A Real Rocket Scientist Interviews Dr. Brady concerning Theft and Impulse Control Dysfunction.
This interview with Dr. Brady was conducted by Dr. Len Losik, a real “rocket scientist” who also has an active interest in many aspects of psychology, and the abuse of psychiatric medications.
Interviewer: Len Losik, Ph.D., President of Failure Analysis and Author of Introduction to Predicting Failure and several books on eastern thought such as Mediation, Confucius, Tai Chi Chang, and the Zen Primer and over 30 books on Korean martial arts and Korean history.
Interviewee: John C. Brady, II, Ph.D., D., Crim., Licensed California, Forensic Psychologist, researcher, treatment provider, speaker and author.
Dr. Losik: Dr. Brady is a professional colleague and a personal friend. His research into the environment of women shoplifters came to my attention while I was researching the fight-or-flight response and uncontrolled behavior for a grant proposal I was writing to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and a proposal to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for using my company’s technology to predict terrorists with certainty. I found it very intriguing, highly informative and related to my company’s research and technology application in several new fields. I have also been interested in various aspects of mental illness especially factors related to impact of mental illness how it affects astronauts subjected to harsh conditions they face in deep space and any uncontrollable behavior that astronauts may experience. There seems to be commonalities between Dr. Brady’s work on the misuse of drugs and my research. My interview with Dr. Brady was conducted, at where else, a local Starbucks Coffee Shop in Capitola, California.
In addition to the aspects of psychiatric drugs you have also covered a variety of other important issues addressed his new book, Why Rich Women Shoplift—When They Have It All! I have learned a lot and I hope that that will also be yours and others experience.
Let’s begin with a look at the major premise of your book combining rich women and stealing. In certain sense, these two concepts don’t seem to go together. I mean, women have it all as you say in your book, why should they steal stuff? You mention that they are not in control. I was first exposed to what we refer to as “uncontrollable” behavior when the Canadian Space Agency’s requested I apply my company’s technology to predict which astronauts were going to acquire mental illness, so the notion that (rich) women must steal is very unique and applicable to my own work and research and so I was wondering when you first developed an interest in this aspect of stealing.
Dr. Brady: Len, I want to first thank you for conducting this interview and taking the time out of your schedule to do it. I am also aware of your psychological work with astronauts and mental illness as it might affect them in space. And thank you for asking what’s probably the most important question that my shoplifters also ask themselves: “Why are well to do women with a high net worth some of them more than $4 million stealing?”
As a licensed California forensic psychologist I have been called upon hundreds of times in order to examine criminal defendants, most of them who were women that stole. To date, I guess there’s about a 100 women that shoplift that I have seen and evaluated. Generally, this means that I use psychological tests and the goal was to evaluate the women and see why they stole and to help court, for example, attorneys so they won’t steal again. Many of the women that I saw were charged with grand theft or petty theft. The amazing thing about it is that most of them held high-level responsible positions and had a net worth in some cases over $4 million. And generally, these well-off and financially secure women don’t elicit much sympathy from the public. As you know, this is the case especially with shoplifters like Winona Ryder who didn’t really need to steal.
Dr. Losik: So I guess that your goal was to try to determine why these rich women stole when they didn’t have to; is that right? Were you able to do it?
Dr. Brady: Yes, that’s right. It’s important in order to understand why they stole so many times so they won’t steal again. Some of the women that I saw professionally had stolen high-end items. Most of the women took meaningless things or low-priced merchandise like toothpaste, lipstick, chewing gum, nail clippers and canned goods, and other inexpensive items. An interesting part is that most of the women had approximately $100,000 in savings accounts and when they were arrested and credit cards with $100,000 limits had near zero balances. Obviously, these are not crimes of need or greed.
In fact, women shoplifters that I have treated over the years were never motivated by material or financial gain. Far from it! They were all well off with lots of material trappings including a closet stuffed with expensive jewelry, and jewelry cabinets packed with rings, watches, bracelets, necklaces, etc. The stolen items were never used in public. So they really didn’t need to steal.
Dr. Losik: So did you ask them why they did it?
Dr. Brady: Yes, I did ask them ad in each case. There seemed to be a different reason. Over the years, there’s been only a few interpretations put forth about why well-healed women in society simply need to have more material goods in their life, a kind of over consumption syndrome. Unfortunately, this really isn’t the case. Most of the women who were well off and well educated some of whom started stealing at a young age needed some psychological treatment in order to understand why they stole.
The results presented in my book indicate that there are a number of theories as to why women steal. One theory relates to psychological compensation where they felt that something had passed them by in life or they had lost something, which they couldn’t replace. Unfortunately, many of these women who I saw were diagnosed and had previously consulted psychiatrists in order to find an answer.
