Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Childhood sexual abuse, Kleptomania and Castration Complex

There is little doubt that nothing causes greater disturbance of mental stability than prepubertal sexual abuse. Earlier the age of abuse, greater is the disturbance. With genital sexual apparatus not yet ready for sexual activity/sexual arousal, and thus incapable of discharging genital sexual stimulation, the reaction is abnormal, excessive, pre-genital, and condemns the child to perverted and inordinate sexual preoccupations for the rest of her life. Fibromyalgia - which use to be called Beard's Disease and then neurasthenia at Freud's time - is almost always present in these individuals and there is never-ending restlessness that does not leave the patient in peace even when she is asleep.
The memory traces of the abuse obsessively emerge during daytime, and the thoughts and affects associated with these memories return in disguise in dreams. Since the affects are exceedingly strong, and more negative than positive, the dreams are usually nightmares. The dreams quite often are a faithful reproduction of the abuse, but over time the usual wish-fulfilling dream mechanisms are utilized to lessen the pain/dysphoria associated with the humiliation and the perpetrator/s may appear in the guise of strangers or wild animals who are chasing the dreamer. The sexual act itself is portrayed as getting knifed, gored or killed. The sexuality becomes predominantly sadomasochistic with the affect of fear masking all other emotions. The daytime reveries and nighttime dreams are accompanied by revenge fantasies. And this preoccupation with the childhood sexual abuse pervades the person's life so extensively that one marvels as to how childhood sexual trauma, sometimes limited to just one incident, can disturb someone to such a remarkable extent.
For sometime I have been noticing an interesting pathological behavior in these victims of childhood sexual abuse. They show kleptomania. Since the unconscious complexes that underlie this kleptomania is of theoretical interest, I will discuss a case in detail and then discuss its psychology.

