Pyromania: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment. Portrait of a Pyromaniac
Among all the variety of mental disorders and syndromes, there are rare and rather mysterious phenomena, the causes of which haven’t been disclosed to this day. Such unusual disorders include pyromania – obsessive desire to set and watch the fire. Pyromaniacs are driven by a desire to commit arson, as when watching a fire they experience pleasure, joyful emotions, and euphoria.
What Is Pyromania?
Pyromania (from the Greek “Πυρ” – “fire” and “μανία” – “passion, madness, attraction”) is a disorder of impulsive behavior expressed in an irresistible painful attraction to arson and also in a strong enthusiasm for watching the fire.
Pyromania is a mental disorder characterized by an irresistible craving for arson. Pyromaniacs always set fire impulsively, without planning and to some extent not realizing their own actions. They experience pleasure, both from the very process of arson and from watching the fire.
People suffering from pyromania show curiosity, experience joy, satisfaction or relief watching the fire. The fire is never set by them for the sake of financial benefit, for concealing crimes, as an expression of social and political protest.
For the first time, people began to speak about pyromania as a mental illness in 1824. But until now this phenomenon remains not fully unexplored. Scientists continue to discuss this problem. Interesting is the fact that the craving for arson as a violation of the psyche is the object of research and discussion not only of specialists in psychiatry but also of jurisprudence.
Pyromania refers to a pathological disturbance of drive and manifests itself in an irresistible desire to commit arsons. This phenomenon is considered a rather rare mental deviation and occurs in less than 0.4% of the total population. Men are most inclined to the accomplishment of pathological arsons. The age peak of deviations is between 14-30 years. Attraction to arson can be both an independent mental deviation and part of other psychopathological diseases, such as schizophrenia, manic-depressive psychosis, etc.
Experts believe that at the heart of pyromania lie violations in the development of personality. A pyromaniac is simply incapable of resisting the impulse to set fire and watch the flames with pleasure. Sigmund Freud described the fire as a symbol of sexuality. Watching it can lead to sexual excitement. He also believed that a severe form of sexual deviation can lead to the emergence of pyromania. In addition, psychiatrists link cravings for fires with the desire to show one’s strength and dominance. This explains the behavior of those pyromaniacs who, having set up a fire, assist in eliminating it.
The craving for setting fires is most often formed in childhood. The risk group includes children from inferior families. The signs of pyromania are clearly manifested by three years of life. During this period, matches or a lighter are a real treasure for a child. Such children like to start fires. They can watch a burning candle, just set fire to the matches and admire it. Children’s pyromania is characterized by a complete lack of understanding of possible devastating effects of the arson.
Another theory about the presence of pyromania in adult people is based on a reference to the primitive instinct of man – the craving for fire and its light and heat. For some reason, it is very difficult for a pyromaniac to overcome this instinct. Various mental illnesses and disorders that weaken the individual’s ability to resist temptations and impulsive behavior can complicate pyromania. At the same time, scientists argue that most often the disorder manifests itself in patients with undeveloped intellectual abilities. It is also found that among pyromaniacs there are more men than women.
List of Causes of Pyromania
According to psychiatrists, true pyromania occurs only in very rare cases. Much more often this mental disorder is a symptom of another serious and dangerous disease, for example, schizophrenia.
Like other forms of deviant behavior, the development of pyromania occurs as a result of the negative impact of external and internal factors. The main reasons for the formation of an abnormal passion for the commitment of arson are the following factors:
- genetic predisposition to social deviations, the presence of mental disorders in the family history;
- insufficient level of intellectual development, acquired both from birth and due to organic brain diseases, traumas of the cranium;
- significant deviations in the emotional-volitional sphere;
- instability and imbalance in the mental sphere which has become the cause of the formation of pathological excitation and affective states;
- instability in the society, financial and political crises that lead to a gap between the goals of the human community and the acceptable ways to achieve these goals;
- the conflict between the personal worldview of the individual and the priority values of the majority;
- problematic period of growing up, lack of attention or excessive control over the child, asocial behavior of parents;
- the negative impact of the environment;
- deviations in self-esteem and personal claims of a person because of what there forms the need to demonstrate one’s own power;
- pathological thirst for power;
- serious problems of the individual in the intimate sphere, prolonged sexual deprivation.
Pyromania, being a rather serious mental illness, is manifested, above all, by an irresistible and unconscious urge to commit arsons in the absence of any motive. Pyromaniacs really enjoy the sight of burning objects and almost never hide their own involvement in fires.
The main symptoms of a pathological desire to start fires include:
- fires committed more than 2 times without motivation;
- excessive interest in objects that can cause or put out a fire (lighters, fire equipment);
- increased anxiety before starting a fire;
- the sensation of pleasure and euphoria after the arson.
