Ok I feel better now! So – what’s all this about phobias? I’ve done a bit of mooching around the interweb to learn a bit more, and it turns out to be far weirder than I thought. My girls are pretty standard issue scaredy-cats where spiders are concerned. I’ve had all the usual squealing and crying over big hairy spiders, and like the strong independent woman I am, I’ve ordered my husband in to deal with the issue.
The thing is, being afraid of bugs and spiders (and clowns) is understandable. According to the experts it’s a leftover survival instinct, from when we did actually live in the wild. See a scary poisonous crawling thingie – leg it! Big hairy wolf – shout for help! Same thing with the dark. Pretty natural to be apprehensive when you can’t see what’s happening. That’s how it all began.
So, doctor, how do you explain a morbid fear of watermelons? Or buttons? How about the irrational cake sprinkle terror? All real phobias, but hardly rooted in the ancient will to survive!
Well the fact is, when we’re kids, our impressionable little minds just run riot sometimes. My friend’s youngest would terrify her with stories of the big orange man. All night long, the orange man would stand outside his bedroom window watching him. But in the morning he was gone! After getting over her own sense of creeping horror as she imagined a big orange clown in the street, she realised he was seeing the streetlight, which, of course, turns off in the morning.
So to help him get over it, she found out what time the street lights turned on, and showed him. It didn’t cure him of the fear immediately, but his conscious mind could make the connection between the light and the phobia he had developed. They could talk about it and be rational.
And that, it seems, is how you go about curing an irrational fear – by gradual exposure to the thing or situation we fear, but in a controlled way and with someone we trust. Then with further exposure and by reinforcing the irrational nature of the fear, the phobia can gradually (or sometimes quite quickly), fade and disappear.
It all takes quite a bit of courage, of course, this facing up to your fears. And coulrohpobia, the fear of clowns, is no exception! It seems the fear originates from the fact that clowns have always been linked with the absurd, laughing at us, even as they make their own ridiculous mistakes. They’re outsiders, not quite tamed or completely sane.
All of which makes me feel so much better about my little dysfunction. If it has a proper name and all, that makes it official. I’m entitled to my terror and I’ll go on enjoying it as long as I like!