What do Johnny Depp, Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter), and rap superstar P. Diddy have in common?
Yes, they are all famous, multi-millionaire celebrities, but they are also all suffering from coulrophobia, or fear of clowns. In Johnny Depp’s phobia, he says it dates back to his nightmares in childhood where he would see clowns leering at him.
As children, most of us have been to the circus with our parents. We think of the circus as a festive place where great animal performances happen. And then there are the clowns, who make the whole place roar with laughter with all his funny antics.
So how could a character that makes people laugh, bring fear and terror to others?
Signs and Symptoms of Coulrophobia
Just like with other kinds of phobias, the fear of clowns results in many physical, mental, and emotional symptoms in persons with coulrophobia, and these are the following:
- Feeling nauseous
- Sweating or sweaty palm
- Panic attack
- Shaking with fear
- Rapid heartbeat and breathing
- Crying or screaming
- Feeling angry for being put in a place with clowns
Causes and Common Triggers of Coulrophobia
Most phobias are typically a result of a past traumatic experience, especially during childhood, where one’s cognitive faculties are not yet developed. But there are some cases where the fear of the object just came to be, or at least one is not consciously aware of the reason/s why.
In the case of coulrophobia there are few possible causes that trigger the fear:
- Dark Themed/Scary Movies – The recent movie “Joker” starring Joaquin Phoenix, is one example of a movie where a clown portrays a terrifying character. If a child is exposed to movies where clowns do scary things, this may have a lasting impact on the psyche of the child.
- Childhood traumatic experience – A situation where the child is terrorized by the sight of a clown and no way for him or her to get away from the situation can be a very traumatic experience for the child. Both your body and mind will mark that moment that the best thing to do is to run away from a clown.
- Learned fear – You may have learned it from a loved one or a person whose authority you acknowledge. If a person you look up to, such as your mom or an older sibling, showed you that they’re scared of clowns, that incident may scar you.
Treatments of Coulrophobia
Most phobias do not require treatment especially if it’s in its mild form, and the person is still able to function normally in life. The person can adjust to his or her phobia and keep it under control.
A treatment is advised if the phobia affects his way of life, whether personally or at work, and his relationship with friends, family, and colleagues suffer. Psychotherapy is the recommended treatment on these types of situations to help him or her overcome the fear of death.
There is no specific drug to treat coulrophobia or phobias in general, but there are proven treatments that have worked with different phobias.
Here are the treatments that people suffering from coulrophobia may seek:
For most phobias, exposure therapy is said to be the most successful. There are several studies conducted about treatments of phobias using imaginal exposure. This means for people with Coulrophobia, they will be gradually exposed to images of clowns. Based on the same studies, 90% of subjected to the treatment exhibited a considerable fear reduction. And around 65% no longer experienced any symptoms of their phobias.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This is another form of treatment for persons with phobias. It is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve mental health. What it does is it helps the patient to challenge or change their thoughts or beliefs in addressing their problems. This treatment was originally meant to treat depression, but has since been expanded to treat other conditions including anxiety, which is common and exhibited by most or all phobic people.
Virtual Reality Therapy (VRT)
In this type of therapy, the patient is given a simulated experience using computer programs and artificially created environments. They use Virtual Reality gadgets to provide the patient a controlled stimuli as part of the treatment. They then monitor the patient’s reaction. It’s a series of VR-based treatment where it involves adjusting the virtual environment. Sometimes smell or adding vibrations allow the clinician to determine the level of the patient's reaction to the stimuli. Replaying virtual scenes multiple times with or without adjustment depending on the patient's reaction.
Societal and Cultural Impact of Coulrophobia
People with coulrophobia will avoid places where clowns are usually found. Movies where clowns are featured are sure not to attract coulrophobia. For parents of children who exhibit fear of clowns, they will have to decline birthday invitations or parties with clowns.
How Common Is Coulrophobia?
Fear of clowns is not as common as fear of heights, or fear of flying. While this phobia does exist, there are no available scientific data to reference in determining how common coulrophobia is.
What Should You Do If You Have Coulrophobia?
Coulrophobia just like any type of phobia should be given attention. If you have this condition, you have to get help from professionals who know how to treat people with coulrophobia. Some treatments are designed to treat different types of phobia and you should seek one for yourself. Joining online support groups will also help you, since you will be in a community where people suffer the same condition as you do.
Having fear of an object or something that can harm us is normal. For example, most people fear death because we know that all of us will die. The fact that we don’t know how our life will end makes us worry about it. But if that fear affects our way of living, it will prevent us to live a healthy and enjoyable life which is a goal most people have. Coulrophobia which is a fear of clowns is just the same. If it already interferes with your way of life, acknowledge it and then seek help.