Coulrophobia (Fear Of Clowns)

Meta Description: People with Coulrophobia have an intense fear of clowns and can experience a severe, physical reaction if presented with clowns or related stimulus.

Intro Sentence: Coulrophobia (Fear Of Clowns) is a common phobia and affects millions of people worldwide. In extreme cases, patients have a negative reaction to the mere thought of clowns.

What is Coulrophobia?

Often beginning in childhood, Coulrophobia (Fear Of Clowns) can affect individuals of any age. Whilst many people dislike clowns, people with Coulrophobia have a prolonged and extreme fear of clowns. Although being exposed to a clown is likely to provoke their fear response, many patients with Coulrophobia are unable to view images of clowns, speak about clowns or even think about clowns, without a negative reaction occurring.

Whilst a significant proportion of the population have an aversion to clowns, people with Coulrophobia have an on-going fear of them. In order to qualify as Coulrophobia, the patient’s fear must be deemed excessive in terms of actual danger posed by clowns or the possibility of exposure to clowns.

In addition to this, a patient’s fear must be persistent in order for Coulrophobia to be diagnosed. Often, phobias result in ‘social or occupational impairment’ and may affect other areas of the patient’s life. It may seem natural for people with Coulrophobia to avoid places in which clowns are likely to be present, such as the circus, but people with extreme Coulrophobia may avoid socialising for fear of clowns being mentioned by other people, for example.

What causes Coulrophobia?

Despite being a common fear, the origins of Coulrophobia are unknown. Whilst many people may suffer from Coulrophobia, the phobia can have different causes and may present in very way different ways. It is believed that the following issues could cause Coulrophobia to develop:

• Negative experience with clowns
• Media portrayal of clowns
• Fear of the unknown
• Fear of ridicule

Many phobias stem from a traumatic experience, particularly if the event took place during childhood. As children are less able to rationalize situations and are more reliant on other people, a scary experience can easily become traumatic. Even if the situation is addressed by parents and caregivers, the trauma can be enough to provoke a phobic response in later life.

Whilst many adults are able to rationalise their fear of clowns, people with Coulrophobia are unable to do so. Many therapists believe this stems from exposure to clowns at a young age. During early developmental years, children are able to identify faces which are familiar to them. A toddler may smile at a regular caregiver but cry when presented with a stranger, for example.

As many young children are taken to local fairs and circuses, they be exposed to clowns at a young age. The loud make-up and colourful clothes are unfamiliar to the child and, therefore, provoke a fear reaction. For many people, this first negative experience is enough to cause the onset of Coulrophobia.

In recent years, clowns have been portrayed negatively in the media and this may have contributed to cases of Coulrophobia. The idea of the ‘evil clown’ has been used in books, films and television shows and has reinforced many people’s fears.

In addition to being used in fictitious stories, clowns have had a real-life impact on many people. In recent times, people took to dressing up as clowns and attempting to scare innocent members of the public. As well as being spotted in public, some clowns used their costume for nefarious purposes and trespassed on people’s property in order to scare them.

As these incidents were widely reported in the media, it is believed that they may have contributed to the fear of clowns. Whilst it is normal to feel a sense of apprehension if someone dresses as a clown and attempts to scare you, people with Coulrophobia may be preoccupied with the thought of this scenario occurring and may take extreme steps in order to avoid it.

Although the exact causes of Coulrophobia remain unknown, many doctors and therapists believe that a fear of the unknown contributes to Coulrophobia. Typically, clowns wear garish clothes and use heavy make-up to hide their features. Ghostly face paint is combined with bright red lipstick and a colourful wig, in order to create the appearance of a clown. In doing so, the clown’s own features are completely obscured and people are unable to tell who is really underneath the costume.

If you’re unable to recognise or identify who is beneath the make-up, it can lead to an increased fear or an enhanced sense of danger. Even if people are familiar with the person dressed up as a clown, they may find it impossible to reconcile this knowledge due to their fear.

