The Definition Of Fun: The Dark History Of Clowns
On the surface, being afraid of clowns makes little sense. They’re supposed to represent humour, right? But clowns have a much darker history than you might think!
We can trace the tradition of modern clowns all the way back to Elizabethan times where nobles at court used to have a court jester called a Fool to entertain them. Some variation of this character is present in most of Shakespeare’s plays – it was the Fool’s job was to poke fun at the characters, unbalance the play’s logic with their antics, and generally act as comic relief.
However, the Fool also had a darker side: in Shakespeare's plays, the Fool archetype had strong ties to the motif of death and misfortune. Creepy right?
Why Develop A Phobia Of Clowns?
Here are some reasons why clowns are so terrifying to people:
Clowns Don’t Look Human
With their exaggerated features and the strange attitude, clowns can often register as inhuman in our eyes. Clowns (and other strange things) can trigger our brain’s fight-or-flight response. Since clowns don’t look human, our minds are more likely to tag them as threats, making us unconsciously scared of them.
We Often Get Exposed To Them Way Too Early
The first time most of us encounter clowns is during childhood, and since children’s brains are still too underdeveloped to associate clowns as people, they revert back to their instinct of being frightened of unknown things. This early childhood fear of clowns often persists all the way to adulthood.
The evil killer clown has been a trope of plenty of horror movies, and that doesn’t help with our fear of clowns. Since they’re so popularly used as a subject for scary media, their prevalence just exaggerates the qualities that makes them scary.
How Can I Stop Being Afraid Of Clowns?
If you’re scared of clowns, don’t be too ashamed: it’s actually a very common phobia, and even celebrities like Anthony Bourdain and Johnny Depp have a fear of clowns. Most people can live with this phobia – just avoiding clownS and clown-based horror movies will do. But for those that find this condition seriously affecting their lives, there are solutions they can look into.
Cognitive behavioural therapy can help manage the symptoms of coulrophobia. It changes the thought patterns of people with this condition to be less scared of clowns and encourage their brains to associate the fear they experience to their imagination. If necessary, patients can be prescribed medications to help with the recovery process.
Other psychologists recommend tackling the issue early if the person is young enough. If your child is scared of clowns, help them understand that clowns are just putting on an act and that there’s still a person beneath all that makeup. Reinforce that clowns are to be laughed at, not feared, and the child will grow up to have a more positive outlook on these clowns.
Laugh It Off
Most clowns are well meaning people who love performing at children’s parties, so there’s no reason to be frightened of them. With a little time and patience, even severe coulrophobics can learn to overcome their condition.