Do you get uncomfortable if your friends tell you to go to a forest campfire? Can lighting a match stick bring intense fear and alarm that your clothes may catch a fire?
If you’re afraid of flames, small blazes, or big infernos, you might be suffering from a phobic response known as Pyrophobia.
The fear of fire is common because we were always taught that fire is unsafe and we need to take care while we are around flames. You must have heard this in your childhood also.
Phobias are much more than a normal fear response. Thus the fear of fire is intense, emotionally overwhelming, and can cause extreme forms of anxiety and distress.
In this article, we will highlight the signs and symptoms, triggers and causes, and treatment options for this type of specific phobia.
Pyrophobia – meaning
Pyrophobia is a severe and enormous fear of fire. The fear response is usually out of control and can make the person dizzy and sick. The condition leads to avoiding places or daily activities that may involve the use of fire.
Pyrophobia is a term coined to describe the fear of fire. It happens to be so intense that it affects a person’s normal functioning and daily activities.
The name comes from Greek words; ‘pyr’ means fire and ‘Phobos’ means fear.
Pyrophobia is a part of specific phobias that may get worse from time to time. It is one type of anxiety disorder that can be emotionally overwhelming for the person.
One who suffers from a particular phobia has an overwhelming fear of something that poses very little or no danger in their current situation.
Pyrophobia falls among common phobias and the sufferer may go through intense anxiety that cannot be described in words.
A person can suffer from a specific phobia of spiders, dogs, closed spaces, heights, etc.
The National Institute of Mental Health, NIMH has put out an estimate stating that 12.5 percent of people living in the United States will go through a specific phobia at some point of time in their life.
A person who suffers from the problem of Pyrophobia may look to make sure that everything in their home has the electricity to give them power rather than through gas.
For instance, this fear can motivate them to get hold of an electric stove rather than a gas stove.
It will prevent them from seeing flames. The same thing applies to the way they heat their home.
The extent to which they go to avoid fire at all costs will depend on how severe their problem of Pyrophobia is.
People with Pyrophobia will not be able to tolerate the sight of fire at all. They may show immediate emotional discomfort.
Symptoms of anxiety, body numbness, dizziness, are the common signs when the person encounters the feared stimulus, (fear).
A person who has a full-blown Pyrophobia can go to any extent to avoid being near a fireplace. Even if the fire appears non-threatening, these individuals still show signs of worry and anxiety.
Most often, if a person with Pyrophobia gets exposed to fire, their anxiety goes untamed. The fear response is spontaneous, out of the world.
They cannot control their fear by any chance. Sometimes, if the condition is left just like that, it may become worse over a period of time.
As already referred to, all those with Pyrophobia go through an intense level of worry, uneasiness, and concern; whenever they get exposed to fire.
They cannot get control over this anxiety and hence, end up suffering from extreme emotional pressure.
In certain acute situations, a person who suffers from fear of fire shows a highly intense physical and psychological discomfort.
They can even resort to doing strange things like unplugging various kitchen appliances along with household items like lamps, TV, and Air Conditioners.
They do this to avoid spark coming out from the fuse, resulting in a house fire. Their anxiety can lead to full-fledged panic attacks.
People with this irrational fear of fire can even resort to fighting due to an adrenaline rush.
It can happen in the case of a situation where there is no presence of fire. Maybe there is no immediate threat but the person acts fearfully.
During this state, the psychological discomfort helps them to make decisions of whether they should flee or suffer a panic attack.
These people can even try to take control of their fear by adopting a few counterproductive steps.
The symptoms of Pyrophobia can be divided into physical symptoms and psychological symptoms.
Most of the physical symptoms of Pyrophobia, which one can see among the affected, have similarities with those giving rise to fighting response.
The symptoms are as follows –
- Your heartbeat can get faster
- You can start breathing rapidly or suffer from shortness of breath
- It can result in tightness of your chest
- You can start to shake or tremble
- A dry mouth can make it difficult for you to swallow
- There is a frequent need to go to the bathroom
- You can even suffer from nausea
- You might suddenly start feeling dizzy
- Muscle tension can also arise
- Excessive sweating
- You can faint after suffering a panic attack.
We have already mentioned earlier, people who suffer from the fear of fire or Pyrophobia can even show several psychological or emotional symptoms.
They include the following –
- You might suddenly feel an intense or unreasonable fear while speaking or about the fire.
- There is an inability to control your emotions of fear despite knowing that they are irrational.
- You can start avoiding fire or all those situations where there could be a presence of fire.
- At times, you can even have thoughts about dying or feel as if you are getting choked.
