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  • Catherine Benfield

What is Visual Tourettic OCD/Staring OCD?


Olivia sitting on a London Underground train trying not to stare at a person next to her

 Visual Tourettic OCD aka Staring OCD aka compulsive staring is a particularly painful subset of OCD that hasn’t been spoken about enough. In fact, despite being in the OCD community for the best part of a decade, I’d not really come across it. Thankfully this is changing and there are an amazing group of individuals - both medically trained and lived experience experts – talking loudly about this disorder. I’ll link through to these people and helpful resources through out this post but first I’d like to share my experiences with Visual Tourettic OCD. I hope it will help you feel less alone and validate what you are going through.

 



My Experiences with Visual Tourettic OCD


I developed OCD in early childhood and I remember a particularly painful time around the age of 8-11 where I became riddled with tics. I used the word riddled because they were constant and I couldn’t stop them. The tics were involuntary movements that affected my head, mouth and eyes.


The toughest tic for me to deal with (although they were all horrendous) were the tics involving my eyes. These tics involved staring, and they caused me a load of discomfort both physically and socially. I used to experience intense urges to stare at people, and the more I did it, the more worried I got about the consequences and how weird it made me look, which in turn meant the more I felt I had to do it. Staring at people occasionally isn’t an issue – everyone does it when they’re day dreaming, curious or trying to work something out – but my staring was... different.

I felt I had to stare – I’d either stare way too intensely or aim the stare towards somewhere society may not be overly impressed with. That’s right (and thank you again OCD!) I used to have tics that involved involuntary staring at people genitals. I was eight, this was not sexually inappropriate behavior – it was Visual Tourettic OCD.

 

I wasn’t aware of any obsessions leading to the tics (which are Tourettic in nature) or compulsions following on after because it would be another twenty years before I got diagnosed with OCD – but looking back, I do know that I tried to avoid doing these tics by staring elsewhere, avoiding certain situations, and blinking HARD and rolling my eyes to try to ‘reset’ them.

 

Visual Tourettic OCD thankfully fell to the wayside for me as I grew older and other subsets of OCD demanded my time and energy – swings and roundabouts, hey!

Over the years there were a few incidents of staring mainly at people’s faces on the tube and worrying about ‘getting caught staring’. During these times, I've noticed the tics but they’ve stopped as soon as I got off the train. I didn‘t really give these urges to stare much thought until a few weeks ago when a friend of mine asked me to go with them to a life drawing class, and my first thought of one was absolute horror. I could see it. I would be attacked by OCD and the tic would make me stare at people’s bits and just…nooooooooooooooooo! I was surprised by my reaction to the invite and that my first thought was avoidance and escape. Classic compulsions. Just what was going on here?

 

 

 

What is Visual Tourettic OCD?


Just like ‘typical’ OCD, Visual Tourettic OCD involves obsessions and compulsions but additionally, visual Tourettic OCD involves a visual tic. A tic is a sudden, involuntary movement and in the case of visual Tourettic OCD it tends to involve staring that is deemed 'inappropriate'. This is often feeling the eyes 'tic' towards the genitals of other people. OCD tend to focus on our worst-case scenarios and there’s not much worse for us huge-hearted OCD sufferers than to be seen as sexually inappropriate (thank you again OCD!).


Visual Tourettic tics can take place peripherally too, where the staring takes place out of the corner of the eye. 


Lots of things can trigger visual Tourettic OCD, with many people noting it gets worse in small settings such as an in-person small group meetings, at work, or in places it is hard to escape from such as on a train between stations.




Obsessions in Visual Tourettic OCD


The obsessions in Visual Tourettic OCD often center around the tic and the consequences you might face if you get caught staring.


Examples of obsessions are:


  •   'What If’ thinking - What if I get caught staring?’, ‘What if people think I’m a creep/bad person/disrespectful?’

  • What if I am a bad person because I literally can’t stop staring?!

  • ‘Does that person think I’m weird?’

  • ‘I hope that person isn’t looking at me. I need to look again to make sure!’

  •  ‘I need to look again because it didn’t feel right last time I did it. I’ll make sure this is the last one’.

 



Compulsions in Visual Tourettic OCD


The compulsions in Visual Tourettic OCD are behaviors designed to lessen the anxiety felt, so in this case it can be seeking any sort of reassurance, or making an attempt to avoid/escape a situation where staring may happen and cause an issue.


  • In terms of the tic, compulsions can also be to avoid socialising altogether, or try to control the socialisation in some way e.g. talk to friends through zoom or video games where there is limited visibility.

  •  stare intensely elsewhere or stare directly at the persons face without breaking as an attempt to stop the tic (this can also cause issues as staring intensely and directly at someone’s face can cause negative social feedback.)

  • Blinking or other eye movements designed to distract away from the tic.

  • Repeated analysis of whether staring is actually taking place. (OCD Specialist Dr Jonathon Greyson noted that people can be worried about the staring even if they aren’t actually doing it).

  •    Wearing sunglasses

  •    Repeated analysis of what staring actually is and how to do it naturally

 

 


Treatment for Visual Tourettic OCD


Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Exposure and Response Prevention and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy are all helpful for treating OCD.

For visual Tourettic OCD, there are additional methods designed to address the tics too.

 

1)       Being taught how to respond to people noticing that you are staring – being trained out of the fight or flight situation and taught how to just look away naturally.

 

2)      Being taught how to avoid intense staring at the face as a compulsion. Using a triangle of dots around the face (usually at the chin and above each eye) helps people to learn how to show interest and look roughly in the right direction, without staring.   

 

3)      The Sneek Peek: a term created by Dr Jonathon Greyson means letting the tic ‘out’ but in a quick or unnoticeable way.



 

The important things to remember…


  • Visual Tourettic OCD can be very distressing to experience but always remind yourself that, like all OCD, it tends to focus on what you value the most. So, in this case it’ll be wanting to be a good person, wanting to be liked and being a caring member of society. The obsessions and the tics say NOTHING about you. If you feel ashamed of your tic, read about Tourettic tics. This is what you're dealing with. It is a disorder and….


  •     …. it can be treated!

 

  •      Remember to keep up with your self-compassion practice. You are AWESOME! If OCD starts to make you forget that, get going on those activities.

 

  • There are lots of people now talking about Visual Tourettic OCD! Many of them know a lot more about it then me and so I will tag through to their information below. One of the most passionate advocates is International OCD Foundation grassroots advocate Matthew Bannister. It was a chat with Matthew that actually prompted me to write about my own experience with Visual Tourettic OCD. I’ll link through to him below too.

 


I’m going to end this post here, it’s been an enlightening one to write, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot! I really hope it has helped you too.

 

Sending you loads of love as always,


Cat x

 

 P.S. I'd like to say a HUGE thankyou you to Matthew Bannister and Carol Edwards for reading over this for me.

 


Resources and further reading about Visual Tourettic OCD.


Matthew runs a Youtube channel called OCD Visual Advocates alongside former CBT therapist turned writer Carol Edwards. You can find that here!


This is a great place to start when first learning about Visual Tourettic OCD including Dr Jonathon Greyson


Matthew was recently on the Your Anxiety Toolkit podcast. You can listen to this here.


For Carol Edwards' website please visit here.



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