Pyromaniacs Have the Following Features:
- Previously occurred episodes of arson or attempts to start a fire without any motives and material purposes. Psychiatrists will talk about the disease only if a person committed at least two unmotivated incendiaries;
- Preparing for an arson, a pyromaniac feels excitement and tension that recedes after the realization of the conceived;
- The patient enjoys the sight of fire;
- A pyromaniac constantly thinks about objects related to fire, the child’s interest can be manifested in drawings, conversations, and games;
- A person suffering from pyromania can call the fire department, reporting on non-existent fires;
- A pyromaniac is haunted by obsessive thoughts about how and where to set another fire;
- Observing the flame, the patient may experience sexual arousal.
Often, pyromania occurs along with other disorders, for example, alcoholism. Such patients in a state of intoxication can become completely uncontrollable and cause great harm, seeking to set a fire to a particular object. In addition, such people never take responsibility for what they have done.
It is worth noting that it is not always easy to diagnose a person with pyromania. So, it is necessary to differentiate the described mental disorder with deliberate arson in the absence of deviations in the psyche.
Pyromania in Children
Most psychiatrists hold the view that pyromania occurs due to abnormal development of the personality structure, and the formation of a mental disorder begins early in childhood. If the first symptoms of the disease are revealed in the adolescent, the manifestations of it can be much more destructive.
Almost every child has a certain interest in fire and at the first opportunity tries to play with matches. Children can build bonfires and set fire to certain objects, but normally they quickly lose interest in this occupation. A pyromaniac child tries to connect all their games with fire. This should alert parents and others. Children’s pyromania is a particular danger because the child does not realize the threat that the fire conceals and the possible consequences of incendiaries.
What’s more, some psychologists are of the opinion that in adulthood a person suffering from pyromania can choose a profession associated with fire (firefighter, fakir, etc.) if in their childhood they developed a craving for this phenomenon.
Among pyromaniacs, there are a lot of firefighters, representatives of fire show, and people working in the field of pyrotechnics. Thus, pyromaniacs are trying to compensate for the pathological craving for observation and control of fire.
Portrait of a Pyromaniac
American scientists proposed a psychological portrait of a pyromaniac, which includes the following possible features and traits:
- low adaptability and stress resistance;
- social isolation, neglect of communication with people;
- low self-esteem, inferiority complex;
- possible sexual deviations;
- education in an unfavorable, asocial environment;
- the presence of other deviant acts (theft, fraud);
- outbreaks of antisocial behavior (escape from home, crime);
- possible cases of enuresis in childhood;
- the propensity to alcoholism;
- upbringing in an incomplete family (without a father);
- low intelligence;
- sexual dysfunction;
- prolonged frustration.
Pyromaniacs often watch a fire in the crowd, enjoying its devastating consequences. There are cases when pathological arsons took the lives of many people and turn into mass riots. Sometimes pyromaniacs start fires not thinking about whether there is someone in the building and about the consequences of this unacceptable way of self-expression.
Treatment for Pyromania
It is possible to eliminate pyromania by means of complex treatment. The physician must take into account a number of factors, including the patient’s level of intelligence, alcohol dependence, psychosexual dysfunction, mental disorders, etc. Since very often people who commit unmotivated arsons suffer from serious mental disorders, therapy should be selected individually in each specific case and be aimed at eliminating the underlying pathology and its manifestations with the help of psychotherapeutic techniques and appropriate medications.
Since pyromania is often a symptom, not the disease itself, treatment can be hard. Most pyromaniacs do not realize their pathological condition and refuse to provide assistance in therapy. Sometimes the only way to influence a patient is to isolate them. One needs to remember that psychotherapy may not produce results in view of the patient’s low ability to verbalize.
The main thing in the treatment of pathological arsons is psychotherapy. If pathological arson is one of the symptoms of a mental disorder, complex therapy is the most productive. It includes not only psychological correction but also drug treatment. Among the most effective drugs are nootropics, neuroleptics, and anxiolytics.
As psychotherapy, the most effective is cognitive-behavioral approach and psychoanalysis. The psychotherapist together with the client creates a list of provoking factors and develops methods and ways of controlling sudden impulses for arson. In most cases, the prognosis of treatment of pathological drives to arsons is favorable.
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By Maria Shevtsova
Born in Belarus, 1985, a pedagogue and family psychologist. Taking action in support groups organization and social adaptation of the people with mental disorders. Since 2015 is a chief editor of the undepress.net project, selecting the best and up-to-date material for those, who want to get their life back or help someone dear, who got into mental trap.
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