While obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is commonly portrayed in the media through better-known, often stereotyped themes like checking OCD or contamination OCD, there are countless OCD subtypes that each manifest in different ways. Most people with OCD follow the same obsession-compulsion pattern, but between individuals, symptoms can manifest in completely different ways.
Compulsive staring is a particularly under-represented form of OCD, but it’s just as valid as other types and is defined by the same pattern of excessive intrusive thoughts (obsessions) that lead people to engage in repetitive, and sometimes irrational, behaviors (compulsions).
As a specialist with decades of experience treating all varieties of OCD, I know this firsthand—and I also know just how much freedom can be gained from effective, evidence-based OCD treatment for any theme of OCD. Let’s take a good look at how OCD can involve compulsive staring, and what you can do to get better.
Is compulsive staring a form of OCD?
Absolutely! Compulsive staring is a type of OCD characterized by the persistent need to stare inappropriately, often at genitals or breasts, regardless of whether or not someone wants to stare at them. Like many forms of OCD, compulsive staring starts with an intrusive thought, feeling, or urge, known as an obsession, that leads to excessive stress, anxiety, or physical discomfort followed by taking an action, or compulsion, in order to ease those negative thoughts or feelings.
There are typically two types of compulsive staring people experience: those who find themselves staring even when they don’t want to, and those who aren’t staring but can’t stop thinking about it.
Regardless of which category you find yourself in, your experience with compulsive staring is completely valid. These obsessive thoughts or compulsive actions can cause a lot of discomfort both internally and externally, and—regardless of how someone experiences compulsive staring—the stress and anxiety surrounding the obsession can cause very real disruptions to a person’s daily life.
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What causes compulsive staring?
While researchers haven’t identified a single cause for OCD and its subtypes, we do know that OCD is typically caused by a combination of psychological, environmental and biological factors.
Even though we don’t know what causes OCD, we do understand how OCD works, which can help make treatment for OCD much easier. For people experiencing compulsive staring or another form of OCD, it all starts with a trigger. This can be internal or external, and it typically involves experiencing something that leads to an intrusive thought—like thinking you might be staring at someone’s genitals—that leads to continued obsession.
Here are some other examples of intrusive worries or fears that might be be involved in compulsive staring:
- Did that person see me looking at them earlier? Do they think I’m being creepy?
- Do I look weird? Am I standing normally? Are they judging me?
- Where am I supposed to look? I can’t seem to land my eyes anywhere “natural.”
- I need to make sure they’re not looking at me.
- I looked angry or weird earlier. I need to make sure people see me looking more at ease.
- Is something bad going on over there? Is someone in danger?
- I’ll feel “off” until I look at that person for a certain amount of time or a certain number of times.
- I won’t feel quite “right” until I make sure I read the words on their shirt.
- I can’t quite tell if that’s someone I used to know. What if that bothers me all day?
In the case of compulsive staring, this obsession over whether or not you are staring at someone in an inappropriate way can cause immense distress. As a result of this negative feeling, you might find yourself taking an action, also known as a compulsion, to ease the stress or anxiety you might be feeling. These could include purposefully looking “relaxed,” trying to distract yourself from your urge to look somewhere, blinking a certain number of times, closing your eyes entirely, or monitoring something visually for reassurance that it’s okay.
Can compulsive staring be treated?
Thankfully, OCD and its subtypes—including compulsive staring—are more treatable than ever before using a form of therapy known as exposure and response prevention (ERP). Known as the gold standard in treating OCD, ERP works by placing people with OCD in various situations in order to provoke their obsessions in a safe environment with the guidance of a licensed therapist.
Over time, the goal of ERP is to teach people how to prevent their compulsive responses, allowing them freedom from the seemingly endless cycle of obsessions and compulsions, so they can live a life free of OCD. While this process might seem intense as you get started, it’s also shown to be the most effective form of treatment for OCD and its many subtypes, meaning it’s definitely worth the work.
In any case, exposure exercises are planned individually based on the obsessions and compulsions that you’re experiencing. This tailored approach is one reason why ERP is so effective in helping people recover from OCD.
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Specialized OCD treatment is more accessible than ever. NOCD accepts most major insurance plans to help you start getting better.
How do I find treatment for compulsive staring?
If you’re ready to seek treatment for compulsive staring, we recommend looking for a licensed therapist with experience in treating OCD using ERP. Other forms of treatment tend to be ineffective in treating OCD, so finding a qualified professional with the right form of training is crucial.
Here at NOCD, all our therapists have experience treating various forms of OCD with ERP therapy, and they’ve received specialized training in diagnosing and treating every form of the condition. If you think your compulsive staring may be a sign of OCD and you’re interested in feeling better, I strongly encourage you to learn more about NOCD’s evidence-based approach to treatment.