque at 9:19 AM on December 18, 2015 [27 favorites]

First off, your very clear articulation of your thoughts and feelings about this situation is really impressive and an excellent part of the recovery process. I just wanted to say that I think it's admirable.

This is definitely a conversation you need to have with your therapist. However, you said that in speaking with them, "one of the suggestions towards recovery is to be fully honest and return the goods." This seems like good advice to me. You are expressing a great deal of shame, anxiety, and fear associated with what the daycare workers think of you. You think that they will think you are a bad person if they learn that you are stealing not because of financial need but because of mental illness. However, you don't really know how they would react, which is allowing you to imagine the worst possible response, and then feel as if it is what is really would happen. If you actually confront your fear, then you only have to deal with the consequences of what actually happens, not the anxiety of the worst that could possibly happen. It will also give you an opportunity to work through the consequences and learn how to manage them, which will make them less frightening.

Do you have someone at the daycare who you already have a friendly relationship with? If so, you could try having this conversation with that person, or if not, the supervisor at the daycare. It will probably be an awkward, difficult conversation that neither of you particularly wants to have, but it means you will no longer have to be afraid of what might happen if you have the conversation. If I were in your situation, I might try something like this:

1. Ask them if it's okay to discuss a personal problem that I'm worried is affecting them or might affect their relationship with my kids. It sounds like they are kind people and will probably say yes.
2. Tell them I am currently being treated for a mental health problem that leads me to sometimes steal things without even being entirely aware of what I'm doing. Tell them I've occasionally taken some small items from the daycare and have been feeling a lot of guilt and shame. Return the items and apologize for inconveniencing them or causing them any concern.
3. Let them know that because of the nature of my disease, it is possible that I will take some small items from them again. Tell them I would understand if this means they don't want me or my children coming to the daycare, but I'm very afraid of this negatively impacting my children and that I hope they will be willing to be patient with me while I am getting treated. Tell them I would like to work with them on a plan to reduce any negative impact of my behavior on them and their daycare.
4. If they are willing to continue with me, suggest that 1) if they find something missing at the daycare, they are always welcome to call me to find out if I took it, 2) I promise (and mean it!) to return any items I take as promptly as I can, and (if I have the financial means) 3) suggest that if my behavior is costing them money due to lost supplies/labor in replacing them, I am prepared to pay for it. Ask if they have any other suggestions on what we can do to reduce the impact while I work on my behavior.
5. Ask if they have any questions for me.

This lets you both walk away from the conversation with a concrete plan. If they simply aren't willing to work with you on this (which is their right), then at worst you have to find another daycare, something you are already considering due to your anxiety. However, if they are willing to work with you, then you no longer have to worry; you know exactly what you need to do. With proper management like this, you can change from the horrible thieving parent that steals from children that you are in your head to the parent with the mildly annoying but forgivable (and possibly even endearing) quirk who sometimes takes things from the daycare and then brings them back a few days later.

Again, I am not your therapist, I can make no guarantees of this working out well. But I have had good luck with a similar script when disclosing my mental health issues.

Finally, I'm a bit concerned that some of the other answers here are likely to amp up the fear, anxiety, and shame you're experiencing. Please recognize that all of the possible negative outcomes are just possibilities, and your reaction to your fear of them is likely worse than the actual outcomes would be.
posted by biogeo at 9:24 AM on December 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

I'm going to vote for quietly returning the goods and discussing this more with your therapist before confessing to anything. Confession might well be the appropriate step, but I think you need to work through your issues a bit more and think about whether and how to confess before taking it. This is a bit more complicated just because this is daycare and not the bookstore.

Can you discuss with your therapist the idea of telling your partner about this issue? I think being able to tell him or her about this problem might also be a good step.
posted by Area Man at 9:52 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think confession might be good in a different situation down the road, but for a myriad of reasons (these carers sound kind but they are in a position of power as mandated reporters) I think you should let the daycare be for your kids and find another way at another time.
posted by flink at 10:01 AM on December 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think you should return the items and give them a copy of this question. I bet they'd be really empathetic and be proud that you had the courage to take such a big step.

I would be.

