What is Staring OCD?
Staring OCD, also known as visual Tourettic OCD or V-TOCD, means staring at people’s privates or peripherally due to distractions around you. It might also include staring at animals’ privates, shoes, shiny things, etc. But this article is about staring at people’s privates. V-TOCD makes interaction and communication difficult to manage in this case, mainly due to anxiety.
V-TOCD is not the same as when people do the well-known intimate gaze, where they make two glances up and down before looking at the person’s face. Nearly everyone does this; it’s primitive and not meant to be rude. We’re not entirely conscious of doing the intimate yet subtle gaze. Still, it is a typical staring process that at one time was to discover the sex of each other.
When Staring Becomes Repetitive
That said, though it shows that nearly everybody tends to stare at each other’s private areas, it becomes an obsessive worry for people who develop V-TOCD. This is due to the tic-related problem involved. In other words, you can think of the tic like a sudden loud sound, and you automatically turn to look. So likewise, people with a visual tic respond to private regions in their view as though responding to loud noise. When they do this, they release the tic automatically and bring it to an endpoint.
I’ve lived with V-TOCD for many years, but I’m now in recovery. I realised to recover, you need to notice your behaviours immediately before you get the premonitory urge to stare. For example, suppose you’re having a conversation. In this case, imagine you get the urge to stare at the other person’s privates, and your behaviour is to look to one side to avoid doing so. It’s repetitive and draws attention, making you feel conspicuous and anxious. That being the case, you would manage the tic around that behaviour (looking sideways).
Get Yourself a Toolbag of Techniques
A toolbag of techniques can help you choose what works best. So, for example, I would select a triangular gaze and hair-flick approach from my toolbag during a conversation to avoid looking sideways. To see the triangular gaze in your mind, draw a face, put a line across the eyes, and make a triangle where the point ends at the mouth. Now imagine the triangle is on the person’s face with whom you next have a conversation. The triangle is your focus.
It does two things.
First, it’s a social look and non-threatening because you’re not making direct eye contact. Second, since you’re not making direct eye contact, it eases anxiety a little. But do be confident when you make the triangular gaze. In other words, it’s okay to be casual and not worry because, after all, the goal is to manage your tic and make it a skill.
What can help is knowing that most people without V-TOCD make the triangular gaze. They’re just less conscious about using it, so they come across as natural. So, the good thing is that when you do it, it’s likely that the other person is too. So, there is no need to feel intimidated because it looks like non-threatening eye contact.
Next, you want to gauge how long you’ve made the triangular gaze. When I do it, I want it to be between three and five seconds before using the hair-flick technique I mentioned earlier (I’ll tell you how this works in a minute). Three to five seconds is the length of time people without V-TOCD naturally manage their gaze before turning away briefly. So, I’m happy to go with three seconds, even two.
Next, convince yourself you can do this and try it out. Start with one second, then two, and three after that. Suppose you can stretch to four and five, then great because the other person will likely look away first. If that happens, you don’t need the hair flick technique because you’ll get a chance to relieve yourself of the pressing urge to tic (down there or up there) and resume the triangular gaze.
Hair Flick Technique
So, now to the hair-flick approach. If needed, I throw my hair back with my hand because it’s long. But if it’s short, you can brush your hand through it. Whichever way you do this, it gives you a quick second to take a covert glance at the person’s privates. It’s because you naturally turn your head as you flick or brush your hair. Then, you resume the imaginary triangle on the person’s face.
Of course, you probably don’t want to flick your hair or brush it back every few seconds; otherwise, it might look as weird as trying not to stare. In that case, you can choose more techniques and use them when you feel the urge to tic—for example, rubbing your brow with the tips of your fingers. A fraction of a second is all it takes to give you a further chance to release the staring tic. It prevents avoidance compulsions and can make your conversation look like a typical interaction.
Making Eye Contact
You might be surprised to find that many people don’t make direct eye contact in social settings, but if they do, it is fleeting. So don’t worry when you use the triangular gaze without direct eye contact; the main thing is that you’re interacting like most people do. However, suppose you want to make direct eye contact. In that case, you can do the following:
- Concentrate your attention on the triangular gaze and relax.
- Look into the person’s eyes for about half-a-second.
- Resume the triangular gaze gently.
- Increase the half-second to one second when you’re ready, then two. More than two seconds can be uncomfortable for other person. Additionally, remember to alternate it with the triangular gaze and looking away naturally before resuming the triangular gaze.
Finally, rehearse with friends or family who are happy to be your practice person.
When perfected, you realise you have the power to control your tic. So it’s crucial to keep your attention on managing it, not trying to avoid it. Let it become a skill, as mentioned before.
Want more tips?
Get more tips in my book “Address Staring OCD: How To Manage Visual Tics And Obsessions”.