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Coulrophobia – The Fear of Clowns and How to Overcome It

Coulrophobia – The Fear of Clowns and How to Overcome It

Published on Jul 20, 2023

Coulrophobia - The Fear of Clowns and How to Overcome It

Key Takeaways

  • Coulrophobia is the intense fear of clowns.
  • It is a specific phobia that has extreme anxiety and avoidance of the phobic situation.
  • The intense fear becomes a negative part of their life and it starts affecting their daily life and functioning.
  • It can occur due to past negative experiences or a genetic predisposition to developing phobias.
  • The fear can be treated with the help of exposure therapy, CBT, and medication as well.

Fear of clowns is what is known as Coulrophobia. The fear of clowns is a well-known fear, according to 2022 research. The unsettling nature of clowns has been used to make horror movies and shows, and it also comes up on social media as pranks or terrifying setups. So it is not unusual to think that someone may develop a fear of clowns. 

Coulrophobia is an intense and extreme fear of clowns. This fear becomes a phobia when it affects the individual for more than 3-4 weeks of their life and makes it difficult for them to have a normal as they start avoiding situations due to their coulrophobia. 

What is Coulrophobia? 

Coulrophobia is a specific and intense fear of clowns. Even seeing their images or seeing them in a video causes a response of fear and panic in the individual. It is an irrational fear, but it is not uncommon and it can be treated effectively with the right treatment plans and based on the intensity of the fear. 

The fear of clowns is something that is not looked down upon or is even rare. People do find clowns unsettling, but it is only a phobia when the fear is intense and affects an individual’s life negatively.  

Coulrophobia is an intense fear of being around clowns, seeing clowns on video or a picture of them. The fear is so intense that they try to avoid seeing or being near clowns at all times.

This avoidance affects their lifestyle as they are always on the lookout in a social setting as they may be unaware of when they may end up facing a clown on tv or in a public setting. 

Causes of Coulrophobia

Coulrophobia is a specific phobia, and it’s the intense fear of clowns which can occur due to many reasons. The causes of a specific phobia can be multiple and also vary from person to person. They can vary in range, intensity, based on values and exposure to clowns in movies, tv shows, and in real life. 

To find a reason for coulrophobia, we may need to look at the following: 

1. Learned behavior 

Children are impressionable at a young age and therefore they can pick up a behavior just by observing it around them. If someone in their immediate surroundings was afraid or ‌ displaying anxious behavior, they may also learn it as a legit reaction to situations. 

2. Genetic Predisposition

Someone whose genetic family history has a history of other mental disorders or anxiety disorders, it is easier to pass it down. People can also have a predisposition or a vulnerability to develop mental health disorders due to their hereditary as well as cultural and environmental factors. 

3. Traumatic experiences 

Having a traumatic birthday or carnival experience at a young age can leave a lifelong impact. Traumatic experience can be anything fearful that they experienced as a child or an overwhelming fear they got when they might have first encountered a clown in real life.

Having negative experiences is what makes the situations much more difficult to get over because the negative memories come rushing back when they deal with the same stimuli or trigger again later on in life.

4. Scary movies

Scary depictions of clowns have taken precedence since the 90s- late 2000s. They have always been a part of horror shows, but mainstream and well-received movies like “IT” and other movies depicting clowns as killers may give rise to developing this fear of clowns. 

Seeing extremely scary movies depicting clowns, at a young and impressionable age may make it so that someone develops this fear as they grow up trying to avoid clowns and grow into a coulrophobic adult. 

These movies certainly don’t make it easier for someone already suffering from this fear as the trailers and the promotional material featuring the clowns are present everywhere, which makes life very difficult for people to avoid. 

During the age of social media, it is also very easy to come across fearful clown videos, killer clown pranks, and just videos with clown jump cares. There is no way to filter out these types of viral videos and mainstream movie marketing. Someone suffering from coulrophobia cannot browse the Internet for their leisure or even for work without being cautious and anxious all the time. 

Triggers of coulrophobia 

The fear of clowns has one advantage over other phobias that clowns aren’t present in an everyday aspect of life. And yet still, the person suffering from this phobia has to constantly live in a state where they have to be aware and look out for potential triggers whenever they are out. 

Some of these triggers include:

  • Birthday parties 
  • Halloween costumes/ Theme parties/ Trick-or-treaters at the door.
  • Circuses/ carnivals/ festivals
  • Theme parks and fairs 
  • Clowns used as mascots 
  • Advertisements for these as well as clowns in movies, news, book covers, and tv shows.

Symptoms of Coulrophobia

Coulrophobia is a specific phobia and manifests as both physiological and psychological symptoms. These symptoms are the major and the more generalized symptoms, depending on the individual, the intensity and range of these symptoms can vary.

