Pyromania is a pathological mental disorder in which people experience a pathological (compulsive) urge to start fires for no apparent reason. Pyromania is one of the most spectacular, but also one of the most serious mental illnesses.
What is pyromania?
The phenomenon of pyromania is far from being fully researched and is of great interest to criminologists, neurologists, forensic scientists and psychologists. Various therapeutic approaches seek preventive measures to prevent the person concerned from giving in to their pathological desire to start fires. To this day there is little scientifically and medically proven knowledge about the pathological arsonists. See sportingology for Meaning of Holoprosencephaly in English.
The clinical picture of pathological arson is an unusual and, above all, serious illness. The reasons and causes that lead to this mental disorder have not yet been conclusively researched and classified. The persons concerned attempt or complete an arson attack on objects and houses without an apparently understandable motive. These are often impulsive acts in an emotional mood.
Those affected give in to a pathological or sensual urge without a clear idea. Sometimes they are even surprised by what they do. The clinical picture is characterized by a pronounced fascination with all processes that have to do with fire and the subsequent fire event. The pyromaniac experiences a high of affective excitement leading up to the arson. When the flames spread after the arson has been set, the arsonist watches his work in awe.
Not all pyromaniacs leave the scene after the work is completed, but remain as spectators at the crime scene. Often they are even the ones who trigger the alarm signal for the police and fire brigade. During the fire, the initial tension gives way to a state of relaxation, contentment, well-being and pleasure. Pyromaniacs do not see the fires they set as dangerous and punishable deeds, but as a work they have created of which they are proud.
There is no feeling of guilt in view of the destruction of third-party property associated with the fire, the associated dangers and a potentially fatal outcome for the people affected.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Pyromancers have no insight into their illness. Men are apparently more likely to be affected by this mental disorder than women. Pyromancers have low self-esteem, poor social skills, and often live in difficult social circumstances. These traits may be accompanied by reduced intelligence, low empathy, and learning disabilities.
Many pyromaniacs have already had behavioral problems in the child’s owner. Periodically, newspapers report on pyromaniacs who work as firefighters with the local fire department. When extinguishing the fire they set themselves, they are characterized by their special activity and courageous behavior, which subsequently meets with great recognition in their social environment. If those affected are not caught in the act and live out their behavior over a long period of time, there is a risk of chronicity.
When fires are started out of hate, envy, revenge, anger, defiance, humiliation, jealousy and general dissatisfaction with the professional and private social environment, it is difficult for psychologists to decide when arson is caused by base personal motives and when the borderline to pyromania exceeded. Pyromaniacs aim to change their lives and their social environment with the fires they set.
They feel power over the situation and the people involved. Terrorist or politically motivated acts and acts of sabotage must be clearly distinguished from pyromania. Even arson, which serves to cover up the traces of crime, does not fall within the picture of this pathological disorder.
Diagnosis & course of disease
In order to find effective diagnostic and therapeutic approaches, it is first necessary to deal with the forensically (court-psychiatric) and scientifically proven findings. A large number of convicted offenders belong to the age group of children and adolescents involved in developmental lighting and match-handling.
Pyromania mainly affects people in their first third of life. Most of the perpetrators have criminal records and are often not married, divorced or separated. Social isolation can also play a role. Many arson attacks take place in rural areas. Adults tend to set their fires at night, while adolescents tend to set their fires during the day. About a fifth of pyromaniacs are mentally handicapped, with forensic scientists assuming a personality disorder in every 10th case. The predominant motive is frustration and dissatisfaction with one’s own life and social environment.
Revenge is rarely a motive, as the pyromaniacs are mostly unrelated to the victims of their arson. Although new classifications exclude the consumption of alcohol, drugs and similar intoxicants from the pathological clinical picture, alcohol plays a role in many cases. This problem mainly affects older arsonists. Rare diagnoses are dementia, delusional psychoses, depressions, suicidal and sexual motives, the brain-organic psychosyndrome and other personality disorders.
Pyromania, viewed as a separate condition, entails complications in the form of legal difficulties. Damage to property and, in worse cases, personal injury can mean the pyromaniac losing money, social status or even freedom. Similarly, pyromania can lead to a form of isolation. With the frequency of fires started, the risk of having to take responsibility for them increases.
In addition, this impulse control disorder is very often associated with other mental illnesses, which leads to even more complications. If pathological arson is a compensatory mechanism (low self-esteem, decreased intelligence), episodes of arson or planning to arson may be increased when the subject is otherwise experiencing emotional distress.
In cases where starting fires is primarily for attention or occupation (ADHD, social behavior disorders), the danger of losing control is even higher. Since fire is not 100% controllable, there is always a risk that the pyromaniac will overestimate their abilities or underestimate the fire. It is precisely then that personal injury and serious property damage can occur.
When should you go to the doctor?
Medical treatment is always necessary for pyromania. As a rule, there is no self-healing and severe psychological complaints or even depression. Since those affected can also harm other people through pyromania, the patient should always be treated as soon as possible.
A doctor should be consulted if the patient sets fires in different places and thereby harms other people or damages property. In addition to the urge to set fires, patients usually also suffer from reduced self-esteem or strong self-doubt. Difficulties in learning or social difficulties also occur. Bullying or teasing can also often lead to pyromania and should be discussed with a doctor if these symptoms make life difficult for the person concerned.
Pyromania should always be treated by a psychologist. Compulsory admission may also be necessary if the person concerned does not recognize their illness.
Treatment & Therapy
Since there are currently no scientifically validated therapy options, the only option is psychoeducation, with which those affected are taught how to handle fire safely and are informed about the dangers. Psychotherapy that targets emotion and impulse control can be successful.
Self-control by keeping an emotion calendar is also a starting point. In order to achieve this motivated cooperation on the part of the patient, however, the ability to understand the disease is a prerequisite. Other approaches include repeated supervised lighting to induce satiety, and aversion training to induce fire aversion.
Since the course of the disease is in many cases episodic and symptom-free intervals alternate with the periods in which the pathological disorder is dominant, many pyromaniacs often pursue their passion undetected for years. Since the distinction between a pathological obsessive -compulsive disorder and other behavioral problems is difficult for laypersons in the social environment of those affected, prevention in the clinical sense is hardly possible.
In the aftercare of an addiction such as pyromania, the reintegration of those affected into society is of great importance. Facilities that offer assisted living including a self-help group and further therapy are particularly helpful here. Those affected are once again confronted with everyday life in the group and initially receive professional help from specially trained addiction counselors and therapists.
After such a stay, further therapeutic support for those affected is advisable. The success of such follow-up care and the prevention of recidivism is mainly due to the motivation of the person concerned. In addition, the environment, integration into everyday life and regaining independence are important. The involvement of family and the support of friends play a crucial role in the progress of recovery.
If possible, the person concerned should also go back to regular work, such as work or a community service. In every city there are special contact points for addicts, which provide assistance in this regard. Leisure time can also be enhanced by finding and pursuing a hobby. In addition, new contacts can be made and regular appointments for such a hobby strengthen the integration into everyday life.