What is Outline Tracing Disorder?

This is an odd condition in which you are constantly drawing outlines of visible shapes with your eyes.

You may be sitting there at home, perfectly at ease, thinking about something or other, only to find that all the while you have been repeatedly tracing the outline of something, perhaps the lines of the wall around the windows, or the entire area of the ceiling. Sometimes the shapes you draw are so big that you move your head rather than your eyes.

That’s it. ‘Disorder’ may be the wrong word – it may be entirely benign. I am curious about this condition because I have been doing it for many years, probably all my life, certainly since I was at school 30 years ago. The action is so frequent and automatic that usually I am not aware I am doing it. In recent years I have become more self-aware and, on consciously checking, find that yes, indeed I have been drawing these outlines all the while, and, strangely, find that I have a clear memory of doing it as if I was perfectly conscious of the action at the time.

This picture shows some typical outlines I might trace in a room.


Walls seem to obsess me particularly, especially the outline that things make against the wall, but that may be because I am most often indoors. Outside, it obviously happens less because shapes are constantly changing, but it still happens at every opportunity. My brain immediately seeks out and latches onto the shapes of things against surfaces and starts tracing them as if it is the key to some kind of discovery. I have a distinct preference for certain types of shape – they have to be irregular and ‘interesting’. I would not be interested in tracing the simple rectangular outline of the television, for instance.

I am the first to admit this is not entirely normal though I am in two minds whether it is pathological. It may well aid concentration – akin to jiggling the leg or pacing up and down. On the other hand, it is mildly annoying to catch myself doing it constantly, and the activity must be taking up cognitive resources (as it were a portion of computer memory), that may impede concentration on other tasks, even significantly. I don’t know.

There is no discernible anxiety connected with this. It doesn’t seems to happen more in tense situations than in others, but all the time, with any static scene and in the most relaxed environments. At the very least, it seems to indicate an over-alert mind, and may go hand in hand with a number of other obsessive-compulsive disorders, such as compulsive counting or restless leg syndrome, though I think (thankfully) it is much less intrusive than those. Perhaps I am the only person in the world afflicted by this outline tracing condition, but somehow I suspect I am not alone.

One thing I’m not interested in is talking to a doctor about this. I have never yet met a doctor who, when it comes to subtle areas like phobias and allergies, have much of a clue and I’ve met plenty who have been downright harmful with their ill-informed speculation. Even a specialist in OCDs, I suspect, will have little clue how to deal with this, if the specialist advice I have already come across is anything to go by. So please spare me that suggestion.

I have set up this website and coined the phrase Outline Tracing Disorder because I can see no mention of it in the medical literature and hardly any mention of it on the internet. The only reference I have come across is here: Mentalhealth.net where a few individuals mention tracing in combination with compulsive counting.

The aim is to pool available experience on outline tracing. It would be interesting to try to establish, among other things:

  • Whether the action is disruptive to normal everyday activity
  • Whether the action has any hidden (constructive?) psychological purpose
  • Whether it is linked to other conditions (such as headaches or anxiety attacks or the inability to concentrate) which together form a kind of syndrome
  • Whether there is anything can be done about it (I suspect not, beyond a lobotomy)

First though, is there anyone out there who recognises this condition? It would be interesting to hear from you. Just click on ‘Leave a reply’ below.

By the way, this WordPress theme apparently doesn’t automatically show the replies at the foot of the page – you have to click on the “replies” link below to see them (there are some). I’ll see if I can fix that sometime.

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179 thoughts on “What is Outline Tracing Disorder?

  1. Hi,
    My name is Lee and I’m a fellow outline addict. I’ve been doing it on and off for years.

    The relief of finding others with the same problem is liberating. I was originally told it was a ‘weird’ habit. I usually trace around the TV. Most times clockwise. I trace around lots of other objects. If it’s a Christmas tree shape with jagged points then I’m happier tracing down towards the points rather than against them. If I think of a word or number I sometimes trace them out in my head as if I were writing them with a fountain pen. I keep tracing along the three converging lines in the corner of the room into the point.

    I do this more indoors than out. I do seem to be able to stop when tracing complicated objects though, possibly because the thought of tracing around everything and keeping track of each part that I have and haven’t traced around fries my mind.


  2. Wow I thought I was alone!!

    I have been doing this for almost 30 years, it started when we drove to stay with my dad for the weekend after my mum and dad split up, I would count the white lines on the road using my toes and the street lights with my teeth, now at 31 I draw around everting and clench my teeth and leg mussels all the time around everything! I don’t know how to stop.

    It starts when I get Worried about somthing or I lose trust in my boyfriend I mentally draw and count all the time, it’s got to the pont that I have worn my teeth down and I get cramp I’m my toes, is there anyway to stop????