The patient was 39 years old when I interviewed her. She had been sentenced to jail for a year for incorrigible kleptomania. She stated that she "stole for the rush of it". It was small items that she stole, and emphasized that the thefts were undertaken not because there was no money in her purse, but because the excitement of getting something for free was too overpowering. She placed the blame for this irresistible impulse to childhood sexual abuse. "When I was sexually abused I got nothing, in fact it was more humiliating and painful than pleasurable, so now I am entitled to all these [alluring] objects in the store without paying for them. I am so "mad" all the time. I need something to calm me down. I want somebody to love me. I have never been loved. No one ever showed love to me. They just wanted to fuck me. I never got love from my mother or father. So I feel a right for these things which others got but I did not."
At the age of 5, she was repeatedly subjected to anal intercourse by an uncle. It came to an end when her sister, who was 16 years older than her, discovered the abuse and threatened to cut the uncle's penis with a butcher knife if she ever caught him doing this to her sister. That put a stop to the abuse but not without leaving her permanently addicted to victimization.
Now it is well known that once a victim always a victim- as if to undo the trauma the person keeps seeking identical situations. She faced another round of abuse at the age of 12 by a cousin. And when she was incarcerated for habitual shoplifting, in the prison too, she was raped by a female prisoner. She had been married twice and both her husbands had abused her. Her second husband called her crazy and stupid.
Now as if abuse and victimization by real people was not enough she also developed pain in her lower back, hips, and legs, which she labelled as arthritis but which were more hysterical conversion of the memory of the rape than physical diseases. The hysteria was overlaid upon underlying real physical problems. Victimization persisted in the dreams as well, where she would relive the trauma, and see herself getting raped by the uncle and cousin.
There were strong reactions to this passivity/victimization at the same time. She would go in to spells of anorexia - rejection of oral sexuality- and would hardly eat. In fact, when she came to see me, she had lost 100 pounds. She normally was overweight, but in her current episode of anorexia she had made herself pathologically thin. She was consumed with the fantasy of taking a knife, finding her uncle and cutting his penis off. She would hear voices telling her to do so or at least to go and stab him. And while walking on the streets she often looked back over her shoulder to make sure that the police were not following her to arrest her for stabbing strangers on the road - strangers on the streets had become, in her unconscious - substitutes for her uncle. She had attempted suicide at least couple of times as a punishment for her promiscuity. She had become hypercritical of herself and people around her. But the biggest reaction formation was her pathological obsession with the Bible. She was constantly drawn towards older men, and she resisted the impulse to try to seduce them by keeping the Bible with her all the time and reading uplifting passages from it.
But it is not these symptoms of victimization that are the main objective of this post. It is the analysis of her impulse to steal. And that the analysis showed to be a demand for compensation. "If I was subjected to such horrible pain and humiliation at such an early age, and way ahead of all other children, then I am very special and I am entitled to all those shiny stuff in these stores and without paying anything, because I have already paid a huge price."
This attitude of entitlement at bottom was nothing more than pathological exaggeration of the central complex of women - a demand for penis. The logic behind it ran something like this: "I have been unnaturally subjected to these sexual activities at such an early age, certainly before other children, so I am way ahead of them all, boys included, and I am entitled to a penis. Especially with this experience under my belt I am no less than any boy that I know." It is the same impulse that in normal development, without hobbled by seduction or other disturbances from the environment like excessive parental fighting - would have metamorphosed from a wish for a penis into the wish for a baby. Wish for a penis is an earlier version of the wish for a child. In victims of childhood sexual abuse a fixation occurs at the stage of crude wish for a penis. The victimized child is unable to get past this stage. Or more correctly the later versions of this developmental line are feeble in comparison to this earlier wish.
And the disturbances from such an arrested development are protean. There is a great overvaluation of the role of sexuality in human affairs. The girl starts seeing her primary role in society as a sex object. The main purpose of life for her becomes being sexually attractive and pleasing to men, especially men she can put in class of fathers. The main game of her life becomes "to act seductive" and get victimized by men. There is of course reaction formation to this role of being just a sex kitten, and the girl occasionally lurches towards taking the responsible role of the mother which will cure her of this obsession with being an innocent/unsuspecting sex victim - for mothers are responsible beings, so engrossed with taking care of their children that they have no time for sex. But unfortunately this often results in teenage pregnancies.
And now to the kleptomania which is the subject of this discussion.
Why does this happen? Because when the child is sexually stimulated at that early age there is less sexual excitement in her than in the man who is abusing her. In her the predominant affect is that of anxiety and fear. Also the furtive behavior of the man, who is looking over the shoulder lest someone shows up, who is constantly threatening her that if she tells this to anybody he will kill her and her family, or extracting promises from her that this is our own little secret that should never be told to anyone else, all the while groping areas which are generally thought to be unclean, they all feel to her as something connected with excretory activity fun than genital. But the child can still rightly deduce that while in her the activity is more in pregenital zones, in man the nexus of the pleasure is in his penis and he is getting far more excitement and discharge of tensions through his penis than she is getting from the stimulation of her anal and oral zones. The penis then becomes the coveted organ.
And there are further pathological consequences. With the vaginal passage still not mature to become subject of excitement, the pregenital oral and anal passages become disproportionately more erotogenic. And this has serious consequences for the future fate of sexuality. After puberty the sexual discharge instead of maturing into the genital zone, remains fixated in oral and anal zone. The struggle against excessive pressure of oral sexuality often manifests as alternating bulimia and anorexia and in anally disposed person as Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other types of colitis. Also, sexual stimulation of genital area when it is not yet ready for reproductive activity, since it does not bring discharge and relief from tension, leads to an endless sexual preoccupation. This explains why the victims of prepubertal sexual abuse act seductive, but refuse genital sex when approached and get blamed for being a "tease". Their loud, histrionic and ostentatious display of hypersexuality are a facade and underneath lies sexual frigidity. And even when they give into genital sex, since it gives them little relief, they keep repeating the behavior and garner the epithet of "nymphomaniac."
The solution to all their problems they see in having their own penis. There are number of converging reasons for it. The child sees that because the man has a penis he can subjugate her to abuse. If only she had a penis she would not be subjected to this passivity. The penis also inflicts upon her pain and humiliation. The child also feels that since she has been subjected to this pain now she should be compensated with the reward of having her own penis which she can use upon others to get even. Also as the abuse causes a permanent irritation in her without possibility of complete discharge she is all the time seeking the repetition of the abuse. But the repetition implies repetition of the same pain and humiliation, which she detests. [In fact as the victimized girl gets older she often gives up all sexual activities with men, despite constant sexual tension]. To escape this dilemma she often turns to homosexuality along with wishing for a penis of her own that she could use at will without subjection to humiliation in hands of men. There is also, of course, another powerful motive added to all the above complexes - the revenge fantasy of castrating the man and it is done in displacement.
The whole process of castrating a man is now transferred to symbolic stealing - kleptomania. The fine objects in the store are symbols of the male genitals that are coveted and stolen.
But is kleptomania always a result of childhood abuse?
Of course not. But let us examine a few cases where there was no sexual abuse and see what they have to teach us.
An extremely pretty Caucasian girl of 26, who had married an African-American man way below her socially and academically, suffered from kleptomania. She had all the symptoms generally associated with childhood sexual abuse like fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, hysterical vomiting, colitis and victimization in hands of men. Yet, she had no history of sexual abuse as a child.
But careful history revealed that while she had no personal history of sexual abuse, her motheras a child was abused by her step-grandfather, her sister had been raped, and she strongly identified with both of them. Her mother had all the stigmata of childhood sexual abuse and she had identified herself with her mother. She herself had great passivity of character and vulnerability in her demeanor and been many times had had near-rape intimidation by men, and one time had been subjected to a prolonged stalking by an Arab-American ex-boyfriend. Her nightmares were full of extreme anxiety. They were based upon a TV show she regularly watched which showed in graphic details the sexual victimization of young children by sexual predators and serial killers. In her nightmares she would identify with these children and see herself subjected to similar sexual abuse.
Another lady, a doctor, turned to kleptomania after she found her husband was cheating on her. This was the reason she gave for acting kleptomaniac. But analysis showed that the act had greater connection with the death of her father which had occured when she was around 12, leaving her feeling cheated and an attitude of revenge towards society, and when marriage did not compensate her enough for the unfair loss of her father she turned to kleptomania.
Another woman an Arab-American was severely bullied by her classmates for her darker complexion, being overweight and her Arab features, and she always harbored revenge fantasies against the world, and compensated herself through kleptomania. There was an additional factor. She was the only child and spoilt rotten by her father to whom she was very tenderly attached and when he died she compensated for his disappearance from her life through stealing.
A master kleptomaniac, who boasted of having amassed a fortune through stealing costly vintage wine bottles and who was expert in forging checks and embezzling, and who had come to me not for cure from his illness but just because he was court ordered, gave the history of having been subjected to a brutal beating as a child by his father for a single incident of stealing, and in the teenage years had turned into a thief to get even with his father with whom, to begin with, he had intense feelings of rivalry from the Oedipal period.


