Phobias: Unconventional and Irrational? (Part II)

As discussed in a previous post, there are many things that cause fear. Generally the fear is something that occurs for an explosive instant, then vanishes like a passing wind. Even if it’s a creeping fear, the tension that builds is relieved by some climactic flash, a relief from the anxiety that has been coiling around the organs in our torso, loosening our bowels, inflating our bladders, and turning our legs to jelly. Fears are different from phobias. Fears end. Phobias persist. Phobias are irrational fears of objects or situations that pose little real threat or danger, but provide anxiety and avoidance.

My sister, Dee, has Coulrophobia — pronounced Kull-roe-phobia — fear of clowns. As a horror movie fan, it fascinates me. As her older brother, I would hope to assuage some of that anxiety associated with clowns, simply so that it wouldn’t be such a source of discomfort. That wasn’t always the case. I owned the movie Killer Klowns from Outer Space and that may or may not be one of the root causes of her phobia.

My brother, Marc and I, lived in the basement of our parents’ house. We loved watching horror movies in the dark. If Dee wanted to hang with us, she had to watch what we were watching. (Dee is seven years younger than me, and as you can imagine, of course, she wanted to hang with her big brothers.) Sometimes (most of the time), we would watch things that were inappropriate for a ten year old. (Get your mind out of the gutter. It was horror or sci-fi stuff. Nothing lewd and if a Friday the 13th provocative scene happened Marc ALWAYS made her shut her eyes or covered them for her.) He was always a prude about such things and I loved him for it.

Dee is a horror fan. It’s kind of in her blood, and I know we had something to do with it, but if we’re to identify her phobia, as a result of trauma, then we have to bear some of that blame, too. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is not a funny movie. In fact, the Klowns are aliens that eat human flesh, if I recall correctly. It’s horrifying. It is considered a cult classic, but probably not the right thing to watch with a ten year old.

According to the Very Well Mind, there is something steeped in our cultural consciousness that creates dichotomous images of even our most saintly mythologies. The clown is a figure that can be traced back to the Greek amphitheater. The jester of ancient times was tasked to make the audience laugh in the most difficult medieval times of plague and famine. In modern times, clowns perform in a circus to make children laugh. What could cause such a shift in the paradigm of beneficent entertainer?

People like John Wayne Gacy and other corrupt people have bastardized the figure of the clown. By using the face paint as a facade, they hide their evil intent, causing us to doubt even the most altruistic ideals as false or sinister. Consequently, our mythologies have incorporated these variants as possible divergences in our narratives, creating a new context for the clown. This new context is why our horror movies have exploited those fears. Watch the newest version of It (Chapters 1 and 2) to see how Stephen King has developed an entire mythology for his clown, Pennywise.

Okay, so you might think that I’ve wandered. Although I might have strayed a bit, I haven’t gone very far. It is important to recognize that Coulrophobia is not just something that Dee has, but that 8 % of the population, according to, suffers. Marc and I didn’t traumatize everyone of those 8 %. So it really seems to be unnecessary to identify the root cause of the early trauma, especially when one considers that the fear reaction is irrational. However, there has to be something that can be considered as helpful coping measures.

For phobias such as coulrophobia, you’ll most likely use one of two types of psychotherapy:

  • Exposure therapy.This type of therapy is almost exactly what it sounds like. You’re exposed to the thing you fear in a non-threatening and safe environment. In this case, your therapist may show you a picture of a clown, and you can discuss the feelings and emotions that come up at the moment, working to find ways to reduce and manage their intensity.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT focuses on changing thinking and patterns around certain behaviors. For example, you may work with your therapist to change the way you think about clowns until it’s more positive or neutral.

Above I added this video from YouTube that amplifies a lot of what I’ve claimed. Sis, I hope you have found this interesting and helpful. I, for one, enjoyed researching all this stuff. I hope this makes up for some of the times we scared the crap out of you. Love ya.

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