We used to see clowns as funny entertainers who wore a big red nose, painted their faces white and wore an enormous polka-dot tie, larger-than-life shoes and fuzzy red hair. But thanks to Stephen King’s ‘It’ horror film that was released in the last week, a fear of clowns, known as coulrophobia has become somewhat more noticeable. Clowns have undoubtedly had their reputation tainted as the must-have character for a children’s birthday party. Instead they are now associated with horror films.
The excessive fear of clowns is a real phobia and one that haunts a lot of children from a young age, and can continue into adulthood. It is not uncommon and it can cause panic, difficult breathing, irregular heartbeat, sweating and even nausea. The idea of a clown causing fear is entirely new to the younger generation who were not familiar with Pennywise, the serial-killer clown.
The interesting question to ask yourself is why are so scared of something that was inherently made up to make us laugh?
I read a really interesting statement on Business Insider from an interview conducted with a psychologist in New York, called Dr Dena Rabinowitz. She spoke about anxiety disorders and the history and psychology behind why we are so afraid of clowns.
‘I think most people find clowns delightful, but there’s definitely a group of people who find them creepy. There two things about clowns that kind of inherently lead people to be frightened of them. The first is that we rely a lot on facial expressions to understand people and see their motivations. And with clowns you don’t have facial expressions. It’s all under makeup, and it’s fixed. And so there’s a kind of a question of, “what’s going on under there?”
The second thing is people don’t inherently trust people who are always happy and laughing. For a lot of people, the fear of clowns actually is part of a more general fear of masked creatures. In regular parlance it’s called: coulrophobia.
We don’t like things that are familiar but then a little bit off. And so clowns look like people, but there’s an oddity to it. There’s something that is a little bit strange and from the norm. If we see clowns in places like in a circus where they belong, that’s often not as scary. But if we see a clown which is already slightly odd and different to us in a place where we don’t typically think they should be like the woods, it’s even scarier.
People aren’t born with a clown phobia, but they can certainly be genetically predispositioned to have an anxiety disorder. But a specific fear of clowns either comes because you had a traumatic event in childhood around clowns, a family member or somebody close to you kind of has taught you that clowns are scary, or you had an anxiety attack when you were around clowns and paired them together.
If you already have a clown phobia, watching movies like “It” or “American Horror Story” is not going to help, because all it does is reinforce the fact that clowns are in fact dangerous and scary. What we want to do to help with a phobia is show you that they’re just people with makeup underneath and that there’s nothing inherently scary.
Well if you just don’t like clowns, then you really don’t need to do anything about it. but there’s a small subset of people who really are terrified of clowns in that goes into the category of a phobia lots of people have phobias and just because you have a phobia doesn’t mean you need treatment. When you need to seek treatment for a phobia is when it interferes with your daily life. If you go screaming from a theater because there might be a clown that shows up or you can’t go into town because there’s a circus, then you really need to seek treatment.
The best thing to do about a phobia is first of all recognize that the thing you’re afraid of is not dangerous and then do something called “exposure.” Which is putting yourself in proximity to the feared object until you get comfortable.
So one of the things I recommend of clowns is watch somebody put on the clown makeup, so you can see that they’re just a human being and see the progression of them turning into a clown. It makes it a lot more approachable, and you can learn to overcome your fear.
I don’t have a fear of clowns. I have a fear of snakes. So i understand this.’
So how can you best deal with your fear of clowns?
Curing a fear is not an easy task and there is no right or wrong, it’s what works for you. Depending on the severity of your phobia, you can consult cognitive behaviour therapy which can be used to help you change your unproductive thought patterns which stimulates your fear. Other treatments also include counselling, hypnosis and behaviour therapy. If your phobia causes you an unparalleled level of fear and anxiety, you could also see your doctor for anti-anxiety medication which helps relieve the symptoms of stress.