- The anxiety that lies within does not allow you to relax.
- The fear can make you avoid specific tasks involving fire in your daily life.
- Suffering from excess anxiety and different acts of avoidance can lead to depression.
Just like other specific phobias such as arachnophobia, cynophobia, or claustrophobia, Pyrophobia falls in the category of specific phobias in the DSM-5.
Thus, the diagnosis of this disorder is to be done according to the criteria for specific phobias as given in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
The diagnosis of the illness starts with rapport building with the patient. The clinician or therapist will try to know the reasons behind the person’s fear.
Sometimes, you may find that Pyrophobia is just an inconvenience related to fires and flames. But for some people, this fear is severe and utmost. They may not function normally if exposed to fire.
The diagnosis of Pyrophobia is possible if the person meets the following criteria:
- The presence of fire or the thought of it may cause extreme fear.
- The individual may feel consumed by negative thoughts of encountering a fire or getting harmed by fire in any way.
- Avoidance and escape tendencies are common.
- The fear is not proportional to the actual threat. It means that even if the fire can in no way cause harm, the person may still experience anxiety.
- The anxious response has to last for a minimum of 6 months or above for the diagnosis of Pyrophobia.
- Fear causes anguish and pain because it interferes with the daily routine of the person.
- The symptoms of fear cannot be related to any other medical condition.
What causes Pyrophobia?
Pyrophobia is a primal fear. From times immemorial, we were taught that fires are dangerous. One should not go near a fireplace because they may get a burn.
No one knows the exact causal factors of phobias. But we can relate irrational fear to various environmental triggers. People who suffer from fear of fire may have had a bad experience with fire.
Thus, the reasons can either be genetic or unpleasant life experiences related to an inferno of flame.
1. Evolutionary theory
Primitive men discovered fire to cook their food, have light, and get some warmth in cold weather. Fire is the earliest discovery made by humans on this planet.
With so many uses in its kitty, fire is also known for its destruction, harm, and deadly nature.
The evolutionary theory states that we are afraid of fire because our society taught us that flames are harmful. It causes damage and destruction to life and property. Thus, fires are to be avoided at all costs.
When we were small children, our parents taught us that fires are dangerous. We should always stay away from fire.
These teachings became a part of our growing years. Being an adult, we always tried to save ourselves from fire.
Thus, fear became an evolutionary response to a specific element that was seen as damaging to human life.
2. Genetic factors
Scientific researchers have shown that phobia is caused by some hereditary factors. It means that some phobias, if not all run in families.
People suffering from Pyrophobic symptoms also relate to genetic causes. Maybe one or both parents have a predisposed fear of fires.
3. Learned behavior
If you are suffering from Pyrophobia, you must have learned this fear from someone at home. Maybe being a child you had seen your parents showing an aversion for fire.
Common situations would be checking the gas stove many times so that it doesn’t catch fire anyway.
Another example could be avoiding bonfires, forest camping, visiting places where a possible fireplace could be seen.
Sometimes the fear of lighting a candle, cooking on a gas stove may lead to fear responses at home. Later on, these maladaptive responses turned into an irrational fear of fire without being noticed.
4. Negative experience with fire
If you ever had a bad or traumatic experience with fire, it may have led to the trauma. Maybe you got a bad burn and suffered a lot.
Or you have seen some disturbing images of forest fire, burning houses, short circuits, and a fire breaking out in the neighborhood.
The bad experience has left an unhealed wound in your psyche and has led to fear. You could never show confidence in your encounter with fire again in your life.
One bad experience was enough to develop symptoms of extreme fear and flee response.
Thus, past experiences of being hurt or suffering severe injuries from a blaze can also cause extreme symptoms of Pyrophobia.
5. Listening or watching negative media reports on fire
Sometimes, exposure to media reports can increase the fear response. Seeing the disturbing visuals of damage and destruction due to fire causes emotional discomfort.
The person may become apprehensive and insecure if anything goes wrong in the house or neighborhood.
Media reports can also show the death and the hue and cry of people. These visuals are indeed disturbing for a person with Pyrophobia. They may show signs of intense anxiety along with dizziness and feel sick.
Use media information for learning useful things only. At times, they are not real and you may come across many faulty inputs about the fire. Thus, use the information for learning purposes only.
Impact of Pyrophobia
This fear of fire or Pyrophobia can create a devastating impact on your life. You can see the following issues arising among people affected by this phobia.
If your past experience with fire is not that great, you may suffer from various side effects. Some of the complications of Pyrophobia are as follows –
- The mere smell of smoke can lead to an extreme level of anxiety or can even result in a panic attack.
