Show Summary Details
Page of

(p. 319) The Impulse to Steal 

(p. 319) The Impulse to Steal
(p. 319) The Impulse to Steal

Donald W. Winnicott

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGY ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Clinical Psychology Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 23 September 2020

In this essay, Winnicott describes three degrees of stealing. The infant who quite ordinarily and healthily steals from his mother is basking in the illusion that he created whatever interests him. The young child who quite commonly does a bit of compulsive stealing from mother’s handbag is reacting to a jerk forward in the painful process of disillusionment. The thief an ill person is most of the time hopeless about the world and its relation to himself, but periodically feels a wave of hope. This takes the form of an attempt to get behind the disillusionment process. The infant self, with memories of unchallenged subjectivity, comes to life, and for a brief spell inhabits the child’s person. As a result this person child, adolescent, or adult acts possessed by an aspect of his infant self, compelled to steal to make contact with society. Revenge feelings in the victim can certainly not be ignored, and any attempt to be sentimental about delinquent children defeats its own aim by raising the tension of general antagonism towards criminals.

Access to the complete content on Oxford Clinical Psychology requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.