Physiological Symptoms 

The symptoms that occur in a person and can be seen as changes throughout one’s body are the physiological symptoms of coulrophobia. Since coulrophobia is a specific phobia, some of the symptoms are similar to that of experiencing high levels of anxiety or panic. 

Some of the physiological symptoms include: 

1. Rapid Heartbeat

A coulrophobic person experiences increased heart rate or rapid heartbeat as they become aware of the triggering stimulus. The rapid heartbeat is a fear response to seeing the image of or thinking/ being around a clown. 

The rapid heart rate also increases based on the anxiety that becomes a part of them as they are always in an alarm state when they are in an unfamiliar situation, in fear of seeing or being around a clown.  

2. Change in body temperature 

When someone experiences a terrifying fear, they experience a chill as well. A person suffering from coulrophobia may realize that there is a drop in their body temperature as they deal with a triggering event or situation. 

The change in body temperature may occur due to the fear they experience or the prolonged and intense anxiety they feel due to the uncontrolled nature of their fear. 

3. Dizziness and lightheadedness

People suffering from coulrophobia can feel dizzy and lightheaded as they become aware of the triggering situation or an event. They can also become lightheaded at the sight of a clown in pictures or in video form as well. 

The fear is so strong that the triggering situation causes intense shock and anxiety, which leads to the individual feeling distraught and dizzy as the stressful situation plays out. 

4. Chest pain 

The shock of experiencing a fearful situation that is so sudden, abrupt, and intense that the panic they feel starts to build up and they start to feel pain in their chest. The panic and fear of the situation lead to a jolt in the body and people experience chest pain when a situation becomes too stressful and anxiety-filled. 

5. Losing consciousness

The fear and panic can be so strong that a coulrophobia can lose consciousness due to the shock that they experience when they see an image, or video of a clown or may witness it in person somewhere.

 Past memories or experiences can also come back to them in flashes and they may lose consciousness due to the traumatic nature of these memories and experiences. 

6. Difficulty breathing 

The symptoms of fear and anxiety become so strong that they feel like they cannot breathe. The fear response takes over the brain and makes it difficult to breathe. 

7. Sweating Profusely 

Sweating occurs as the fear response is triggered and is felt in a situation where they are faced with a triggering stimulus. The body takes into account the flight or flight nature of fear they feel and act accordingly.  

8. Shaking

Shaking occurs when they are faced with the images of the clown. The fear-inducing nature of clowns and their makeup also leads to a physical reaction. 

9. Nausea 

Nausea is a common symptom that occurs when someone feels anxious. The pit or the emptiness in the stomach they feel when experiencing anxiety gets turned into nausea as the fearful object or situation becomes closer and more vivid. 

10. Turning Pale 

All the color of the face is flushed when they are in a fearful situation. The fear is so overwhelming that it takes away the person’s strength.

11. Dry Mouth

Dry mouth occurs because they are under so much pressure and stressed out due to the uncontrollable nature of their fear. It also occurs because of the throat drying up as a result of being around a triggering stimulus. 

Psychological Symptoms 

The nature of the psychological symptoms can also be wide-ranging and can be different from one person to another. Since it is a specific phobia, some of the experiences and symptoms may overlap with other anxiety or panic disorders.  

People suffering from this phobia also may find clown makeup difficult to take in as it masks the face and identity of the person. The children may react by throwing tantrums or crying or hiding behind someone. Adults can also become jumpy or want to avoid or hide behind things to avoid seeing the clown imagery.

Some of the psychological symptoms of coulrophobia include: 

1. Feeling the need to escape.

As there is a sense of fear and cautiousness is always in their nature, they may always feel on the edge that they need to escape a situation or an event because they are not aware of what’s going to happen next. 

As they come close to fearful stimuli, they may want to run away. In any situation, they may always be eyeing the exit or trying to find where the way out of a room. The need to escape from a fearful situation is incredibly high, as they never want to deal with phobic stimuli or events.  

2. Not feeling in control

When they’re experiencing and going through living coulrophobia, they live their life under threat; they are always feeling cautious. The fear is overwhelming that it feels impossible to them and they start to panic as they feel they are not in control. 

Most of their anxiety stems from the fact that they cannot control where they might encounter clown imagery or a clown itself. 

3. Feeling disconnected from reality. 

People suffering from coulrophobia feel as if they are disconnected from reality as they continue to live their life under constant supervision and threat. There is no pure joy in their life as they do not feel in control of their fear. The fear damages the way they live and perceive the surrounding life. 

They are disconnected due to the fact that their brain is focused on the part of life that is just looking for fearful situations that they may have to avoid. They become disconnected as nothing brings them joy or a sense of achievement. 