    • Victoria, you have almost the exact same experience story that I have had. It’s sometimes debilitating and I get tired of doing it. I try so hard to think of other things while walking up the steps to my front door each day. I’ve started listening to more music and having conversations int he car so I won’t count the street lights or lines on the road.

  3. Like you all thought I was unique till I thought I would google it….been doing this all my life, 47 now and still doing strange things it would seem

  4. Thank you so much! When ever I’m I’m the car and pass by a sign I’ll have to quickly trace the words with my finger tongue. Also when I hear words i like I’ll trace them with my finger on my face or leg.

  5. …SO PERFE TLY summarized! I also trace with my teeth… and simple tracing is too boring for my subconscious so now I start in is opposite corners or sides of the object and trace with my teeth from left and right of each side until the two lines meet in the middle.. can’t describe… It’s only annoying when I catch myself, I outline people’s faces when I’m talking to them too!

    any answers about this “OTD” ? haha

  6. Wow i’ve been searching for an answer to this weird thing I do for years. I usually trace logos on tv with my fingers on my leg. I follow traffic marks on the road with my tongue. I jump my tongue up and down every time I see a tree when I’m riding in a car. Weird things like that. I didn’t know anyone else did this. I’ve been doing it all of my life. I try to listen to conversations and find myself focusing on a certain shape and tracing it with my finger on my thigh. It’s so frustrating. I can’t find anyone who knows the psychological reasoning for this habit… But this site is helpful in knowing I am not alone! Thanks!

    • Im so glad this discussion page is here.I just can’t help doing this either. It makes me very frustrated. I’m tired of doing this but a great distraction technique is pinching myself. Sounds strange but it takes my mind away from the repetition. I have what would be described as a fairly strong avoident personality but at times I cover it very well.I do find everything these days has a label and completely avoid telling my doctor about this but would love to know what other ditracttion techniques or medication helps. Oh the reason I mentioned avpd was because I was wondering is this shape tracing connected to anxiety.

  7. I thought I was the only one! Whenever I am watching tv or just hanging out I trace everything!!! Glad to know I’m not alone.

  8. I have this problem, I trace the space with my finger or hand. Can’t ever remember not doing it to be honest. I also have a similar thing with tracing all four sides of square shapes, eg. TVs. There’s a certain pattern it has to be, but it’s not so much the actual pattern, but I don’t finish until it feels ‘balanced’ to me. Woah, sounds odd now I’ve written it down! :/

    • I’m Serena, I’m 25, and my version of suffering from this is very similar to yours! I trace geometric shapes, like a rectangle for example, from different corners, then I have to do it from each corner going in each possible direction so I end up tracing the same thing multiple times! It’s so frustrating but I’m glad there are so many others just like me!

  9. I am 14 years old and have been doing this for about 5 years and I had no clue what caused it. I still do it everyday and it bothers me. I didnt know it was this though.

  10. Wow. I never knew this was OCD related although I do have numbers OCD. What is odd about mine is that I draw the outlines of only triangles repetitively with my fingers and toes. I do not ever realize that I am doing it until I focus on myself. Glad to know there are others just wish I knew why I only have it with triangles and what it all means.

  11. Sorry if I am being repetitive of what others have said but I just wanted to leave my story.

    I am 18 years old and have been “eye tracing” for a few years now, but cannot think of the exact time or why it started. I had no idea if other people in the world did this but I randomly decided today to google it and can’t believe there are so many people that do the exact same things I do!

    I too trace practically everything I see, but it is only when I am sitting or laying, never when walking, and hardly when outdoors. When I start, I don’t normally realize I am doing it but when I do, I try to stop but I usually can’t. It seems like I am trying to get some sort of satisfaction out of it but no matter how long I trace something for I can’t be satisfied so I have to force myself to stop and focus on doing something else or I begin to get head aches and my eyes start to hurt. It annoys me that I do it but I can’t seem to stop.

    I usually trace words on buildings/signs, or interesting furniture, walls, etc. I also trace the profiles of peoples faces, and as someone said before, digital alarm clocks can have me tracing forever.

    I don’t find that I do it when I’m stressed or sad either, practically just any time I am not focused on doing something in particular. I don’t use my tongue or pointer finger either, nor do I count obsessively or have any other OCD related things. Just the tracing.

    I am so happy I found this page and could read about others who do the exact same things I do! Thanks to everyone who shared.

