If you're wondering, the prefix, "coulro", actually comes from the Ancient Greek term for "stilt-walker".
Anyway, Lenny's MC is in the circus, so having coulrophobia could really cramp his style. For the purposes of characterization, Lenny wanted to know what could cause someone to be afraid of clowns. Well.
But Lenny's question is excellent overall, because there are all types of phobias, and it makes sense to wonder where they come from.
First, fear is adaptive. Many people have phobias for things that it makes some sense to be afraid of, evolutionarily speaking. Like spiders, snakes, heights, etc. Although these things are rarely an actual threat for those living in modern civilization, there was a time when these things presented a real danger. This is related to that double-edge I keep mentioning. Fear is our friend, when it's appropriate. It keeps us safe and out of harm's way. But if it's misdirected or too extreme, it can really cause trouble.
Second, some people are just genetically predisposed to anxiety. This is well-established in research, but also, I can tell you that I rarely see an anxious child in my office with a parent who denies a history of anxiety in the family. It's almost always there. Some people are just wired to attend to threatening stimuli more closely than others, and their sympathetic nervous systems are wired to respond with an extreme fight-or-flight reaction.
Third, sometimes, things happen. Many phobias are the result of a traumatic incident, often, but not necessarily, in childhood. Like getting stung by a bee and developing a fear of bees. I've worked with kids who had a choking scare and refused to eat. Any scary incident could result in a phobia that ranges from short-lived to lifelong.
|Please pet me.|
Did you ever hear about that poor kid, Albert, who was punked by an evil psychologist? Or, erm, technically speaking, the psychologist, John Watson, conditioned Albert to be afraid of white rats. He did this by sounding a loud noise every time baby Albert reached out to pet the rat (this was the 1920s, when parents were apparently less squeamish about allowing their babies to pet rodents). By pairing the scary noise with the cute rodent, Watson taught baby Albert to fear the adorable white rat.
|Please pet me?|
So, for the purposes of Lenny's story, his MC might just have a natural fear of clowns from childhood, which may be exacerbated by a genetic predisposition to anxiety. Or the phobia could have developed from a particularly scary experience with a clown (from a child's perspective, this could be as simple as an unfamiliar adult in a clown mask getting too close to him). Or, additionally, the fear could have developed from a negative experience, like maybe getting hurt or lost or sick at a circus, and seeing a clown while feeling that way, which would lead to an association between feeling bad or hurt and clowns.
There you go. A recipe for delicious, delicious phobia.
Do you have a phobia? I myself have a fear of parallel parking. I am fully aware of the ways I could cure this fear (by, uh, doing it over and over again in increasing degrees of difficulty), but I have not yet undertaken such an endeavor. How about you? If you do have a phobia, how does it get in your way? Or is it just a normal fear? Remember, to have a phobia, it has to actually IMPAIR you in some way.
I love psychology-related writing questions, so please keep them coming!
Be sure to check out Laura's Mental Health Monday post, which also features a question from a reader today (about bipolar disorder), as well as Lydia's Medical Monday post.