- Someone with Pyrophobia can undertake a regular check-up of their boiler, stove, or other heating elements present in their house.
- They may even fail to tolerate being present in front of campfires or lit candles.
- The phobia can even result in the development of obsessive-compulsive practices like checking the batteries of smoke detectors from time to time. They can also check their oven even if its power is off.
- They can stay away from all those places having any reference of fire or where one can see fire.
- You will refrain from attending the celebration of bonfires.
- You would not want to indulge in cooking food items as that requires fire.
- This problem can distract you from work, social and family life.
- There can be a drastic increase in your stress level.
- Seeing forest fires can cause emotional distress.
- May flee by screaming or yelling after seeing a fire somewhere near them.
Pyrophobia in children (Child fear of fire)
It is normal to come across childhood fears. If you leave these unchecked, they can develop into different phobias when they grow up.
Phobias can emerge among children from the early age of 5 years. They can result in traumatic experiences.
The same thing applies to Pyrophobia. Children can also have this phobia of fire. They might resist going close to the fire or anything that might result in the emergence of fire.
The following symptoms come up in their response to fire –
- Children who are suffering from Pyrophobic symptoms can start to cry.
- They might try to cling on to their caretakers.
- A child can even freeze or lose consciousness out of extreme fear.
- They may scream seeing a controlled fire as well.
- It is also possible for them to throw some behavioral tantrums.
- They can refuse to leave their parent’s side.
- One can also see them unwilling to get close to the fire.
- You might notice that they are not interested in talking about fire.
How to deal with your child’s fear of fire?
There are two most prevalent techniques that mental health professionals adopt to help individuals deal with this mental illness of Pyrophobia.
They are Exposure Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Let us briefly discuss the two therapies:
One of the most effective ways to help your child deal with the problem of Pyrophobia is by making them undergo exposure therapy.
Exposure therapy helps children to face their fears. It uses gradual and repetitive exposure to the feared situation or object.
The child will be exposed to small fires and their reactions are noted. Slowly child learns the art of managing their panic, fear, anxiety, and depression.
If you or your children have Pyrophobia, the mental health professional conducting exposure therapy will adopt the following process:
- Make you talk of fire or enable you to think of it.
- Let them see pictures or some videos showing fire.
- Allow you and your children to get relatively close to the fire.
- Exposing the child to a non-danger situation involving fire. Maybe you will be present there as an escort to safeguard the child.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is frequently used along with exposure therapy to manage Pyrophobia effectively.
It requires an affected individual to work with their therapist to understand and implement different strategies to help them manage their symptoms of fear and anxiety.
Following are some of the ways through which you can work along with your health professional and your child to overcome the fear of fire:
- You will talk about your feelings and fears with the health professional, who will assist you in understanding how your thought patterns play a significant role in anxiety symptoms.
- The professional will find a link between your thoughts and symptoms. Then, you and your therapist will work together to reduce or get rid of them completely.
- During this therapy, your therapist will keep stressing that the main object of your fear poses very little or no threat to you.
- It would help you relax and go a long way towards changing your behavioral patterns.
- The expert can even help you learn a few strategies to remain calm while facing the fire. They include breathing control and relaxation techniques.
Quick Facts about Pyrophobia
Some of the quick facts about Pyrophobia are –
- Pyrophobia is not a normal dislike or fear of fire. It is irrational, intense, and profound.
- This specific phobia is diagnosed only if the person suffers from intense fear and anxiousness for 6 months or above.
- Any kind of simple exposure such as lighting a candle, putting on the cooking stove can elicit a fear response.
- Pyrophobia symptoms may arise due to a mere thought of fire, even if there is no real fire in place.
- The person may shout and scream, feel dizzy, or faint at the spot out of an uncontrolled fear.
- Wherever they go, the person starts by noticing the escape doors. This gives them an assurance that they can escape easily if a fire breaks out.
- Pyrophobia is impairing and crippling most of the time. The sufferer goes through a hell that is hard to be explained to others.
The prognosis of this disorder is promising. Most patients show good results with the use of exposure therapy.
With appropriate and timely treatment, people with Pyrophobia can easily recover from their illness.
The mindset of society towards phobias needs to be changed. Patients should not feel that they are alone in this journey. The support of friends and family members can go a long way in a successful recovery.
When to see the doctor?
Fire is an integral part of your daily life. Thus, it may not be possible for you to stay away from the fire for a very long time. You may suffer from intense anxiety that is difficult to tame.
