What Is Pyromania And What Do You Need To Know About It?

Updated November 22, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Pyromania is a rare mental health disorder characterized by a fascination with fire. Those living with it can’t help but compulsively set fires, and they usually do so to relieve anxiety or other kinds of tension built up in their body. Setting the fire brings them satisfaction and pleasure, and the cycle normally repeats itself over and over, with the person feeling they cannot stop. While the majority of people with pyromania do not want to hurt anyone or damage anything, it’s always a risk they take. Getting treatment for pyromania is vital to keep the individual and the people and property they come in contact with safe. We’ll be discussing pyromania in-depth, including misconceptions and details to be aware of.

Are You Struggling To Control Your Impulses?

What Is Pyromania?

It’s essential to be clear about what pyromania is and what it isn't. Pyromania, at its core, is an impulse disorder marked by a compulsive need to set fires in order to stave off some kind of tension. This tension could be anxiety, arousal, stress, or something else. Those with pyromania do not intend to hurt other people or destroy property. However, since fires can be hard to contain, sometimes they end up doing so. A rare disorder, pyromania affects around just 1% of adults in the United States and up to 3.5% of children. 

By definition, an arsonist and a pyromaniac are not the same. An arsonist is someone who wants to set fires. They actively seek out situations and places where they can set fires and do so repeatedly. A pyromaniac does not want to set fires, but they feel a compulsive need to set them. The main difference between the two is the actual desire to set fires, not the action itself. Arsonists may set fires for a number of different reasons, such as for revenge, financial gain, to release anger, or to seem like a hero. Those committing arson can receive felonies as a consequence of their actions. 

People with pyromania are fascinated by fire in all its forms, and that means it's not just setting fires that they are intrigued by. They're captivated by all fire-related activities and may even engage in other activities or interests related to fire, like reading about it, watching movies or shows about it, or even working in a profession that's related to it. These individuals like anything and everything they can find about fire and experience a great release of tension and stress each time they set one.

Symptoms Of Pyromania

Although pyromania is more common in males than females, anyone can struggle with the disorder. It's also possible for adolescents or adults to experience the initial onset and, unlike many other disorders, those with learning disabilities and those who have difficulty with social skills are at a slightly higher risk of developing it. Individuals may engage in these behaviors because of the disorder itself or for other reasons, such as winning the approval of others, engaging in a variety of delinquent behaviors, or simply crying out for help. This is why it’s important to understand the meaning behind someone’s actions.

Burning things is one of the hallmark symptoms of pyromania, but this is not limited to bigger things alone. For example, someone with pyromania may constantly burn holes in fabrics such as clothing or rugs. They may burn paper or other materials in trash cans or over the stove. Or they might have burn marks and scars on themselves because of experiments or fires set. These individuals may hoard matches and lighters and play with them constantly or turn on lighters just to watch the flames. 

Pyromania can escalate over time. At first, a person with the disorder may not even set anything on fire every time they light a match. They might eventually start to build up to the actual actions, starting with smaller flames and setting fires to something larger or more dangerous later on. 

The individual may also be attracted to other fires, even those that they do not set themselves. They may be fascinated with watching them either in person or on TV or hearing about fires that are taking place in different parts of their hometown or even other parts of the state or country. They might enjoy talking about fires as well and may seek out friends who are like-minded or who work in fire-related jobs.

Since people with pyromania are obsessed with everything related to fires, they may be attracted to fire departments and those who work directly in line with fire. Visiting fire departments or volunteering as a firefighter to get even more up close and personal with fires that occur in the area may be activities that they engage in. This may even involve fires that they have set themselves.

What Causes Pyromania?

There are some theories, but not definite answers, as to what causes pyromania. Since the intent behind the fire-setting is to relieve stress or built-up tension and not to commit a crime, get any material gain, or seek revenge, there are usually other factors behind the behavior. Research suggests that those living with pyromania may have other impulse control disorders, a mood disorder, engage in substance use, or live with other psychiatric or mental disorders. Other possible causes include genetic inheritance, experiencing abuse or neglect as a child, having an imbalance of brain chemicals, or going through a traumatic event or major loss.

If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse in any form, reach out right away to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) for immediate support, advice, and assistance. 

Seeking Treatment

Getting treatment for pyromania as soon as symptoms appear is vital. Those who have the disorder can pose danger to themselves, other people, and property. Since fires of every size have the potential to cause a great deal of loss, it’s important to find support sooner rather than later. Pyromania can intensify over time, but if the disorder can be managed early on, it may not get to a point where it worsens. Curbing compulsions alone is an incredibly difficult thing to do, which is why professional support is almost always necessary for those with pyromania. 

Recognizing pyromania can be tough, and individuals may be punished by parents, friends, or even the law before they’re able to get help. This often only prolongs the struggle and holds the person back. One of the most effective methods for treatment is seeking the help of a mental health professional, like a psychologist, psychiatrist, or therapist. 

The key is learning to identify and redirect the urge to start a fire into something more productive. Since fire starting is an impulse from some other influence on the individual's life, learning what stressors cause the impulse can be an effective first step. Problem-solving skills can be instrumental in helping to keep impulses to a minimum and redirecting them when they do occur. Figuring out new ways to relieve the tension or cut down on stress can also be of benefit to the healing process. 

Different types of therapy can assist those with pyromania, such as family therapy or interaction with those who have suffered injuries because of a fire. This may help the individual understand more about the consequences of the fires that they set and recognize the importance of following through on treatment. Injury, loss of property, death, and incarceration are all very real possibilities if you are setting fires.  Talking to someone early on can get you started on a more productive path.

Online Therapy With BetterHelp

While some mental health conditions can be managed effectively at home or by oneself, pyromania can be very difficult to overcome without a professional. For this reason, individuals struggling with this disorder are encouraged to reach out to a licensed mental health counselor. BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that connects those in need with therapists from all around the country who specialize in a wide range of disorders. 

Confiding in someone about impulses you feel you have no control over can be intimidating. Online therapy allows you to open up in a safe environment to someone who is there to help rather than judge you, no matter where you choose to get connected. 

The Effectiveness Of Online Therapy

Online therapy can be an effective treatment for a variety of mental health conditions, including those involving impulses and compulsions. One study found that internet-delivered cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) successfully reduced OCD symptoms in young people. Participants were able to function better from day to day and experienced fewer depressive symptoms as well. Researchers concluded that the online intervention was just as effective as conventional, face-to-face CBT treatment, making it a viable therapeutic alternative.

Are You Struggling To Control Your Impulses?

The Takeaway 

Pyromania is a rare but serious mental health disorder that requires prompt attention. Left untreated, the disorder can lead to legal, social, emotional, mental, and socioeconomic consequences. Due to the nature of pyromania, a mental health professional’s assistance is often needed to bring it under control. Online therapeutic interventions that utilize cognitive behavioral therapy may help individuals find more productive outlets for the stress, anxiety, and tension they’re experiencing. This can reduce the risk of hurting themselves and other people and decrease the likelihood of property damage.

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