As a psychologist, who is the most disturbing individual you have ever met?

“As a psychologist, who is the most disturbing individual you have ever met?”

Suspense Fiction Author.

I’m not a professional psychologist, so if that is important to you, feel free to skip this answer.

I’m a suspense fiction author who writes mainly about protagonist who are criminals and/or deviants. Since I take research seriously, I’ve never shied away from connecting with ‘odd’ people who might give me insight in their psyche. Or psycho, as some were at the extreme end of the Antisocial Personality Disorder spectrum. One of the scariest people I met was Jan, about whom I wrote in Martyn V. Halm's answer to Who is the scariest person you know and why?

However, despite being a full-blown psycho with at least two murders in his past, Jan wasn’t the most disturbed person.

The most disturbed person I ever met was a red-headed woman, who called herself ‘vuurvliegje’ (firefly). I thought her nickname had to do with her flaming red hair, but I didn’t learn of the more ominous meaning later.

I met her in the time I still smoked and used a zippo lighter. She asked if she could use my lighter and I handed it to her, but instead of lighting a cigarette, she just flicked it on and put the Zippo on the table as some sort of candle. After a few minutes of her staring silently into the flame as if hypnotised, I closed the lid and put the lighter to the side with my tobacco. There was a weird look in her eyes when I did that — disappointment? anger? — but she soon lightened up and we had a pleasant conversation, but I could see her glance time and again at my Zippo.

We ended up sleeping together and that’s when I found her whole back was covered in scar tissue from burns. As I tend to ‘under-react’ and didn’t appear horrified by her scarred skin, she told me in the afterglow how she came to be burned. Turned out her stepfather used to rape her when she was a pre-teen. A few years after he started, she met a counsellor, who told her to tell her stepfather to just stop and threaten to call the police if he persisted. I know this sounds incredible, but it happened in the 1980s and apparently that’s how this counsellor thought this issue could be solved. Anyway, she told her stepfather that she would call the police if he laid a hand on her and her stepfather appeared contrite and apologetic.

Until later that night, when her stepfather doused her sleeping body in ‘wasbenzine’ (white spirit or dry-cleaning naphta) and set her bed on fire. She managed to escape her burning bed with only her back being burned because she rolled on the floor which extinguished the flames. Her mother called the police and the paramedics and she was rushed to the burn ward while her stepfather was arrested.

So her mother divorced her stepfather while she recuperated in the burn ward. Instead of becoming phobic about open fire, she became obsessed with fire and started setting fires in abandoned buildings. She was arrested after her fourth fire and stayed in a mental institute until she was eighteen. Her doctors felt she was no longer a danger after four years of therapy, so she was set free.

And continued setting fires, except that she grew smarter and managed not to get arrested again.

Harrowing story, right?

Four years after I met her, I got an invitation to her funeral. We had been in sporadic contact and apparently my address had been in one of her notebooks, circled with hearts on fire, so her mother figured I was important to her.

So I learned that she had died in a fire (surprise!) and had to be identified by her teeth. At the funeral I met her mother, who had fire scars on her neck and face (and I suspected more burns under her clothes) and she told me that her daughter had been an incorrigible pyromaniac from a young age, so this outcome wasn’t unexpected. I told her that it could’ve been the trauma of being set on fire by her stepdad that could’ve been the origin. Her mother blinked at me and shook her head. Her stepfather had raped her, that was true, but her mother hadn’t know until her daughter doused both of her parents and set their bed on fire. Her rapist stepdad almost died and both mother and daughter suffered terrible burns and were kept in burn wards for months on end. After she almost burned her parents to death, she spent a year in a mental institute, where she managed to convince the therapists that she had a ‘psychotic break’ due to the rapes and her obsession with fire went unnoticed.

I guess I should be happy that she only drew my name in a circle of hearts on fire and didn’t firebomb our bed after sex…

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