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Fanning The Flames: The Mind of a Pyromaniac

There are people that put out fires and there are people that start them. The latter category tends to be divided into a variety of groups. There are the ones that start fires for a particular purpose, such as political or financial gain. There are the arsonists, who start fires to break the law. Finally, there are the ones that start fires because, in theory, there is something fractured about their mental health and stability. Pyromania is often categorized as a form of psychosis that centers around fires, explosions, and virtually anything directly connected to the two.

People who start fires because of this condition often lack any other motive for burning things other than a deep psychological “drive” or “need” to do so. Pyromania is characterized not by direct external factors, but the mind's interpretation of them. For example, a period of great stress and tension can be taken as the trigger for the overwhelming impulsive desire to burn. In the psychology of pyromania, the only form of stress relief that will actually work is to start a fire, preferably as big as possible, and then observe the blaze and the aftermath. Other factors can also cause a person's fire-starting tendencies to manifest, such as arousal or the need for release.

Regardless of the trigger, fires and explosions universally provide the patient with psychological comfort and release, though there are some conjectured cases of sexual release related to pyromania. Emotional stability appears to play a critical role in the development and diagnosis of pyromania. Anger, depression, repression, and loneliness all play a role in the formation of the problem. An exceedingly rare condition, pyromania has often been claimed by various people simply because they enjoy watching fires, but lack any psychological symptoms to show they actually have the disorder. This behavior is often confused by untrained persons as a sign of pyromania, though a similar trait is often found in genuine pyromaniacs. Aside from relief and gratification, the process of starting and observing (and, in some cases, guiding) the flames has also been known to be a source of great emotional and psychological comfort to a pyromaniac. For treating the problem, behavioral modification is the most commonly used method, though there are other known approaches. One of the less common techniques involves analyzing the underlying psychological roots behind the pyromania and attempting to understand the condition and provide the patient a framework for alleviating the problem. For younger patients, family and group therapy has also seen some degree of use. However, these methods generally produce poor results in patients.

Serotonin-uptake inhibitors can be used as a supplement to therapeutic approaches, though they are not usually prescribed. In a number of cases, recent studies have shown that allowing a patient to carry out their desires in a simulated or controlled environment has the same effect as actually starting a fire. This avenue is still being researched, mainly because there is no evidence that simulated fires are going to provide a long-term release from the problem. Indeed, having someone start virtual fires may intensify the pyromania in the long-term.


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