Clowns have been around for thousands of years. Court jesters, village fools and the circus clowns we all recognize, have long been a source of entertainment. While their aim is generally to make us laugh, for some people they send a shiver down the spine, and more besides.
An excessive fear of clowns is known as Coulrophobia, the origins of which are unknown. This relatively new condition is not officially recognized as a phobia, but in recent years an increasing number of sufferers have diagnosed themselves with it.
Classic anxiety symptoms, found in many other phobias are very much apparent in sufferers of Coulrophobia. It is believed the condition escalated around the 1980’s, after the infamous Stephen King novel – and later movie – IT, was introduced to the public realm.
CAUSES OF COULROPHOBIA
It is believed that the vast majority of cases have roots in early childhood experiences. Before the age of 4 years old, children are able to distinguish between faces that most adults would regard as identical, in humans and in animals. As such, they are very reactive to unfamiliar facial features on familiar body types.
It is believed that clowns, with their exaggerated features, are familiar enough to be disturbing and unpleasant. They can also appear deformed or monstrous to a young mind. This can result in an intense fear, of something vaguely familiar, but wrong. As clowns are seldom encountered, sufferers rarely have a chance to get used to them, often resulting in a life-long fear.
Other traumatic experiences could also be responsible. Having been scared by a clown who was too in your face could result in Coulrophobia. Loud or energetic clowns can upset children with a nervous disposition. Clowns are also often seen exhibiting anti-social behaviour, which can result in them appearing to be dangerous.
Cultural references and media can also play a role, with clowns having become synonymous with evil villains in recent years. Many movies depict clowns as terrifying monsters who are out to get you.
SYMPTOMS OF COULROPHOBIA
Sufferers of Coulrophobia often exhibit the typical symptoms of various other specific phobias. This includes feelings of anxiety and dread when in proximity to a clown. In some cases, pictures or movies of clowns – real or animated – or just thinking about them, can lead to a full-blown panic attack in more.
- Increased heartbeat
- Short of breath and difficulty breathing
- Nausea and gastrointestinal distress
- Hot or cold flushes
- Desire to escape
- Feeling frozen
Coulrophobes will often do all they can to avoid any situation in which clowns may be present. This can extend to avoiding movies, kids’ books, birthday parties and the circus. In the rare event that an encounter seems inevitable, they will think obsessively about it, which can have an impact on other aspects of their life.
There are several techniques one can use to overcome the fear of clowns, from therapy sessions to self-help exercises. Extreme sufferers who find that their fear is beginning to have an impact on their life are advised to seek professional help.
Exposure Therapy, or Systematic Desensitization is an efficient and effective form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), that is used to treat a wide array of phobias. Patients are encouraged to confront their fear, in a controlled environment.
They will be taught various relaxation techniques, that can be used during exposure to their fear. The process is carried out in steps, until the patient is comfortable being in the same room as a clown. By utilizing relaxation techniques, the patient is able to avoid giving into an anxiety attack.
Self-help techniques include Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) which works on the principle that the mind can be re-programmed, replacing negative mechanisms with positive ones. Various exercises can be carried out at home, which can help you change the way you think about clowns, and enables you to cope with their presence in a more positive manner.
Meditation, relaxation techniques, positive affirmations and subliminal audio recordings are also great tools that anyone can use from the comfort of their home.
BENEFITS OF OVERCOMING FEAR OF CLOWNS
While encountering a clown isn’t the kind of thing that happens every day, there is always a chance that you will be faced with your fear. From charity fundraisers collecting at offices or bars, to street performers and even TV adverts, clowns can crop up anywhere.
You’re probably well aware of this, and suffer some degree of anxiety as a result, even though you may not attribute it to your fear of clowns. By overcoming Coulrophobia, you may find your stress levels dropping dramatically. Of course, you can also enjoy the circus, movies and parties without having to make excuses!