OCD Staring Compulsion: Looking at people and things obsessively

Staring OCD can be one of the most stressful compulsions out there.

Along with being exhausting, compulsions can cause embarrassment, self hate or doubt, and prevent sufferers from wanting to leave the house.

Compulsive staring is very common, often at objects, people and body parts such as genitals. It can help validate checking compulsions, or may occur more as a tic. It can be staring at the tap obsessively to make sure it is off, or staring at people because of tics associated with Tourette’s.

So what is this staring problem disorder... thing?

There are (at least) two different experiences with Staring OCD, so this post is in two sections.

A staring problem may consist of the following:

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

Although this is often considered OCD, it could be due to a tic disorder or Tourettic-OCD.

For some, staring compulsions are purely tics, and we will get to some examples of this.

An OCD staring compulsion

A short story from an anonymous OCD sufferer:

“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 was rude to look at.

Working in a guest-facing role can be embrassing with staring compulsions

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 compulsive staring. Only anxiety, a need to quickly hand them their room key and get them out of sight.”

Staring at genitals/private parts is very common

Many people have a similar urge to look at someone’s genitals, or ‘private parts’.

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.

OCD attaches to our fears and what we consider ‘inappropriate’. The reason why staring at someones private parts is such a common theme in OCD is because we don’t want to do it.

It’s the reason why people don’t seek therapy for staring at the vast ocean or a beautiful tree. We don’t have those horrible, intrusive thoughts about the ocean, nor the same self hate for thinking about it or worries of being caught doing it.

Compulsive staring is never fun, but you aren't alone

OCD thrives on what we would hate to do, and tries to convince us that we want to do it.

If there is a sensory urge to stare, this could be Tourettic-OCD also known as ‘Just Right OCD’.

Staring problems because of tic

A staring problem isn’t always due to obsessional thoughts.

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

Another short story from a London commuter with Tourette describes this feeling:

“I have found myself staring on the London Underground. 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. Sometimes I get it when waiting for the train as well.

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

Staring can be a way to validate a 'checking' obsession

Some people find they have some kind of staring problem disorder during routine checks. It could be:

Staring is a way to validate checking. The problem is obsessive staring can lead to longer and more frequent staring compulsions that OCD feeds off.

There aren’t many studies on a specific ‘staring’ compulsion, as so many different compulsions come from the same neurological processes.

For some it may seem like a tic, and in this ‘checking’ example it seems to manifest through OCD.

Talking helps with trying to stop staring compulsions

Therapists specialising in OCD and anxiety disorders understand the nature of these thoughts.

Many people have benefited from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and similar forms of therapy to understand specific behaviours.

Exercises such as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) can help us understand when we are carrying out compulsions and help stop compulsions taking over.

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