Pyromania is known as an impulse control disorder found in people who deliberately set fires for pleasure or personal gratification to seek relief or relieve tension. As an impulse control disorder, a person diagnosed with the condition fails to resist the impulsive desire to set fires as opposed to the organized planning of an arsonist. While arson is typically used to burn things down in order to receive gain of some sort—ranging from monetary to personal—pyromaniacs feel the urge to burn things in order to instantly receive pleasure or relief.
Similar to the impulse control disorder in kleptomania, where individuals constantly want to steal things for no apparent need or reason, pyromania is a result of impulses and not solely for destructive purposes. Pyromania, which is more likely in boys that hit puberty and have entered adulthood, induces a state of excitement in the individual. Pyromaniacs don’t have a way to control when and where they are going to set a fire—the meaning of a fire for most pyromaniacs involves something as little as lighting a match or looking at a lit candle.
Scientists still don’t know whether pyromania is caused biologically, but it does exist. The problem with determining if somebody is a pyromaniac is that just because somebody starts a fire, they are not considered victims of pyromania. In order to decide whether or not someone exhibits this disorder, scientists have to evaluate arson case reports and imprisoned arsonists.
While pyromania appears to be an insignificant disorder due to its rarity, it is one that can affect anybody. Currently, less than one percent of the population is diagnosed with the disorder. However, studies show that it can affect children as young as three years old. It has been proven that 90 percent of the people who exhibit the pyromania disorder are males.
Quick Facts on Pyromania
- More men than women are diagnosed with pyromania.
- Pyromania is extremely rare—less than one percent of reported recent studies were related to pyromania.
- Pyromania may begin in childhood, but there is no conclusive data regarding the typical age of onset .
- When a person is a pyromaniac, they set fire for anything but a sense of satisfaction.
- To be considered a pyromaniac, a person must set fire to something more than once.
- To be considered a pyromaniac, all other options—manic episodes, conduct disorder, etc.—must be eliminated.
- According to the National Fire Protection Association (1998), fires that children or juvenile pyromaniacs set caused 6,215 people to die; injuries to nearly 31,000 individuals; and $11 billion worth of property damage.
Although it is uncertain why the majority of pyromaniacs are men, there have been studies that reveal possible reasons for pyromaniac behavior. It seems that individual factors play a role in the pyromaniac’s actions. For instance, almost all pyromaniacs have committed crimes prior, including:
- 11 percent of teenage fire starters have been charged with forcible rape.
- 18 percent of pyromaniac adolescents have been charged with nonviolent sexual crimes.
- 19 percent of youth fire starters, who are said to have pyromania, have vandalized property.
Whether committing crimes has a direct correlation to pyromania is still unknown, but the concept brings scientists one step closer to discovering the disorder’s presence. Besides committing crimes, it is also believed that pyromaniacs commit arson in order to receive attention from friends or family. Pyromaniacs use arson in order to feel superior.
While individual factors play a role in pyromania, it is also believed that environmental factors can be a cause. A pyromaniac’s social environment may serve as a catalyst in committing arson. Some pyromaniacs commit arson due to having been sexually abused and neglected by others. The following are some of the environmental factors that may play a role in the disorder for children and teens:
- Children and teens who are pyromaniacs are more likely to live in a household without their biological father or another suitable replacement father figure in the home.
- In school and social settings, children or adolescents who constantly seek attention from their parents or authority figures may be more likely to be involved with impulsive behaviors.
- Lack of friends or being bullied can lead to the need to be impulsive with pyromania in order for the individual to feel better about themselves.
- Being abused in some way, such as physically, sexually or emotionally, at some point in their life.
- Being in an environment where somebody else is setting fires inappropriately or using fire as a way to relieve stress can cause the development of a fascination with pyromania for an individual.
Other Causes of Pyromania
- Children or teens dealing with abuse or neglect may see pyromania as a way to take revenge on somebody in their lives, such as a domineering parent or one who doesn’t show affection or attention.
- Children associated with having antisocial traits are more likely to participate in impulse control behaviors, such as pyromania.
- Children who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or other disorders associated with their inability to adjust to everyday life.
- Children who use pyromania in order to make themselves feel good are more likely to want to feel more powerful or as if they are more prestigious than they actually are.
Treatment for Pyromania
Treatment for pyromania is difficult because little is known about the disorder. Behavioral therapy, which helps victims of the disorder control their impulses and urges to set fires—and direct their impulses toward healthier actions—seems to be the only cure for pyromania. Due to the high risk of injury, death, damage to property and incarceration, it is vital to seek treatment immediately upon diagnosis. Pyromania that starts in childhood usually continues into adulthood and doesn’t stop on its own or as a result of any type of punishment.
The individual who is diagnosed with pyromania can benefit from therapy to learn to pay attention to feelings of tension that build up inside, figure out what causes the urge, understand the effects and find new ways to release the feelings that are not related to fire. Teaching the individual better problem-solving skills and using a graph to map the chain of events that lead to the individual’s inner feelings and external, fire-related behavior can accomplish this. In addition, individuals with pyromania may benefit from fire safety lessons and exposure to people who have suffered burns from fires.
It is best to teach children about fire safety at an early age and ensure they are kept away from hazardous supplies. Family counseling can also help the individual’s family better understand the disorder and learn how to keep a safe home environment. While little is known about pyromania, scientists continue to research this serious disorder.