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Can You Tell If Someone Has OCD By Looking at Their Eyes?

Eye movements sometimes represent compulsive behaviors.

Key points

  • People with OCD may blink, close their eyes, or move their gaze in response to intrusive thoughts.
  • A subtype of OCD known as sensorimotor/hyperawareness OCD involves being hyperaware of bodily sensations and engaging in related compulsions.
  • Eye movements may also be a sign of tic disorders.
Sean Shinnock, used with permission
Source: Sean Shinnock, used with permission

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. Are they also the windows into seeing another's struggle with mental illness? Perhaps. There are several ways to identify certain OCD and OCD related disorders by noticing eye behavior and patterns.

While this article is meant to be an interesting discussion about various ways compulsive behaviors may manifest, it is in no way intended to promote or encourage one to begin diagnosing friends and family. That is for a qualified, licensed mental health professional. Also, the ideas and observations mentioned in this blog post could also be accounted for by physical or substance related problems rather than emotional or psychological problems.

To begin, sometimes tic disorders can involve certain movements, such as eye blinking. Tic disorder is an OCD related disorder. The sufferer of this disorder will blink their eyes a certain number of times. The tic is quick, involuntary, and repetitive. A tic sufferer may also roll their eyes a certain number of times as well.

Along those lines, an OCD sufferer might also blink their eyes, or look up and down, or left and right, or close their eyes as a response to an intrusive, disturbing, and unwanted thought. For example, if the intrusive thought scares a sufferer into doubting whether or not they will "harm" their grandma if they look at her; then, they may look away, if they cannot resist the compulsion.

Another example of how an OCD sufferer can use eye movement as part of a compulsive behavior is by staring at an object that is scaring them. This can be true for phobia conditions as well. For instance, I went to a Thanksgiving dinner with a family member, who we can call "Mary." Mary has a severe phobia of dogs. At the dinner, our mutual cousin had her golden retriever running around the house. Everyone at the party greeted the dog and went on with their conversations and dinner.

However, Mary did not stop staring at the dog the entire dinner. She did not break her gaze. If someone tried to chat with Mary, she would look at them, offer a quick response, and move her eyes immediately back onto the pooch. This way she knew the exact location of the "danger" at any given moment.

There is a subtype of OCD, known as sensorimotor/hyperawareness OCD. This involves a sufferer becoming hyperaware of their bodily sensations. These suffers engage in compulsions such as scanning their bodies, attempting to see if they are missing a problem. Or checking behaviors to identify if they still notice certain bodily sensations. It is a possibility that a sufferer could become fixated on their eyes and the sensations of the eye. In this case, you may notice this person blinking and/or rolling their eyes, similar to the earlier tic sufferer.

If you notice OCD or OCD related disorder in your friends or family, it is essential to remember that the person has an extremely difficult time resisting compulsions. Therefore, it is not recommended to point these eye behaviors out to them—unless you are very close to the sufferer and the conversation is geared toward encouraging your loved one to get professional help in order to treat the compulsive behavioral disorder.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: "Tic Disorders."

Massachusetts General Hospital: "Tic Info."

American Association of Family Practitioners: "Recognition and Management of Tourette's Syndrome and Tic Disorders."

Tourette Syndrome Association: "Definitions and classifications of tic disorders."

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