Clown Phobia: Causes, Effects, And Treatments

Updated January 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Do you experience feelings of fear or anxiety when you see or think of a clown? If so you’re not alone. In a recent survey, 42% of Americans said that they were afraid of clowns in some way. The reasons for such widespread fear can vary from the painted, unfamiliar faces of clowns to their wildly exaggerated outfits. 

Below, we’ll take a look at the phobia of clowns, along with its causes, effects, and treatment.

What Is Clown Phobia?

Coulrophobia, or "clown phobia," is an extreme fear of clowns. If you have this phobia, you may find clowns to be creepy and frightening. If you are terrified of clowns, you may also feel the same way about mimes or other characters who paint their faces in a similar way. You may even feel traumatized at the mere thought of a clown. If so, you're not alone. As the study above suggests, nearly half of all American adults have a fear of clowns.

Although you might be able to tell yourself that clowns are not going to harm you in any way, it can be difficult to shake off the fear. The phobia itself tends to be persistent, though effective treatment is possible.

Why Do People Have Clown Phobia?

Several factors may be the root cause of a person's clown phobia. It can begin at a very early age and stay with you throughout the years ahead. Clown makeup and costumes tend to exaggerate certain body parts, such as the nose, feet, and hands. Even the makeup gives you a sense of someone who is real but just doesn't look quite right. Some people see these characteristics as funny, whereas others see them as quite disturbing and unpleasant. To these people, it may be difficult to identify the true intent and emotion of a clown, as its facial expression is painted on to appear constantly happy.

In addition to clowns looking unusual, they often behave very differently. These anti-social and off-the-wall traits can further add to feelings of unease. This effect can be observed in the way that contemporary films have cashed in on the "evil clown" idea, which may further contribute to this phobia.

Outside of the entertainment industry, there are other representations of clowns being evil. In 2016, for example, Americans experienced a mass panic and epidemic of scary clown sightings. Videos and stories of sinister clowns attempting to lure children away appeared online and throughout mainstream media. It's since been discovered that many of the reported incidents and sightings were childish rumors, pranks, and hoaxes. However, many people were frightened at the time.

How Does This Phobia Develop?

The phobia of clowns often stems from a childhood experience. Perhaps you were terrified by one when you were younger, and that fear has stayed with you and built up over time. Many children have a fear of clowns, and it is common to develop a phobia over time from an early age. In fact, a study from the University of Sheffield, UK, surveyed approximately 250 four- to sixteen-year-olds and discovered that most participants disliked the idea of images of clowns being integrated into hospital decor.

Explore Clown Phobia And Its Treatments.

Other causes of clown phobia may include:

  • Brain function: Changes in brain function are thought to play a part in the development of phobias.

  • Environment and genetics: Having family who are afraid of clowns may result in an increased risk of the fear being passed on via learned behavior or genetics.

Effects And Symptoms Of Clown Phobia

Depending on the extent and strength of your phobia, you may experience mild anxiety, fear, or panic attacks whenever you see a clown. Some symptoms you may experience include:

  • Chest pain

  • Palpitations

  • Nausea

  • Headaches

  • Fainting

  • Sweaty palms

  • Lightheadedness

  • Abdominal pains

  • Dry mouth

  • Shaking

  • Breathing problems

  • Feelings of terror

  • Loss of usual mental stability

  • Preoccupation with clowns or mimes

  • Sense of unreality

  • Crying

  • Feelings of dread

Not all people with a clown phobia experience the same severity of symptoms, but if you have this phobia, you may find yourself going out of your way to avoid seeing clowns at all costs. For example, you may shy away from children's parties or avoid watching certain movies and shows. Additionally, when you know you're about to face a situation that will potentially involve clowns, you may begin to fear the phobia itself. You may lie awake in bed at night as you worry about having to interact with a clown or about your symptoms in general. When this happens, it might be time to seek out professional help and treatment.

