By Bob Litton
In the small town (Pop. 5,972) where I reside, we have a senior center, where old folks like me can enjoy a generally well-balanced lunch five days a week — excepting federal holidays.
For a few months, a couple of ladies dressed as clowns came to the center’s lunch room once a month to hand out balloon sculptures and josh with the diners. After sitting through a couple of those experiences I quit going to the center on the day the clowns were scheduled to appear.
I stayed away for two reasons: one, I do not like to see elderly folks treated or spoken to as though they are the same as children; and, two, I have had, since early childhood, an aversion to clowns and to absurd appearances or speech in general. When I was six years old, I contracted measles and the small apartment where my mother and I resided was quarantined. Mother bought some 78rpm record albums to entertain me during my isolation. Most of them were very enjoyable, but one — a “Bozo the Clown” album — I could not stand; yet, I did not reveal my distaste to Mother because I knew she had meant only to amuse me.
At the time, naturally, my cognitive powers were not developed enough to connect my aversion to that album with a congenital aversion to clowns as a genus. As the years passed, however, and I showed a similar dislike of stories such as Alice in Wonderland, I began to suspect that my aversion practically amounted to a phobia. My recent emotional experience of clowns at the senior center caused me to face that reality in my psyche.
I characterized my reaction to clowns as “clownphobia” (the psychiatrists’ term for it is “Coulrophobia”); and I also realized that I have perhaps an excessive sensitivity to others touching me (Chiraptophobia, also Haphephobia), whether they are clowns or not: I have a very narrowly circumscribed “comfort zone”.
I wondered if everyone has at least one phobia, so I researched the matter. What I discovered was that the scientists prefer to restrict the term “phobia” and all its combined forms to perceptions that cause a disabling of the body, a paralysis; for the less affecting reactions, the scientists prefer the less clinical terms “fear” and “aversion”. Also, I read where other persons had asked the same question about how universal phobias could be: the answer was that it is impossible to know absolutely because there are too many people in the world who live in inaccessible places, but that many people, if they do have phobias, do not admit as much. Do they really not have phobias, or do they suffer from fear of phobias (Phobophobia) and therefore deny any phobia’s presence?
Further into my research, I found that there are long lists of phobias, valid or not, on the Internet, and I was astounded at the extreme plenitude and variety of these reactions. I photocopied thirteen pages from one list so that I could study them easier. I did not try to count them, however, because one “phobia” could be denoted by more than one term; for instance, Domatophobia – fear of houses or of being in a house – is also referenced as Eicophobia and Oikophobia.
One of the most surprising aspects of the list I saw was that so many of the phobias related to such basic elements of civilization, Nature and our own bodies that I could not imagine how people who suffered from them could continue through their daily lives. Consider, as examples, these: Agyrophobia – fear of streets or crossing the street; Asymmetriphobia – fear of asymmetrical things; Bibliophobia – fear of books; Chronophobia– fear of time; Dendrophobia– fear of trees; Eosophobia – fear of dawn or daylight; Epistemophobia (and Gnosiophobia) – fear of knowledge; Ergophobia – fear of work; Heliophobia – fear of the sun; Kathisophobia– fear of sitting down; Lachanophobia – fear of vegetables; Microphobia – fear of small things; Noctiphobia – fear of the night; Nomatophobia – fear of names; Ombrophobia – fear of rain or being rained on; Phronemophobia – fear of thinking; Euphobia – fear of good news; Selenophobia – fear of the moon; Sitophobia (also, Cibophobia) – fear of food or eating; Somniphobia – fear of sleeping; Trichopathophobia (also, Chaetophobia, Hypertrichophobia) – fear of hair; Cardiophobia – fear of the heart; Geniophobia – fear of chins; Genuphobia – fear of knees; Ommetaphobia – fear of eyes; and Omphalophobia – fear of belly buttons.
There is a bunch more of those. However, let’s move on to phobias that I would not classify absolutely as “phobias” but, depending on the occasion, as justifiable fears or aversions. Under this heading, we can list: Arsonphobia – fear of fire; Atomosophobia – fear of atomic explosions; Ballistophobia – fear of missiles or bullets; Cnidophobia – fear of stings; Cynophobia – fear of dogs or rabies; Herpetophobia – fear of reptiles or creepy, crawly things. Hoplophobia – fear of firearms; Iophobia – fear of poison; Lilapsophobia – fear of hurricanes and tornadoes; Acrophobia (also Altophobia) – fear of heights; and let’s not leave out Ephebiphobia – fear of teenagers; and Gynephobia (also Gynophobia) – fear of women.
A few phobias on the list puzzle me because I cannot fathom how anyone could comprehend them enough to feel threatened by them. In this category I include Amnesiphobia – fear of amnesia; Apeirophobia – fear of infinity; Astrophobia – fear of stars or celestial space; Barophobia – fear of gravity; Cometophobia – fear of comets; Dikephobia – fear of justice; Eleutherophobia – fear of freedom; and Kosmikophobia – fear of cosmic phenomena.
There is even a diagnostic for fear of everything: Panophobia (or Pantophobia). O Brother! If you suffered from that one, you’d want to dig a hole in the ground and have some friend cover you….But then you’d go berserk from Bathophobia (fear of depth) and Molysomophobia (fear of dirt) or from both together. That’s a “no win” situation. Let’s hope you don’t contract Panophobia.
Fortunately for me, it is not often that I encounter clowns, and they are usually easy enough to remain clear of. The Chiraptophobia is a bit more problematic; I don’t even like to shake hands. (Does anybody?) Many people think I am antisocial, which is not the case at all; I just have my “comfort zone” which I allow only adorable women to enter.
Adorable women. Of course.