For example, I had one case that I talk about in the book of a Mrs. Williams and she was put on antidepressant medication and actually these drugs supported and encouraged her drive to steal things. So the answer to why women shoplift is certainly not found in a bottle of Prozac. For some reason the psychiatric community believes that the biological theories drives shoplifting. Of course, there has never been one biological theory identified that causes women to steal, but psychiatrists assume that psychiatric medication will help these women stop. But as I just mentioned, the case seems to be just the opposite, drugs do not help women to stop shoplifting and they get caught in a “drug trap.”
In one case where a woman was prescribed antidepressant medication the psychiatrist who treated her really didn’t go into her background. This woman, 54 years old, began to steal later in life and she began to steal after her son was killed in Afghanistan. Because of her personal tragedy she tried to deal with her grief as best as possible then forget. The forgetting part was difficult for her so she began to engage in repeated acts of theft, which I interpreted as acts of desperation and psychological compensation for the loss of her son. She stole because she was upset and angry at the loss of her son, which was a large slice of her life. Her distorted reasoning led her subconsciously to believe that getting something in return, however so slight, might temporarily ease her psychological trauma. And, by the way, her stealing had nothing to do with biological theories or conditions that could be diagnosed as to why she stole stuff.
Len, in my view, almost all theft is a riddle and remains unexplained. Many of the shoplifters who I have treated came to me and when I asked them why they stole, they said that they really didn’t have a clue. So another way to answer your question that this woman stole after her son died not because she wanted to so much, but because she needed to steal for her to feel in control at least on a subconscious level. The use of strong psychiatric drugs wasn’t the answer for her. I guess this is similar research that you conducted that drugs aren’t good for astronauts or pilots either. This woman’s pattern of compensation is only one of many reasons that women steal and it has almost nothing to do with social status.
Dr. Losik: Without today’s exotic store security tools and anti-theft devices, we likely would never have discovered that rich women steal because no one would have believed it without solid evidence. Dr. Brady, you mentioned that the women shoplifters that you’ve treated are psychologically out of control. How did you measure being out of control and have you found it a reliable scale to use in your work?
Dr. Brady: Len, that’s another good question because almost all of the women shoplifters that I have treated were to some degree out of personal control when they stole things. In my book I devoted a chapter called, “Who’s the Boss” and I try to answer that very question. The answer to this question arises to not only to us, but also the shoplifters themselves as to why they can’t stop stealing. One pervasive psychological measure is called the Locus of Control Scale. This measure determines whether or not a person feels in control of their behaviors and they are called internal or whether they are not in control of their behaviors and they are called external. I have used it with a variety of patients.
Dr. Losik: Did you give them a scale or test?
Dr. Brady: The shoplifters that I have tested were given what’s called the Rotter Locus of Control Scale. Each woman was presented with this scale and the results indicated that many of the women were out of control when they stole. So the Locus of Control variable or the amount of perceived controls that individuals have at any moment is relevant when examining shoplifters.
Some people feel they have almost total control over their destinies yet I found that female shoplifters for the most part don’t feel they have any control over their behavior or their lives. And people with external Locus of Control functioning commit more crimes, become alcoholics, drug addicts, and shoplifters. People who believe in external forces also believe in fate, luck, fortuitousness, God, society, government rather than placing responsibility for their own life and control in their own hands. So the results of the testing indicated that women shoplifters do reflect out of control on this dimension. Some of these other dimensions concerning women who feel are that they believe in fate, more impulsive, low self-esteem, they have restricted attention spans and they have poor insight.
Dr. Losik: The actions of these women seem similar to women with behavior disorders such as Munchhausen, where women are not consciously aware of their harmful actions and when they are shown their actions on video, are shocked to see themselves do it and have no memory of it. I think you stated in Chapter 5, if I recall, that you mentioned something about women shoplifters getting sexually aroused during or after stealing. That’s an intriguing concept. Tell me about it.
Dr. Brady: Yes, that’s true, Len. However, most women shoplifters you see smiling as they stroll through shopping malls are just happy to be shopping and probably not sexually aroused. And not all of the women shoplifters who I have seen become sexually aroused by shoplifting, but some do and I agree with you, it’s clinically intriguing. In fact, there are more men than women who get sexually aroused from stealing. Usually they steal items of women’s apparel such as underwear, bras, and scarves. These items take on the substitute of sexual value for the thief and constitutes a fetish disorder. In my book I describe a psychologically complex woman, Mrs. Daio, who got sexual pleasure and became aroused when she rubbed and fondled expensive purses she had stolen. In fact, she had stolen more than 400 designer purses valued at approximately $400,000. In my book I wrote section called “Shoplifting is Erotic.” In that section I explain Mrs. Daio’s sexual attraction of arousal as I said through expensive purses that she stole at some fashionable stores like Macy’s and Saks.