Diagnosis Of Clown Phobia

Although clown phobia is not currently listed in either the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) or the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10), it's still possible to get treatment for coulrophobia. If your fears are interfering with your life, speaking to a therapist may get you on a path toward healing.

To find out if you have coulrophobia, a mental health professional may ask you several questions regarding your symptoms and the length of time you've experienced them. If you opt to see a medical doctor, you'll likely be asked questions relating to your medical history and any medications you're currently taking. Your diagnosis will likely be based on you whether or not you experience any of these symptoms:

  • You have a panic attack or feel stressed when you're near clowns.

  • You have a disproportionate fear of clowns.

  • You understand that the level of fear you experience is unreasonable.

  • You actively avoid clowns.

  • You're not experiencing various medical conditions, such as panic disorder.

Things You Can Do On Your Own

There are several things you might try to begin combating your coulrophobia.

  • Slowly Expose Yourself To Your Fear

This is a direct approach toward reducing your coulrophobia. You might try going online and checking out videos or images of clowns until they become less terrifying to look at. The more you expose yourself, the easier it may be to overcome your fears.

  • Recognize That It's All An Act

Clowns are performers wearing makeup to entertain an audience. The things you see on TV and the big screen may appear real and evoke emotional reactions, but they are fictitious. Although the symptoms of fear are real and deserve to be recognized, reminding yourself of the difference between real and fake may help you dramatically.

  • Identify the Cause Yourself

You might find some time to sit down and really think back to what may have triggered your fear of clowns. Once you discover the root of the problem, you can try to rationalize it the best you can with logical reasoning.

Keep in mind, these are simple steps you can take to begin to overcome your fear. If you discover that you cannot do this on your own, you can also look into a variety of therapy treatments.

Current Treatments For Clown Phobia

There are various therapeutic treatments for clown phobia. These include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

As with other phobias, clown phobia can be treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT may enable you to manage your phobia by modifying the way you behave and think. Your therapist may show you how to overcome any negative patterns in your thoughts and actions.

CBT doesn’t tend to focus heavily on the past. On the contrary, it tends to address your current concerns and zeroes in on practical methods to help you overcome your phobia. With your therapist's help, you can analyze the thoughts, actions, and physical feelings that arise when you see a clown or anything related to them.

After you determine what changes you need to make, you'll likely be asked to practice them every day and every time you think of your phobia. If you're completely committed to CBT, it can have a huge positive impact on living a phobia-free life.

  • Exposure Therapy

Exposure therapy is a type of CBT. Exposure therapy counseling may involve reliving a traumatic experience, confronting a clown, or managing your upsetting thoughts of clowns in a controlled situation. It aims to reduce feelings of distress when confronted with your phobia. In this case, you would likely be confronted with a clown, the thoughts of a clown, or upsetting memories of clowns in order to target your feelings. As you learn to cope with confronting your fears, your phobic reaction may gradually decrease in intensity.

Throughout your therapy, you will likely learn to use relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises. Learning to incorporate these into your daily life, you may be able to feel a sense of control whenever you see or think of clowns.

  • Relaxation Therapy

When you are fighting a phobia, it may help to incorporate relaxing activities into your life. These activities might include a yoga class, acupuncture, or meditation.

Explore Clown Phobia And Its Treatments.

Get Online Counseling With BetterHelp

If your phobia is interfering with your everyday life, online counseling is available with BetterHelp. Research has shown that phobia interventions, such as exposure therapy, can be successfully treated with online counseling. A 2018 study, for example, successfully administered exposure therapy remotely to people experiencing a fear of flying. 

At BetterHelp you can search for counselors who specialize in fears and phobias and talk to them whenever you want. You can contact them via phone, videoconference, or live chat. 

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If you are experiencing coulrophobia, you don’t have to face it alone. With BetterHelp, you can be matched with a licensed therapist experienced at helping people overcome their phobias. Take the first step today.

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