In previous blogs, I’ve discussed staring at people’s privates. This is related to Visual Tourettic OCD. But let me talk about peripheral staring and a technique to help suppress the tic for a few seconds when you need it most.
First, peripheral staring is not gazing at people in and of itself, even though that’s how it might appear. Instead, it’s turning towards the distraction concerning people and what they’re doing—or being distracted and looking out the corners of your eyes.
For example, suppose I’m on a bus, and someone is making a shuffling noise opposite me. The noise is like a magnet pulling my head sideways, but it seems I’m being rude when I turn and appear to look at the person making the noise. Or other times, my eyes dart to the side when I feel the presence of people beside me. Of course, it’s difficult to say what I’m looking at exactly, but my thoughts are that it’s a near-automatic harmless check. Looking feels like spontaneous activity in my brain that needs discharging. So, my thoughts are not about looking because I’m intrigued. It’s about not looking and hoping I can stop myself.
I might liken the feeling of peripheral staring to Misophonia. It is a hatred of sounds that makes you react emotionally. Usually, the emotion is anger, but it can come with other emotions, such as sadness. Triggering noises are when people eat, swallow, sniff, cough and rattle packets. The point is that there is an automatic response. For example, automatically covering your ears to drown out the noise. In staring OCD it is to stare automatically when people are in your periphery.
Misophonia can also affect you when people aren’t making any sounds. It’s as if you can hear them making noises when they’re not. So for example, you can sense or “hear” breathing that triggers intolerance and emotional distress, making you want to scream.
Similarly, peripheral staring triggers sensory discomfort and threat. So, seeing people in your periphery makes you feel more jittery, anxious, and frustrated, and you feel the urge to look. Again, it feels like a hidden internal sense causes it.
As a further example, suppose you’re in a library. Everyone around you is quiet. But then, you’re triggered by a person beside you. After that, the sensitive aspects of peripheral vision (like too much jittery awareness for the nervous system to manage) are let loose. So, the hyperawareness makes you jolt and release the staring tic you want desperately to suppress.
3-Step Competing Technique
You can use different techniques to suppress the urge to look. I’ll share one involving competing responses where a specific discomfort must overpower the premonitory urge to stare. This technique addresses the tic, not an obsession and compulsion related to it. Instead, it’s a skill you can use in legitimate situations where you want to avoid unnecessary drama where people can be offended when you continually “look” at them.
So, let me go back to the bus situation. Imagine I’m sitting, minding my own business, then suddenly I get the pulling urge to turn and look when I sense people around me:
- I will fold my arms and push my hands into my biceps. It tenses the head, neck and shoulders, so turning to look is restricted, which is what you want.
- I concentrate on the discomfort of squeezing my hands into my biceps and pushing harder, which competes more intensely with the premonitory tension to release the tic and look.
- I then relax my arms but keep them folded loosely and use the competing response when I need it to help suppress a tic for a few seconds.
I like this competing response because no one seems to notice you’re doing it throughout the journey. But remember, it restricts movement, so if you have muscular or skeletal problems, check with your doctor first before doing it.
Questions welcome in comments section below.