And it might be just the big step you need to get on track. It feels to me like it could be a move toward humility instead of humiliation.
And if you have to find a new day care, that's part of the consequences. But they sound like pretty decent people - give them and you and your kid a chance.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:01 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Honesty is part of recovery, but that doesn't mean you have to confess today. Returning the items, working on changing your behavior, and being honest with yourself need to come first. It is hard to offer an explanation of why you took the items when you aren't even sure yourself right now. Keep working on change and the answer and time for confession will come.
posted by Giailh at 10:12 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think you should start with just quietly putting the items back tomorrow, then discuss with your therapist the pros and cons of confessing/explaining your kleptomania to your daycare provider at some point in the future. It may be that confessing your transgressions is a necessary step in your treatment (similar to step 8 in a 12-step program), but it's also possible that your therapist's experience/research has found that outing yourself as a kleptomaniac is more likely to hurt your recovery by stigmatizing you and reinforcing that behavior as part of your identity. I really don't know enough about kleptomania to say.

(On that note: I hope that your therapist is specialized in treating kleptomania or at least putting in the effort to do their homework on best practices for treating kleptomaniacs. Also, I urge you to take all layperson advice in this thread with a big grain of salt because both the "moral" perspective and the "how to minimize social awkwardness" perspective might not be anywhere close to the "what's best for you as a patient in recovery" perspective.)

That said -- and deferring to your therapist's expertise if their advice contradicts mine -- then IMO if you're pretty sure they already know/suspect you are stealing from them, explaining that it is a compulsion that you're actively in treatment for probably won't make them think any less of you than they already do now.

Also, given that you have to interact with these people almost every day, I think you should be especially proactive in making it impossible or at least very difficult for you to continue steal from them lest you damage or destroy your relationship with the people who take care of your children. Even if they only suspect (or know, but continue to tolerate) your stealing and aren't ready to fire you as a client yet, their poor opinion and mounting exasperation with you could unconsciously bias them in their treatment of your children.

Just confessing/explaining your kleptomania might provide you with enough of a disincentive to stop stealing from them (because now you'll know that they'll assume you're the culprit if anything goes missing), but to be safe you might want to arrange to leave your bags at the door or to casually open them for inspection when leaving? For the latter, perhaps you agree on a code phrase like "want me to make sure you didn't forget anything?" so that your kids and other parents just think you're a ditz instead of a thief. Basically, do whatever you think will make it impossible for you to continue to steal from them regardless of how much self control you might have over your compulsion on any given day, because you can't just will your brain chemistry to behave on demand.

I can't speak for other people but if I had this sort of business relationship with someone -- that is, their opportunities to steal from me were constrained to two short times per day and those two times could be supervised without much extra effort on my part -- I would strive to accommodate them with compassion instead of moral judgment. My approach to working with them would be to take extra care to secure my purse and not leave any pocketable valuables lying around (i.e., I'm willing to write off a kleptomaniac stealing my chapstick but not my mp3 player), then either require that they leave their bags at the door and pack their children's bags myself or arrange to discreetly look inside their bags at drop off and pick up. I'd see these measures as analogous to someone in the early stages of a drug treatment program submitting to regular drug testing as a supportive measure until they're far enough along in their recovery to no longer need that kind of external accountability.

One more thing: I'd like to think that most people working in a caring field have enough minimum psychology education to know that kleptomania is due to a brain chemistry quirk and not an indicator of general poor character, but just in case they don't you might want to bring them some (short! simple!) literature on the topic when you go to discuss it with them.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:14 AM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just wanted to say that by coming here and speaking truthfully, you have done something difficult and brave, and it should help you move towards change. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 10:36 AM on December 18, 2015 [11 favorites]

I'll tell you how it is from the other side. At work, we had a woman who was stealing things. They were often things she didn't need, a water bottle, gloves, etc. Or at times, money. We figured she had a mental issue with stealing and felt bad for her. We all still liked her but we were wary of leaving her alone with things.

Don't beat yourself up but make sure to quietly return the stuff. Realize, people don't think you're a bad person and for sure, no one can point to your kids and say they share any of these traits.
posted by Coffeetyme at 10:42 AM on December 18, 2015

The carers have left half eaten goods (half a pack of sultanas etc.) and unclaimed clothes (leftovers in the lost bin that do not belong to us) packed in my kids bag. "Because we thought you could do with these items."

I think they know.

I think so too -- I feel certain of it, in fact -- but they don't know why.

