Throughout the history of mankind, fire has played a role as both an ally and an enemy of man. Thanks to it, a great number of advances and inventions have been possible that have meant an improvement in the development of humanity.
However, we cannot ignore the danger of this one. Because it is poorly controlled, it can be deadly, hence the fear it arouses among people. However, when this fear becomes excessive we may be faced with a case of arsonphobia .
Related article: “The 15 rarest phobias that exist”
What is arsonphobia?
Among the long list of specific phobias that exist, arsonophobia is that anxiety disorder in which the person experiences a pathological fear of fire or fires . This phobia can also be known as pyrophobia .
As with all other specific anxiety disorders, when people with arson phobia face or think they must face the feared stimulus, a series of reactions, both physical and psychological, are initiated that are characteristic of very high states of stress and anxiety.
It is understandable that a person may experience some degree of fear in the presence of fire and even more so in the face of a fire, this is considered a normal and adaptive fear, which appears as a survival response. However, if this response is generalised to any situation and is disproportionate it may be considered as a specific phobia, specifically arsonophobia .
How do you distinguish it from a normative fear?
There are a number of specific characteristics that allow us to differentiate between a habitual reaction or response to a danger and a pathological phobia or fear. To do this, we must take into account what consequences or direct effects this fear has on the person’s day-to-day life.
Therefore, in cases where the person suffers from arsonphobia, he or she will experience strong anxiety reactions to the appearance of the phobic or aversive stimulus; in this case, fire. In addition, it is very possible that this fear will cause interference in carrying out a normal life, so it is always advisable to consult a professional psychologist.
Finally, it is necessary to take into account a series of requirements and qualities of fear disorders, which serve to define the phobia and enable its diagnosis. These qualities are the following.
1. It is a disproportionate fear
One of the features that differentiates a natural fear from a disproportionate fear is that in arsonphobia the sensation of fear experienced is completely disproportionate to the real threat posed by the phobic stimulus.
In this case, the person may overreact to the perception of a burning match or even to a lit kitchen stove.
2. It is irrational
Subjects with arsonphobia are absolutely unable to find a reasonable and justified explanation for their fear reactions . To the extent that, in many cases, the person is perfectly aware that the stimulus is not dangerous in itself but is still unable to prevent the anxiety response from appearing.
3. It is uncontrollable
Finally, the third defining characteristic of a phobic fear is that this fear is absolutely uncontrollable for the person with arsonphobia. This means that the person cannot avoid the appearance of anxiety and fear reactions, nor can he or she control them while experiencing them.
Since arsonphobia is one of the specific phobias listed, its symptomatology is very similar to the rest of the pathological fears of this type . The clinical picture is distinguished by its anxious nature and appears every time the person faces or thinks about situations related to fire or fires.
This clinical picture is classified into physical symptoms, cognitive symptoms and behavioral symptoms; which usually appear automatically and suddenly, and only disappear when the person has managed to escape or avoid the phobic stimulus.
1. Physical symptoms
The first symptoms that the patient with arsonphobia is aware of are physical symptoms. The appearance of the phobic stimulus, fire, causes a hyperactivity of the person’s nervous system which triggers all kinds of changes and transformations in the person.
Among the symptoms that can appear during a phobic episode are :
- Increased heart rate
- Increased respiratory rate
- Feeling of suffocation or shortness of breath
- Increased muscle tension
- Gastrointestinal problems such as stomach pain or diarrhea
- Increased sweating
- Dizziness and lightheadedness
- Nausea and/or vomiting
Another group of symptoms that appear in arsonphobia are cognitive symptoms. These consist of a series of beliefs and speculations, which can become obsessive , in relation to the fear of fire and arson.
These distorted thoughts and ideas favor the advancement and development of phobia and are distinguished because the person possesses an illogical and irrational set of beliefs about the danger of fire. In addition, these symptoms are often accompanied by mental images of a catastrophic nature about this element.
3. Behavioral symptoms
As with other specific anxiety disorders, arsonophobia is also accompanied by behavioural symptoms. These symptoms are manifested through avoidance and escape behaviours .
Avoidance behaviors refer to all those behaviors or acts that the person carries out to avoid encountering the phobic stimulus and thus avoid experiencing negative sensations. An example may be the refusal to cook with fire or to use any gas appliance that could cause a fire.
On the other hand, escape behaviors are manifested when the subject has not been able to avoid in confrontation with the phobic stimulus, so he will carry out any behavior that is necessary to escape from the situation in which he finds himself and generates high levels of anxiety.
Despite the fact that it is sometimes difficult to determine the specific origin of a phobia, since not even the patient is capable of associating it with any traumatic event, there are a series of factors that may favour or promote the appearance and development of this pathological fear .
The existence of a genetic predisposition to the effects of anxiety and stress, combined with the experience of a highly traumatic or emotionally charged situation in which fire appears in any form, can most likely trigger the appearance of arsonophobia.
However, the impact that vicarious or imitative learning can have on the acquisition of a phobia is being studied.
Although the exact incidence of this phobia in the population is not known, it is estimated that it appears more frequently in those people whose jobs involve contact with fire to a greater or lesser extent, such as firefighters or forestry agents.
Both in these cases and in that of any other person suffering from this disorder, there are some psychological interventions and treatments that can achieve the reduction of symptoms and even make the person recover and overcome his phobic fear.
Psychological treatment is based on three different principles or actions . The first consists of carrying out a cognitive restructuring that promotes the modification of the distorted thoughts that the person possesses with respect to fire.
In addition, live exposure or systematic desensitization techniques will be carried out, by which the patient is gradually exposed to the stimulus or phobic situation. This can be done live, in controlled environments and contexts, or through imagination.
Finally, these techniques are accompanied by training in relaxation skills, which decrease the levels of excitement in the nervous system and help the person to be able to face his or her fears in the best possible way.