Mrs. Daio was arrested at Saks Fifth Avenue after stealing several expensive designer purses she apparently wanted to add to her growing collection which she stored in a locked room in her house. This room constituted her treasure trove and no one in her family was allowed inside the room. It doesn’t sound as strange as it might seem because she lived in Los Altos Hills in California and had a 16 room house. Her theft episodes involved her getting a rush or flush and she became excited followed by sexual arousal. She described her fantasies with purses almost like lovers seeking out each other. Paradoxically for Mrs. Daio the psychological payoff for her wasn’t during her stealing, but quite a bit after when she developed her symbolic, romantic sexual feelings.
Mrs. Daio recalled a number of her stealing episodes where she became sexually aroused and didn’t know what was happening to her. She thought it was some kind of a “hot flash” experience, but she knew that these were different from the other kinds of hot flashes that she had. She remembered that something strange was happening to her, but the feelings were so unreal at first she denied them. So it is possible that the purses served as an erotic stimulus which arose feelings in her that she was unable to recognize prior to therapy.
Interestingly enough, Mrs. Daio initially engaged in her theft for solely nonsexual reasons because in a sense it was an overcompensation because she was passed over for a career promotion at a large electronics company in San Francisco. Thus, her motivation to steal driven by her desire to even the score so to speak. Her lost pattern and her stealing represented her analogical reasoning that was somewhat corrected during therapy. But these cases of where there is sexual arousal are very intriguing and really shows that this theft business is psychologically complex.
Dr. Losik: Yes, it does seem like it. You go into some detail in your book that there are, I guess, shoplifting stages that all women shoplifters go through; is that right? Are these identifiable shoplifter stages phases that women experience similar to the one’s that alcoholics go through or similar to, for example, drug addicts?
Dr. Brady: Yes, Len, in lots of ways there are similarities among shoplifters, alcoholic phases or stages and those of drug addicts. The theft stages with women shoplifters have not been studied previously and these stages have not previously been identified. The reason that I have developed these stages is that I wanted to know what the actual process the shoplifter was going through on their way to becoming career shoplifter. In other words, is there a beginning, middle, and end for the shoplifter?
Accounts of the shoplifter’s psychological experience really hadn’t been done before. There have been lots of antidotal information provided to journalists, newspaper reporters, and, of course, from the paparazzi, but there were very few clinical reports concerning the exact experience that women shoplifters go through.
Dr. Losik: So when you formulated and examined these stages, what did you find out?
Dr. Brady: I found out that as women move towards stealing inevitably they move through a series of psychological stages and enter into what I call the shoplifting zone. The zone is similar to an athlete that says that he or she is in the zone today, but the zone that the shoplifter gets in contributes to debilitating side effects as opposed to what the athlete gets which is success, winning, and recognition.
Even for those shoplifters who demonstrated that they steal for some type of material gain their thinking has been shown to be negative, irrational, and psychological characteristic of these stages.
Dr. Losik: Can you say if they are conscious and/or unconscious stages and outline what these stages are and how many there are for me, please? I’m getting more and more interested in the shoplifting world you are describing.
Dr. Brady: Len, I have identified at least five different stages that women shoplifters pass through starting with Phase I, anticipation where they suddenly become excited. The second stage is probably the critical one because it involves their moral decision making where they rationalize moving forward to steal. The third stage is the actual theft where lots of times shoplifters are reinforced by a sense of exhilaration and a psychological thrill. The fourth stage is the post excitation stage where women become very excited where let’s say that they were depressed and the depression is alleviated at least for a certain period of time usually between one day and two months then they move into the fifth stage.
This is the post-depression phase where they become depressed again and the cycle starts all over again. So from depression to anticipation through moral neutralization into action theft and then they become excited and depressed again. So I have outlined this in my book in what I call the shoplifting circle, which outlines the five steps in the shoplifting zone.
Dr. Losik: So what happens during these stages? Is there some kind of a psychological process?
Dr. Brady: Well, what happens is that the progression through these five stages somewhat painful leads to the women shoplifter reidentifying herself as a law violator rather than a law abiding person. Most of the women shoplifters I have treated as I mentioned have no understanding why they stole although they elude to their perception that prior to stealing they felt as if they were in some kind of a strange mental zone.
Dr. Losik: I find those stages to be psychologically most interesting. I would like to continue our discussion at a later date. I did learn a lot and look forward to meeting you again.