If you tell them it was a kind of compulsion, and that you are in therapy to control it, I strongly believe that will set their minds at ease, and that they will be much less likely to judge you, now or in the future.
posted by jamjam at 10:44 AM on December 18, 2015

One more vote for quietly putting back what you took and not telling, for yourself, for the comfort of the staff, and most definitely for your children.

You're getting help and doing what you can--practice self-compassion. You deserve it and others will need your compassion some day. You'll be in a better position to give it if you've set a precedent by having compassion for yourself.

Let go of the shame and self-hatred - it's not helping, it's making it harder for you to think straight and fix things, it'll make it harder to be a parent and harder to heal.

Quietly rectify things for the immediate future by putting things back. Longer term, work on healing. In the meantime, do no more damage (i.e., torturing yourself by confessing, making things hard at your kids daycare. This is just not an appropriate punishment for the crime. The crime doesn't match your huge sense of shame. You need help and you're getting it.)

I hope you feel better soon. Try to be kind to yourself. It's okay. It will be okay. It doesn't make you a bad person, and you don't have to do a parade of shame for this. It doesn't help you. What will help you is self-compassion and kindness.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:57 AM on December 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

If I was employed at the daycare, I'd want you to just return the items quietly. I honestly would not know what to say if you ambushed me with a frank talk about mental health issues, other than "I'm sorry and I hope you get the help you need."

They know. They already know. So, I vote for returning the items quietly and donating supplies once a month if you can. Giving feels good too, and it might help with your feelings of shame. Best of luck to you -- it sounds like you are taking steps in the right direction.
posted by Ostara at 12:31 PM on December 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

You sound so full of self loathing, this is not a time to be making yourself more vulnerable. And you don't have to tell them today or never tell them at all.

Also, they don't need to know. I feel, oddly enough, that it would be more healthy to not tell them. They don't need to be pulled into this complicated issue you are just starting to figure out yourself. And you don't need to throw yourself at their feet.

I think the better way would be for you to put back what you can when you can and stop doing it.

It's not like they are friends or family that you've hurt. I think it would put them in a weird position to hear it. I don't see the good for you or for them. So, I say don't tell them tomorrow and don't ever tell them. But at least don't tell them tomorrow.

Stealing is not that high up the "I'm a piece of shit" scale. I've seen (hell, I've done) a lot worse. It's not great, but it's mainly not great because it's a compulsion that's covering up suffering. And that suffering needs to be tended to.

Feeling like a horrible, worthless, complete piece of shit is a lie the suffering and the depression tells you to keep you from sitting still and being with the pain. Stealing is distracting. You get the high from doing it and the shame afterwards. The perfect stew of brain chemicals to tie you in a knot.

You are not worthless. You're in trouble and you need to be cared for. We all do shameful things and think no one else does them. You'll be OK. Soften and breathe. You don't have to fix all of it now.
posted by orsonet at 1:01 PM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would not bother returning them, it's bin bags. Who cares!?! If I worked there and noticed your misdemeanour I might be puzzled but I literally wouldn't give a shit and I wouldn't think less of you. No need to go into some big self flagellation routine with the carers who I'm guessing are young and will not be equipped and do not need to be involved with your own private mental health issues. Even if it is part of your suggested recovery to return things, there are more things at play here because it's not a straightforward theft from a shop, you'll see these people again.

I'm glad you're in therapy because it's sad to read your pain and humiliation in these lines you've written. Good luck with sorting your stuff out, but on saying that, and this one incidence is not the big hot sweaty nightmare you seem to feel it is. Worst case scenario, they think you're skint at the moment and that you need some extra help with goods. It's sweet of them.

I really wish I could send you some relief. This isn't that bad tho. Just a learning opportunity along the way
posted by stevedawg at 6:18 PM on December 18, 2015

I'm not sure if the carers know or not, or if/how you should return the items, but I work in child care and I just wanted to weigh in on " I fear that they will think less of me. And consequently of my kids." It sounds like the caregivers at the day care are good from how you speak about them and how the kids like the day care. Regardless of how they may feel about you, I don't think it will change how they see your children, or how they treat them. I've worked with parents with various problems like abuse, criminal activity etc and I've never treated their children any differently, nor have my co-workers.

I think you're doing the right thing by going to therapy. Keep going, and keep your kids in the day care they like. I hope you feel better soon.
posted by Lay Off The Books at 6:24 PM on December 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why not surreptitiously put back more than you took? If you took 2 packs of bin bags, quietly return 3. One scented candle taken - return 2.