4. Feeling a sense of doom

The person suffering from coulrophobia may experience feelings of doom as they are faced with their feared object/ situation. The fear of clowns is so strong that they start to feel that this is the end and that their fear will get the best of them. 

A sense of doom falls over when they have to be around a phobic trigger and if there is no way, they cannot escape or avoid that situation. The fear of clowns builds up due to a trigger and with nowhere to go and unable to do anything about it, the sense of doom just keeps on getting stronger and stronger. 

5. Intense and irrational fear 

The fear of clowns is intense in its feeling and sensation, and it is also irrational. It is irrational in the sense that the individual may know that they might not run into a clown in real life in any meetings or academic settings but still somehow they fear that they might cross paths or see some imagery anyway and therefore they decide to avoid that situation. 

6. Anxiety 

Anxiety is their first response to anything that is related to clowns, be it images or drawings, or the possibility of seeing them in an event or party.

Anxiety is a response to some triggering stimuli that they have encountered. Repressed memories of the initial event that caused them this trauma may also give them anxiety.  

7. Uncontrolled and intense reactions and emotions regarding clowns

When clowns are seen on tv, in pictures, or even in real life, the instant reaction is that of screaming, hiding, or generally big and intense reactions

8. Afraid of clown imagery 

The fear of clowns is so strong that the individual cannot even look at the images of clowns without feeling some anxiety or panic. The intense fear gets generalized and gets attached to images, drawing and anything else resembling a clown. 

9. Avoiding social situations 

As clowns are not always present at each gathering, the fear of crossing paths with them still persists. They may avoid going to certain events altogether and may convince themselves due to panic that they might run into a clown or visuals of a clown in an uncontrolled setting. They might avoid going to food chains and avoiding areas where their clown mascots are present. 

10. Hinders daily life 

The fear is so strong and irrational that it cannot be controlled by the individual alone. They fear life outside of the comfort zone they have created for themselves and the fear becomes a reason that their quality of life goes down.

They do not go to events, parties, or parks, or even avoid certain places in order to maintain homeostasis. This cannot exist for the entirety of life as it would be living in fear and not being free in the place they live in and work at.

12. Avoidance and anxiety has been experienced for over 6 months.

People may have general indifference or dislike towards clowns, but it becomes a phobia when it is an intense fear that has been present in their life for 6 months or more. 

The symptoms and fear exist and impact the quality of life of the individual for a long time and it becomes a problem to continue to live with the phobia.

Treatment of Coulrophobia 

Even though the fear of clowns is legitimate and intense, it is rare to see a clown in real life unless going to a children’s party or a carnival. It is not usual to see clowns in a normal work setting so it may seem like people don’t need the treatment for coulrophobia but it is important to get over this fear as there is an uncontrolled nature of this fear that keeps the coulrophobic person feel perpetually anxious or on edge. 

Just because someone may not run across a clown in real life, does not mean that they are exempt from ever seeing a clown image or movie, or video. Therefore, for the sake of better living standards, it is important to treat coulrophobia.  

Some of the treatments recommended for coulrophobia are: 

1. Exposure Therapy 

In this type of therapy process, the aim is to expose the client to the fearful object or situation. So the therapist and the client will work together to make the client actually confront their fears. 

There are different types of exposure therapies available to use the best fit possible for the client:

  • Imaginal Exposure: This is where the client has to think clearly and in great detail about the fear. The image is the focus. They think about an image that they are afraid of and with the therapist providing relaxation and tools to deal with the images and thoughts of the clowns; they work to overcome this fearful image and work toward eliminating fear responses from that situation/ image. 
  • Virtual reality exposure: In this type of therapy technique, the therapist uses virtual reality simulation to help clients deal with their fear. The fear of being in the room as a clown is too great, so they will make it so that they experiment with different levels of imagery and virtual interaction with clowns in this type of therapy technique. 

In this type of therapy, the fear is not really present in the room so this may feel like a safe option for the clients. Even though it is VR based, the fear is real and intense and therefore can accommodate multiple situations where the client may be fearful and dealing with those situations simultaneously within the session. 

  • In Vivo Exposure: This is a type of therapy technique is to use the fearful object or situation in reality, but with the help of a therapist they learn to navigate the situation. In this type of technique, the clowns would actually be in the room or they will go to a controlled environment where a clown in the know will be present and required to help the client get over their fears. 

Getting directly exposed to the fearful stimulus is the most effective as the fear itself is being treated and dealt with. The therapist helps the client by giving them tools to endure the fear and once they realize that this is nothing fearful through multiple sessions, they can deal with the fearful object in real life as well.

  • Interoceptive Exposure: In this, the therapist helps the client with the symptoms that they feel when they feel overwhelmed and in danger/ full of anxiety. They work together to treat and give the client tools to use outside of therapy when they feel the symptoms. They may induce these symptoms in the therapy session (such as spinning to feel dizzy) and then treat these symptoms one by one based on severity and on how much it is affecting the client’s daily life. 