  1. I am a 65 year klepto dx Bipolar1. My mother exposed herself to me when I was 7 and shortly thereafter she caught me stealing a roll of dimes from her drawer.

    I have spent 50 years trying to figure this out and I am still stealing. I hate it and I wonder if i will ever stop.

  2. Thanks for your comment.
    Your desire to get something that you feel you are lacking was made conscious to you by seeing your mother's naked body. It was obviously the difference between the sexes that made you feel that you have been cheated and you felt entitled to remedy it by hook or crook.
    In normal development this feeling of being cheated is compensated in the girl by wish to have a child. In your case the desire to remedy the difference was so strong and urgent that you wanted to compensate it immediately with whatever valuable came your way then, settling upon a roll of dimes.
    It is interesting that it is roll of dimes that you chose. For it is a pile of coins, which will indicate great strength in your sex drives from anal-obsessive phase.
    Going to the drawer and picking out of the roll of dimes is a plastic representation of your desire to go back to your mother's womb and be reborn with the object that provoked your jealousy.

  3. Thank you. I am seeing a therapist---this is grist for my mill. Of course knowing these things in my intellect is not the same as knowing them in my soul. I am working with a therapist who has psycho-dynamic training and this will move us along.

    I have stage 4 cancer (stable now---primary site in the prostate with mets to the bones) and I am bi-polar I with some (what I think) are some personality issues in the narcissistic spectrum. I think past therapist have been uncomfortable delving too deeply because of what they believed was my poor ego strengths and their fear that it would kindle an episode. I feel more able to deal with this issue now and my therapist is my age and comfortable with probing.

  4. Thank you for your enlightening analysis,

    I have a sever problem, I was exposed to sexual intercourse by my cousin penis to penis, when I was 6 years Old, caused me sever guilt and shame ALSO I was exposed to my mother naked and asked me to touch her genitals for stupid reasons,
    on the other hands, I was emotionally physically abused by both mother and father and female teacher

    i had paranoid disorder, im cured now, but can't form healthy relationship and have few friends and stuttering

    please analyse why im stuttering and why im virgin can't have normal sex with femalel and why im attracting mistreatment whenever I go, cant get a job, can't make good choices

    please help