And well done for starting therapy. That's the more important part.
posted by cantthinkofagoodname at 12:39 AM on December 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just thought of a maxim that might guide you here: "Less said, sooner mended."

It's going to be a lot easier for both you and the staff to forget this ever happened if you don't add a conversation to the mix.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:02 AM on December 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just want to reassure you about what effect this will have on their perception of your children - truly none at all.

Stepping entirely aside from your personal situation, people who work with children don't always like all the parents all the time. That's natural - most people don't like every other person who comes their way; and the parent - carer - child relationship can be fraught because to the parent their child is the most important consideration but to the carer, each child in their care is equally valued. We might have a quiet grumble amongst ourselves if parent A is always monopolising our time or parent B couldn't bring in promised supplies if their life depended on it and parent C is always late without good reason, but none of these things ever effect how we treated the children. So please don't beat yourself up about any this changing how the carers treat your kids, it really won't. And I think you can especially trust this given the compassion with which they have treated you.

Best wishes to you.
posted by kitten magic at 5:05 AM on December 19, 2015

The carers have left half eaten goods (half a pack of sultanas etc.) and unclaimed clothes (leftovers in the lost bin that do not belong to us) packed in my kids bag. "Because we thought you could do with these items."

I think they know.

nthing that they know and are sympathetic. They sound like lovely people who will be good to your kids. Whatever you decide about confessing-- this might be one of those things where confessing places more of a burden on them than otherwise--I think this is the kind of thing that you can make amends for by helping other people who need it in the way that they have helped you, when you have the opportunity.
posted by BibiRose at 7:28 AM on December 19, 2015

I do agree with your therapist and mittens approach, because s/he appears to be one of the only people on this thread who has been through the exact same thing as you. And while the situation isn't cookie cutter by any means, I feel like there are similarities in their post and yours.

Have you actually ever been caught by anyone? If you have and it didn't improve anything, then disregard, but if not? Does anyone other than your therapist know? Because you mention your partner doesn't know, and a lot of the blame and shame in your post appears to be self-inflicted. If you have kids with your partner, that's at least a year or more that they've been with you and they don't know this about you. Why is that? I feel that you're scared they'll leave if you know because you have so much internalized shame over this. I feel like part of your only being able to confess while in a 'safe' setting (therapy, here) may be part of the issue.

As others have said, I would absolutely ask a therapist who specializes in this sort of thing for advice as to whether you should return the items covertly, overtly or not at all.

The way you say 'I just couldn't stop' and the fact it was yesterday, makes me think that you're not sure if you feel you can stop just yet. And if that's the case, it may well be that the act of facing up to it and actually saying 'Look, I took these things from here, I have an issue with this and I'm sorry and I'm getting help for it,' may help in your recovery. You don't need to sit there and tell them everything about your mental health, either. There's no reason it can't be concise, as per mittens suggestion.

And IANAT nor have I been in your situation at all, so take this with a grain of salt, but perhaps not being caught or confronted makes the stealing feel less real? Or maybe stealing 'trival' things makes it feel like more like victimless crime? On the other hand, by facing it, you can deal with consequences for your actions, and not just your internal shame-- and go from there. Also, I feel that sometimes things like this should be talked about and brought out in the open. Part of the reason people don't understand kleptomania and it's so highly stigmatized is because people don't talk about stuff like this... sometimes you should just go for it and use your words and be vulnerable and talk about your mental health issues to a stranger, even though it's freaking scary and might backfire and social norms dictate that we don't talk about these things that and we don't confront issues in public, and we don't air problems and we let people save face all the freaking time and at all cost even when doing so is detrimental. And look, one thing about the way you're feeling. The prospect of facing these people is petrifying because it's supposed to be. You probably like these people and they are good people and stealing is stigmatized in society, so if they find out they may think shitty things about you or your character, and that would suck. But sometimes you kinda gotta do the hard scary thing and take the risk where the end result is that sometimes people won't like you. It happens. And it might be the wrong thing to do, possibly. But you already know that continuing with the status quo won't fix the problem-- when you go back there, they will continue to leave things out for you out of pity, and you will probably continue to take random things again if you see the opportunity to do so. And the entire reason you are asking this question at all, and hating yourself right now and getting help, is because is you don't want to do this any more, so doing the same thing as always and expecting a different result might not be the best idea. Again, IANAT -- but you asked, and so here is another stranger's thoughts. Again, I do hope you talk to a therapist who has specialized experience with kleptomania disorder and see what they say.