Systematic desensitization might also be recommended to help with the fear. In systematic desensitization, the client and therapist work together to create a list of hierarchy of fearful situations.

They work together to deal with the fearful stimulus one by one. It may start with the lowest being seeing a picture of them in a magazine to seeing them in a trailer/movie, to the final one being actually being around a clown. 

In systematic desensitization, the client is taught relaxation techniques before each step of the hierarchy and then presented with the fearful object. Multiple sessions of desensitization leaves the client confident about their skill to deal with their phobia outside of therapy. 

2. CBT 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is where the main goal is to understand one’s thoughts and how they affect one’s reactions as well as emotions. In the sessions of CBT, the therapist will help the client in replacing those negative fearful thoughts with concrete and useful thoughts. 

CBT usually lasts from 5 to 20 sessions, depending on the intensity of the fear, and the work needed to be done to undo such thought patterns. The therapist and client work together to identify negative and unhealthy thoughts and then work on challenging them and replacing them with healthier alternatives. 

CBT uses guided questioning, a lot of homework to strengthen the client’s thought patterns, and giving them tools to use outside of therapy. A CBT practicing therapist will be able to provide a coulrophobic client with multiple techniques to explore the fear and give alternative responses in those fearful situations. 

3. Medication

Medication helps the symptoms that the fear response activates. These medications include beta-blockers, antidepressants, or benzodiazepines. 

These medications help in controlling high blood pressure, and rapid heart rate, and calm your system. The aim of the medication is to lower the physical symptoms you feel. 

Care should be taken when taking on medication that you are not self-medicating and are only taking what is prescribed by the doctor. Using medication while getting therapy is the best combination of the two to help with the phobia. 

Self-help for Coulrophobia

Coulrophobia is a specific phobia, and that is something that should be treated by a proper therapist. These following steps are once you are more aware of your phobia and they work better while you’re working on yourself in therapy.

These are just some lifestyle changes to work on the symptoms of the phobia.  

1. Mindful meditation

Mindful meditation is helpful to get your attention focused out of the fearful and negative thoughts to a more productive and positive way of thinking and distressing. Mindfulness and relaxation are done through various breathing exercises. 

The focus that mindfulness and meditation bring is required to train your mind to be in your control. The refocusing that you do in this is helpful to take control of your mind and the negative thoughts when they start wandering in a negative direction. 

2. Yoga

Yoga helps the mind and body be in a relaxed state. Doing yoga regularly improves health and immunity and also makes the system stronger. If you are someone who is constantly cautious due to coulrophobia, yoga will help you calm and center your body. 

3. Balanced diet 

What is taken in by the body is also shown in the way you feel about it. Having a terrible food habit also makes you feel terrible about it, and gives you more health problems, hence making you anxious about your lifestyle choices and decisions.

Having a balanced diet is the easiest way to make sure you live a better lifestyle and give yourself a chance at having a better relationship with your body. 

A balanced diet gives you a healthier output on yourself, life, and the way you think. It should be tried out and managed. 

4. Exercise 

Exercising creates a more developed body and also helps you take out the excess energy that you may feel. Exercising is good to work out your body as well as give your mind a break from thinking about fearful situations or memories. Regular exercise habits will leave you with a better state of mind as well as the body. 

5. Regular sleep schedule

Decent amount of sleep is required for each individual’s healthy and normal body functioning. Having good sleep habits will enhance your overall outlook on life and give you proper stamina and strength to go through the day. 

Proper sleeping habits also allow the body to maintain and create balance, which is the antithesis of the imbalance the body feels when under stress or in a state of constant anxiety.  

6. Finding support groups 

Support groups can help you understand how you and your peers are dealing with the same problem. It provides a safe space to share your troubles and be understood entirely. 

Support groups can also give you a place to meet new people and give you a buddy to help you with your fear. They can listen or reach out when you feel like you’re being overwhelmed. 

7. Journaling 

Journaling helps you out when you are using it to reflect on your days and behaviors as well as thoughts that you keep track of. It is a reflective exercise and also lets your thoughts be free.

When you journal, you may spot the days or spots when your fear may be triggered, what caused it, what happened and how you have dealt with it in past and how you can deal with it in the future. It is a reference, guidance, and a dialogue with yourself that you can go back to at any point. 

Summing Up 

Coulrophobia, even though is more common than most fears, it is still a specific phobia that needs to be treated in therapy. It is important to remember that you don’t have to go on living your life in fear when you have a phobia. 

Taking treatment for your phobia will take time and requires patience and commitment. Everyone has something or the other they fear, they just need to take the first step to overcome it.

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