When we were kids, we were excited to see clowns as they are supposedly figures of humor and long-associated with children’s parties, but for some people, they represent something far more sinister.
The word Coulrophobia means a persistent and irrational fear of clowns. It possibly originates from Greek Kolon meaning stilt or stilt-walkers which are often used by clowns. Clowns are figures of fun, intended to provoke amusement and laughter with their hijinks, not screams of horror. Big smiley faces, slapstick, party tricks, bright colors none of these things are typically associated with intense fear. And yet, when combined in the form of a clown, they regularly cause the exact opposite reaction to the one intended.
HISTORY OF CLOWNS
Joseph Durwin of Trinity University stated that the history of the clowns can be dated back to the jester or fool of ancient times. In those days, the clowns were given permission and were even expected to represent the deviant side of human nature, from openly defying the sexual norms of the day to mocking the gods. The fool would often be linked with dark truths or death and would constantly question the logic in the play. As time went on, the jester morphed into the trickster, a more sinister figure with intentions that were less than honorable.
The modern circus clown is an outgrowth of the tramp clowns of the Depression era. Tramp clowns were largely members of the “unsavory” underclass who entertained the most privileged with a caricatured look at their daily existence. Although most tramp clowns were harmless, a seedy underbelly did exist among the clown circuit.
By the 1980 ’s clown phobia had reached a peak. In more recent times, the portrayal of evil clowns in the media has been a big contributor to instilling the phobia in many people’s minds
There isn’t any official data about how many people suffer from coulrophobia, although it is believed that it is much more prevalent in western society. Some of the celebrities who have coulrophobia are Johnny Depp, Daniel Radcliffe and P Diddy etc. Johnny Depp has a funny way of dealing with this, he surrounds himself with clown paraphernalia (wigs, red noses, the lot) in order to ward off evil.
What causes a fear of clowns?
Many psychologists have stated that as children we are familiar with the appearances of our family members and we see them as having a safe and friendly human face. Opposite of this Clown have unnatural, large and distorted features and therefore don’t match the safe, friendly human pattern we have created in our minds.
We know that the faces of the clowns are brightly colored, with stark contrasts like wide bright red lips, against a very white background etc. This triggers an unsafe/unfamiliar face type and we cannot read the facial expression correctly as it doesn’t match the actions or words. This inability to interact with the clown means that we feel under potential threat and feel fearful, panicky and threatened.
Some researchers believe that coulrophobia cases increased when Steven Spielberg classic horror film “IT” depicting a murderous clown was released and the portrayal of Joker as an evil character in Batman movies.
DR MELANIE PHELPS’ SIX FACTORS THAT CAN CAUSE COULROPHOBIA
1. Clowns are introduced to us when we were kids. If parents make sure that you are smiling and laughing with the clown they can match the pattern and laugh too. They know these distorted faces are harmless and funny and not a threat to them.
2. Individual differences- Some kids love the fun fair rides such as ghost train that surprise them and giggle about that and some just get scared.
- Age of exposure – As with horror films, some children may be too young to figure out what is really happening and it is not a real threat. They may have been Ok if exposed when they were a little older. The exact ages depend on the child. Although it is advisable to wait until they are at a stage of maturity when they are more able to figure things out for themselves a bit more easily.
- The reaction of others around them, If other kids or adults are scared they are more likely to follow suit.
- The general level of safety and security the child feels. If there are arguments at home and the child doesn’t feel so secure they might feel self-conscious or nervous anyway and at around the same time they are introduced to unknown distorted clown faces, they may be more prone to be scared or anxious. A paired response can be set up clowns and fear. Therefore later, the image of a clown or an actual clown triggers the fear again.
- Children are more sensitive as their nervous system is developing. They are more sensitive to new smells, different tastes, and different visual or auditory stimuli. The clown’s face and behavior may just be too overwhelming for that child at that time.
Symptoms of coulrophobia
The phobia can cause a state of panic, crying or screaming, difficulty in breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating, nausea, and feelings of fear.
How to prevent this phobia
Fortunately, Coulrophobia does not affect one’s day-to-day life as the phobic can generally avoid situations (circuses, birthday parties etc) where one is likelier to encounter clowns. However, if the phobia is interfering with one’s professional or personal life it is best to seek psychotherapeutic counseling for it. This includes methods like NLP or Neuro-linguistic programming, Hypnotherapy or Gradual or systematic desensitization done with the help of a trained therapist.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is an effective type of therapy but can take time and dedication, especially if your fear of clowns is severe.
Exposure therapy, which involves increasing your exposure to clowns until you stop being afraid of them and can be in the same room as them.
SOME OF THE SCARIEST CLOWNS
- Pennywise, IT
- Zombie Clown, Zombieland
- Pogo the clown, Gacy
- Killer Klowns, Killer Klowns from outer space
- Billy, Saw
- Zeebo, Are you afraid of the dark
- Joker, The Dark Knight
At the end of the day, any phobia is an irrational fear and that the clowns are not real, their purpose is to entertain people and not to hurt them.