I do wanna break down some of your fear about confessing though... so lets face the possible consequences of what could happen if you confess.

1. They may think less of you. Sure, this may happen. But this compulsion is on some level beyond your control. And so they may understand that, and they may be sympathetic and take it really well. They may think more of you for being able to talk about it at all and come clean. But they may not 'get' it, and they may simplify it and make a judgment about your character or integrity or think less of you. But if they do? Well, you'll survive. It won't kill you. It sucks to be judged, and it will bruise your ego, but it won't define you. Your actions will define you and your actions say you want to improve, and you're getting help, and that's freaking admirable. If they do judge you unfavorably for being honest about legitimate mental health issue you're getting help for, then that may not where you want your kids to be, anyway. That's not the attitude they should be emulating. Moreover, what's the alternative? If this escalates at all, then they may catch you in the act, they may catch you with something big, and in those cases, they will think less of you. And may result in more consequences besides.

2. They may think less of your kids. This could happen too, and that would suck. But any daycare place that had an issue with you and reflected in anyway with interactions with your children, is again it's not a place you want them to be anyway.

3. Your kids may be forced to leave this daycare. Yes, that's a possibility. Look, there will be other cool places and other cool people, they will make new friends. They have a multitude of friends awaiting them in many different places, and it won't be the end of the world if they leave, even if it is inconvenient. Again, if it continues at all and you are caught, you will probably be forced to leave any way.

Lastly try not to beat yourself up to the degree you're self-flagellating, because all that does is encourage incredible self-hatred and you can't improve yourself when you think you're so awful. It just doesn't work like that. Yes, you are doing things that you don't want to do. Yes, it makes you feel crappy because they're socially taboo things and society looks down on stealing. But you shouldn't hate yourself for that. It's not your fault. Don't blame yourself to the degree you are. Would you hate an anorexic for not eating? Would you blame them and get super angry at them for it? Would you think they are 'awful' people, like you think you are? I'd hope that you'd recognize they can't really help it and it's more complicated than that. I understand it's a similar psychological mechanism and control issue in kleptomania. So don't hate yourself for this. But it is within you to recover, and getting help for it is an amazing first step. It's more than great. A lot of people are too scared to get any kind of help. A lot of people lack the strength to even knowledge their issues, let alone talk about them. Moreover, your compulsion shouldn't define your self worth.

So this is a weird analogy, but sometimes I think of negative self-talk like heaps of dirt being shoveled over you. At first, with a few feelings of worthlessness, it's just a light sprinkling. A shovel here or there. A thousand negative thoughts later, and you can't see the light through the dirt any more. A thousand more and you're buried alive. You can't improve in that situation, you're stuck, and that's bad. There's no out to that-- people can't escape being buried alive; you literally need to shovel away the dirt. In the same way sometimes negative thoughts almost feel literally weighty to me. So when I start to spiral into thinking I'm awful, I remind myself that thinking that way starts to lead me away from self improvement, not towards. So please forgive yourself a little. You are not awful. I bet you're braver than you know.

I'm sorry for length. I wish you the best of luck in your recovery.
posted by Dimes at 11:35 AM on December 19, 2015

Can you get the same kind of thrill by sneakily replacing those items with other ones? Sneak in a bigger scented candle, more trash bags?
posted by atchafalaya at 6:12 PM on December 19, 2015

As others have mentioned it would be much easier to deal with one individual than the entire institution (which could happen if you things continue).

If you take back one (representative) item and say "look, I took this. I've recently started therapy over just these issues. I hope you can work with me and I that we can be somewhat discreet in how we handle this". In all likelihood they will react in a compassionate manner.

Approach someone there who has authority. You don't want your request to have to be reported to a superior (for permission to be granted). You'll want to know at the end of your meeting that your request has been accepted.
posted by cleroy at 6:47 PM on December 19, 2015

From the OP:
Thank you for all the considerably kind responses.

The daycare has closed for the year. I will quietly return the goods next year and continue therapy.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:21 AM on December 20, 2015 [5 favorites]

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