Historically, clowns and jesters have broken societal norms and have been used for comedic purposes. Clowns may tease or ridicule people in an attempt to entertain others. For example, a clown may invite a member of the public to stand nearby and then spray them with water or pour confetti over them. Whilst these acts are not harmful, they can be distressing to some people. If the person is particularly shy or anxious, this fear of being ridiculed may contribute to Coulrophobia (Fear Of Clowns).

What are the symptoms of Coulrophobia?

If an individual has Coulrophobia, they are unlikely to visit any location in which clowns may be present. Similarly, people with Coulrophobia may refuse to read books, watch television shows or films which contain clowns. If they are accidentally exposed to a clown, even if the exposure occurs via a television screen, they are likely to react with intense fear and may become extremely distressed.

This avoidance behaviour may become more extreme as the person’s fear increases. People with severe Coulrophobia may be unable to talk or think about clowns without experiencing increased anxiety, yet they may spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the possibility of being exposed to clowns.

When a person’s phobic response is triggered, they generally panic. As their anxiety increases, they experience a mixture of physical and emotional symptoms, such as:

• Feelings of despair
• Racing heart
• Tightness in the chest
• Feelings of doom
• Desire to escape
• Shaking
• Nausea
• Trembling
• Lightheadedness
• Sweating
• Faintness
• Dizziness
• Difficulty breathing
• Vomiting

Although panic attacks do not usually have serious, long-term, physical effects, they are extremely unpleasant. In fact, the fear of having another panic attack may fuel the individual’s Coulrophobia and lead to additional avoidance behavior.

Can Coulrophobia be treated?

Coulrophobia is considered to be a specific phobia, which means that patients have a fear of a specific stimulus. Despite being an intense fear, Coulrophobia can be successfully treated. Various therapies are used to reduce phobias and these often include:

• Psychotherapy
• Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
• Hypnotherapy
• Exposure therapy

All of these treatments involve working with a trained therapist and are designed to reduce the patients fear response when they are exposed to clowns. Whilst each therapy approaches the issue differently, all can be successful in treating Coulrophobia.

For example, exposure therapy involves gradually increasing the patient’s exposure to clowns, with the aim of reducing their fear response as exposure increases. Alternatively, psychotherapy may require the patient to discuss their fears with the therapist in order to determine why Coulrophobia has such an impact on them. For many patients, understanding the origins of their condition helps them to rationalize the fears they have.

If patients are exhibiting unwanted behavior, such as a fear response to clowns, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may be used to modify their response. CBT is typically concerned with changing how a patient views a particular stimulus and adapting their natural response to the feared person, object or situation. In cases of Coulrophobia, the therapist will gently challenge the patient’s beliefs and enable them to view clowns differently, thus reducing their natural fear response.

Similarly, hypnotherapy aims to reduce the patient’s fear response. Unlike other forms of treatment, hypnotherapy involves putting the patient into a light hypnotic trance in order to access their subconscious. As many fears reside in the subconscious mind, many people believe that hypnotherapy can reduce the fear more quickly and more effectively than other forms of treatment.

If necessary, patients with Coulrophobia (Fear Of Clowns) can also be treated with medication. Although anti-anxiety medication will not reduce a specific fear, such as the fear of clowns, it can help patients to deal with their anxiety in a more appropriate way.

Preventing Coulrophobia

It may be possible to prevent Coulrophobia in some cases, particularly if a person’s dislike of clowns stems from a previous negative experience. Rather than allowing the incident to become traumatic, the negative event should be dealt with at the time, with professional help if necessary. This can help to ensure that the trauma does not become deep-rooted enough to cause Coulrophobia in later life.

In addition to this, parents and caregivers should be sure to avoid showing young children negative portrayal of clowns. Monitoring the child’s media usage can help to ensure that they are not exposed to any inappropriate or scary content involving clowns and this could reduce the risk of them developing Coulrophobia.

Sources:

Fear of Clowns Phobia – Coulrophobia


https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/beyond-heroes-and-villains/201702/the-lost-origin-coulrophobia-the-abnormal-fear-clowns
http://www.coulrophobiafacts.com/
https://www.nbcnews.com/health/body-odd/no-laughing-matter-fear-clowns-serious-issue-f725830

Resources
Last Reviewed:
June 22, 2018
Last Updated:
June 21, 2018