It may also interfere with your day-to-day work. In such a situation, it is advisable to see your doctor and treat Pyrophobia symptoms as early as possible.
You can also visit a therapist who will guide you through a proper treatment regime.
If your symptoms are terribly disturbing and are not getting better anyways, you should take medical advice without a delay.
How would you manage Pyrophobia?
Managing Pyrophobia symptoms may include self-help strategies and psychotherapy. If you try your best foot forward to overcome the deepest fear of fire, you can surely do it.
Some self-help tips can help you manage the initial discomfort that stems from the overwhelming fear of fire. You may try doing the following:
- You can practice regular deep breathing to stay calm in times of stress.
- Encounter small fires quite often such as lighting a candle or cooking a small meal for yourself.
- Watch videos of how others are fighting small fires at home
- Replace your negative thoughts about fires by assuming a positive outcome, like visualizing a scene where you encountered a small incident of fire successfully.
- Take help from family members and support groups to know how others deal with Pyrophobia symptoms.
Treatments for Pyrophobia
Pyrophobia is intense fear. Thus, its magnitude is much higher than a normal fear or emotional discomfort. People who suffer from this mental health condition may either faint or suffer an immediate blackout.
The most popular treatment techniques for Pyrophobia or any other specific phobias happen to be exposure therapy, cognitive therapy, and relaxation exercises.
Apart from psychotherapy, medication can also be given to reduce anxiety symptoms.
1. Exposure therapy
In this type of psychotherapy, the patient is slowly exposed to the feared stimulus. In this case, it is the fire.
Small exposures such as helping them light a candle and hold the candle in hand for some time can help in overcoming fear.
The person can be trained to alter their perception of fire. They can be exposed to campfires or see visuals of people enjoying moments of joy and happiness near a fireplace.
Sometimes computer simulated programs are used and the person is exposed to fire virtually. The motto of this treatment is to make them tolerate fire and delay immediate fear responses.
Exposure therapy is usually given over an extended period of time. The intensity of the feared stimulus is increased gradually till the patient completely overcomes the fear.
This therapy is the best treatment option for specific phobias. Exposure therapy desensitizes the fear response of the patient by helping them tolerate the fear response gradually.
At the beginning of exposure therapy, the patient is taught to stay calm. They are made to practice relaxation exercises so that they can face their fears easily.
2. Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Cognitive behavior therapy aims at changing the way a person thinks. The aim of this technique is to alter perceptions and negative experiences about the fire.
The person is made to realize that all fire-related situations are not dangerous.
CBT is a kind of talk therapy where the therapist tries to analyze the root cause of the person’s fear. The purpose of treatment is to make the person aware of the irrational fear that they are suffering from.
It consists of behavior modification techniques and cognitive reframing to change the person’s negative thoughts into positive ones.
This is the second line of treatment for Pyrophobia. If the therapist feels that psychotherapy alone cannot reduce your anxiety symptoms, they may tell you to seek medical advice from a doctor.
The doctor usually prescribes anti-anxiety drugs and beta-blockers to ease the negative side effects of the symptoms.
If you are taking medication for specific phobias, always follow the prescribed guidelines of the doctor to get the best results.
4. Calming exercises
There are many different types of relaxation techniques that help in Pyrophobia. It reduces the immediate fear response.
Physical symptoms like trembling, dry mouth, palpitations can be reduced by calming the constant fear.
Mindfulness mediation is one of the best ways to reduce the worries and constant anxiety that this disease brings.
People with Pyrophobia suffer from a persistent and constant fear of fire. Calming techniques can soothe their over-agitated mind.
If they find that the fire is a controlled, small flare; then they may easily override their fear responses.
The calming exercises focus on deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, guided meditation, etc. These methods reduce anxiety and immediate fear responses.
Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’
To end with optimism, we can say that Pyrophobia is a treatable condition. The sufferer may go through a lot of agony and anguish. It’s so real that the person may feel that they are in a complete mess.
They are not able to change their thoughts and the associated fears.
But the good news is, with timely treatment and consistent endeavors of the patient, they can check the symptoms and overcome the fear of fire successfully.
A Psychologist with a master's degree in Psychology, a former school psychologist, and a teacher by profession Chandrani loves to live life simply and happily. She is an avid reader and a keen observer. Writing has always been a passion for her, since her school days. It helps to de-stress and keeps her mentally agile. Pursuing a career in writing was a chance occurrence when she started to pen down her thoughts and experiences for a few childcare and parenting websites. Her lovable niche includes mental health, parenting, childcare, and self-improvement. She is here to share her thoughts and experiences and enrich the lives of few if not many.