Pyromania: causes, symptoms and effects of this disorder

Pyros. This Greek word refers to one of the four primary elements of nature for the Greeks, fire. This element has presented throughout history an interesting dichotomy, which can symbolize energy, dynamism, warmth, affection and passion, but also hatred, destruction and madness.

Fire has therefore been an element since antiquity that has aroused great fascination and great respect. however, Some people get too fixated on it, Need to provoke to calm your tension and your anxiety, to calm your impulses whatever the serious effects that this can cause on the environment or on other people or animals. These people suffer from the disorder known as pyromania.

Pyromania: a disorder of impulse control

Pyromania is an impulse control disorder, Which are characterized by the presence of an uncontrollable need to perform a harmful or illegal act, regardless of its repercussions. In this type of disorder suddenly appears a high level of stress which they must relieve by committing the act in question, after which they feel a high level of well-being. This process is largely reminiscent of that observed in anxiety disorders, substance abuse and other disorders related to drug addiction or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

In the case of pyromania, the diagnosis is made in front of individuals who have deliberately started fires on several occasions, feeling tensions before causing them and producing a high sense of well-being after the start of the fire or after having seen its consequences. . The provocation of the fire is not due to the pursuit of economic, personal or social benefit. These individuals have at all times a great fascination with the observation of flames.

What is pyromania and what is not

The fact that a human being causes a fire can be due to a large number of causes. For example, unintentional fires can occur and are common due to uncivil or negligent actions, such as leaving flammable materials, cigarette ends or bottles in areas with vegetation. In this case, we would not be faced with a case of pyromania, because its diagnosis requires that the fire be intentional..

One of the most confusing and often confused labels with pyromania is incendiary. Arsonists are those subjects who, like arsonists, deliberately start a fire, but unlike arsonists, they do so with a clear purpose, pursuing a specific benefit, or causing harm to another person or institution.

Pyromania is also not considered the production of fire due to other mental disorders such as schizophrenia, mania, dementia or drug addiction, nor fires caused by subjects with antisocial personality disorder ( or dissocial in children).

Profile of the arsonist

While all people are different from each other, with great individual differences marking one’s own identity, common patterns can often be seen between different subjects. This occurs both at the non-clinical population level and at the clinical level.

In the case of individuals suffering from arson or arsonists, it is possible to consider the existence of a typical profile. About 90% of people with arson are young men, Who tend to suffer from emotional issues and often have a history full of frustrations on a personal level, often with some level of resentment because of it.

In this disorder, the presence of an unsociable personality prevails, as well as a lower than average IQ (although this is not true in all cases). These are subjects with a high level of frustration, a feeling of existential emptiness, a strong sense of inferiority who exhibit feelings of little control, power or worth, which they try to compensate with the empowerment they feel by provoking the fire.

It is also common for these subjects to come from unstructured families., In which they suffered sexual abuse and / or abuse as a child. Likewise, the complete absence of a father figure is observed in many cases.

On the professional level, their great attraction to fires pushes arsonists to try to bind themselves to related work or from which they have access to their object of stimulation, fire. In this way, it is common for them to try to get into the fire department, or even to participate as volunteers in firefighting tasks. It is common for many of them to end up helping to extinguish the fires they cause themselves, so that they can observe the effects of the flames firsthand.

Pyromaniacal behaviors are, along with the abuse and mutilation of animals and extremely violent actions and lack of empathy, possible indicators of psychopathy.

Etiology (causes) of the disorder

There are many possible causes of this disorder.

At the psychological level, we consider the presence of a high level of sensation seekingCombined with the need for power and care resulting from a lack of social contact and skills to create or maintain bonds with others, it can be causes of arsonism. Inciting fires has also been seen as a way to express deep feelings such as anger at feelings of inferiority. Finally, parenting models in which child abuse, abuse and neglect abound, or traumatic experiences such as child sexual abuse, can also lead to this type of disorder.

At the neurobiological level, it has been correlated, like other impulse disorders, with the presence of low levels of serotonin in the brain, as well as a deregulation of dopamine and norepinephrine. The presence of hypoglycemia has also been observed in many arsonist individuals.

The temporal lobe and the limbic system are also involved in this disorder, due to the management of impulses and emotions. The frontal lobe and the orbitofrontal cortex are also involved, failing in the process of inhibitory behavior.

possible treatments

Pyromania is a rare disorder. His treatment has mainly focused on cognitive behavioral therapy, although treatments have been carried out from other theoretical aspects, such as psychodynamics.

The treatment in question is based on the promotion of impulse control and self-control through behavior modification techniques, conflict resolution techniques, automatic detection of stress levels and the application of relaxation techniques such as breathing. These techniques promote that the individual is better able to cope with the problems, but for the treatment to be effective, it is also necessary to work on the empowerment of the patient, helping to work on self-image and self-esteem. as well as on personal interactions. Working on empathy can also help.

It should be noted that the arsonist usually does not come to the consultation alone, as he is usually brought there by people close to the patient or by court order, as most do not usually show remorse for their actions despite their knowledge. danger they entail. It is also very important to carry out prevention tasks from childhood.

Bibliographical references:

  • American Psychatric Association. (2002). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Revised text. DSM-IV-TR. Masson. Barcelona.
  • Belloch, Sandín and Ramos (2008). Manual of psychopathology. Madrid. MacGraw-Hill (vol. 1 and 2). revised edition
  • Grant, JE and Won, KS (2007). Clinical features and psychiatric comorbidity of pyromania. J Clin Psychiatry. 68 (11): 1717-22
  • Sants, JL; Garcia, LI; Calderon, MA; Sanz, LJ; of rivers, P .; Left, S .; Román, P .; Hernangómez, L .; Navas, E .; Lladre, A and Álvarez-Cienfuegos, L. (2012). Clinical Psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 02. CEDE. Madrid.

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