OCD Staring Compulsion: Looking at people and things obsessively

Staring OCD can be one of the most embarrassing compulsions out there. I had it bad when I worked in hotels, now I get in on the London Underground. I also do it during my household checks, not as embarrassing but very time consuming.

Staring is a common compulsion, often at objects, people and body parts. It can help validate checking compulsions, or may occur more as a tic. I stare at taps obsessively to make sure they are off, but also stare at people because of tics associated with Tourette’s.


Topics covered:

  • Staring at things because of a tic
  • Staring at things due to a checking compulsion
  • Problems with staring tics at work
  • Staring at times that cause maximum embarrassment or possible danger

I have two different experiences with Staring OCD, so I will split this post into two. Hopefully your experiences will come under one of the following:

  1. Compulsively staring at something you consider inappropriate, embarrassing or without reason
  2. Staring at something during a ‘checking’ compulsion, such as a bathroom tap to make sure the check is valid and the tap is off

Although I originally added this to my OCD section, I have decided to make it more of a Tourettic OCD post.

Some staring compulsions are purely tics, so I will explain them in some pretty funny and cringe-worthy examples.

I didn’t give him the cider bottle, I promise.

An OCD Staring Compulsion

For over a decade I worked in hotels, varying from three to five star. I loved and hated it, the crazy and unpredictable environment matched my personality well. It also raised my stress levels which is never good with OCD.

Whilst working on the front desk I found myself fighting the urge to stare at certain moments. Not every time, but often when I knew it was most inappropriate. These would more than likely be at a woman’s cleavage if she was wearing a more revealing top, or at a specific disability that I knew would seem rude if I looked.

As a male in my twenties this could so easily have been deemed just ‘typical male’ behavior, especially if someone is wearing something revealing. But there was no pleasure in an urge to carry out this compulsion. Just a raise in anxiety, a need to quickly hand them their room key and get them out of sight.

People have often described a desire to look at someone’s ‘private parts’, or something they don’t really desire to look at. Often there is no limit as to who or what is on the receiving end. It could be someone of either sex, a family member or friend. An animal or an object.

One thing in common is a feeling of helplessness and a way to cure themselves of this compulsion.

Eye close up

This urge is almost Tourette’s-like, and can seem impossible to distinguish from a tic, if it isn’t one.

I have found myself doing this on the London Underground too. It is almost an unwritten rule to never look at another passenger on the tube, let alone start conversation.

This tic is a nightmare, as the layout of the carriages means I always face someone directly.

The last place I want to look someone in the eyes is in a carriage underground, at night. Especially if it is towards someone that feels threatened, or looks threatening to me. But as TS often works, this makes my desire to look even stronger and harder to resist.

Two commuters waiting for a train at Baker Street station

Staring as a way to validate a ‘checking’ obsession

Another way I find myself staring is when I am doing my checks before bed. If I check the taps, I have to stare until I know it isn’t dripping. If I check the fridge is closed, I stare until I know it won’t pop open. I stare at the alarm symbol in the top right-hand corner of my phone until I am happy it has been set.

Staring for me is a way to validate my checking. I don’t believe I have done it correctly until I stare long enough to be satisfied. That could be five seconds or five minutes.

I basically do it until it ‘feels right’, and I can truly trust that I have checked.

This one is easier to place on an OCD map, a method to confirm a check has been completed.

The five categories of OCD, 'Checking' being highlighted.

There aren’t many studies on a specific ‘staring’ compulsion, as so many different urges come from the same neurological processes. On one hand it seems like a tic, and in this ‘checking’ example it seems to help a checking urge, but isn’t one.

Conclusion

It may feel like you are the only person to suffer this weird OCD staring compulsion, but you are one of millions that share this experience every day.

I personally hate this one more than most, purely for the time it takes up and how many worries I have tried to resolve by staring myself into reassurance.

It may seem wrong to stare, but remember, OCD is the driving force behind it. Feeling embarrassed, stressed or immoral is a normal reaction to this, and it seems very hard or even impossible to prevent the urge from arising. All we can do is find the techniques to resist the urge and learn how to live a more stress-free life.

How does this compulsion affect you, and do you have tips on how to combat it?

Speaking to someone you trust may feel like a weight has been lifted from your shoulders, keeping it secret will only bottle up your emotions. You never know, that person may have this same secret too! Talking openly with a loved one or a specialist may be the road to recovery and a more enjoyable life.

I has been for me, although it is an ongoing battle within.


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