    • CONVOYSI like how toy described as “trying to get some sorry if satisfaction out of it”. I never thought if it that way but you’re right! Sometimes I do it faster and faster like I am chasing something. I wonder if anyone else had been diagnosed with any other mental issues, phobias, conditions etc? I wonder if there is a link. There has to be a reason for it! At least for the unconcious part of it! The chasing part obviously is done in a concious state. Interesting…

  12. Also, I am a 44 year old female. I only trace with my tongue. I don’t use my finger, and I don’t move my head. No one notices me tracing. But it is so distracting that it is hard to pay attention to what people are saying, or to a movie or TV show. I used to count things, but I don’t think I do this anymore, at least not by numbers. But in the tracing, I kind of “tick” them off.

    • Anonymous on February 10, 2014 at 11:06 pm said:
      I do this constantly. I was looking online to find out what I have, what it is called. I am going to make an appointment with a Psychiatrist to help me with medications I am on for Fibromyalgia and Migraines. Two of them are antidepressants. I was wondering if there was another type that might “cure” me of this problem. I luckily came across your post. I did not realize that there was no other information out there. I have never looked before. I don’t know why. It drives me nuts that I do this! And I really do do this constantly.

  13. I’m 17 and I’ve been tracing shapes for years and I have CSP a type Of OCD and so it’s not surprising this is another thing I do. I use quite a thew different ways to create my outlines. If my legs are crossed I will move the top leg and my foot in the directions of a shape such as the outline of a room or rectangular objects. I also tense certain muscles to mark the ends of each line or move my eyes or hips. If I’m sitting up I’ll start rocking side to side to create the shape and because I’m sitting there rocking its been pointed out and joked that I look like i should be in a mental hospital. I also use my tongue and thumbs. I never thought it was weird but no one else even done it and I find it quite satisfying when I can find the different outlines to shapes. I’m happy I’m not alone!!

  14. I didn’t realize there was comments below. After reading some if them I realized that I also trace with my tongue and my toes but my index finger being my medium. I think this is so funny but someone said about digital clocks being a problem and that’s so true because i have been rid if digital clocks if i can because i cannot stop tracing the outline if the numbers. It almost gives me a bad feeling. That’s the best way i can explain it. My microwave and stove ate not set for that reason and i never consciously realized i did this. All i knew was i don’t like digital clocks i just didn’t realize why!

  15. WoW! I don’t know where to start so I think I will try to keep it simple for now. I don’t trace with my eyes but with my fingers.do if I am driving in a car and pad a store with a sign on it I will start teaching out the letters with my finger. No place in particular.were ever my hand is resting. Although mostly on my thigh. If i watch TV i will see a symbol or word our letter and start tracing it, over and over and over until I realize i am doing it or move onto the next thing. . I can be spacing out, looking towards the window and next thing i know i am tracing the shape of it! I don’t know when it started but I know at least since i was a teenager.i am thirty now. I have been”caught”doing thus a few times now and i don’t know what to say when someone asks when I’m doing it. I just spent the last couple of hours looking online to see if i am alone our is this something other people do. I couldn’t really find anything other than counting disorders, well until i found you’re website. My story sounds similar to you. rs. Actually i realized a few things after reading about yourself. I wonder if anyone else had ever come forward with something similar? Our if toy have any other info that toy think i could use. Honestly i don’t know what i can gain from anything. I guess I’m more curious than anything. Or just want to know that I’m not alone. I hope to hear from you soon!

    • Yours is exactly like mine. I’m barb and just posted the other day. I’m curious if you have any other OCD. Thanks!

  16. I trace objects, numbers and letters in my mind using my right index finger. It doesn’t bother me and I have no associated feelings. I’m 46 and have been doing it as long as I can remember. I am a creative person. I also have depression which is an anxiety associated disorder. I have an issue with patterns too. For instance, I select my dominoes only in certain patterns. I see and remember things in patterns. The patterns have to be symmetric.

    • I don’t get headaches. Sometimes I think it’s keeping my mind busy. Maybe it’s associated with ADD. I’ve never been diagnosed with it but I’m sure I have it, to a small degree. I remember things in pictures too. I may not remember someone’s name but I will remember where they were standing, where I was standing, what the weather was, etc.

    • I’m 25 and I have been doing this for pretty much my whole life as well and I also trace in my mind but with my right index finger! I have synesthesia and some anxiety so that goes along with it too.

  17. I do this myself all the time. I seem to like to trace squares or rectangles usually street signs while driving or as a passenger. I also do it while sitting down not while walking. It is only while sitting in a car or sitting in general. I have always wondered why I do it. I am 43 yrs old and it is something that u have noticed that I do in the past 10 years or so. I don’t recall doing it any earlier. I also incorporate my head in the movement. I do it all the time and am aware of it but now my children are asking me why I do it cause they have taken notice of it. I think it is related to stress. I have been married 21 years and have 4 children. All of this is very stressful and has been all 21 years cause it has been a terrible and loveless marriage the entire time. The past ten years I have felt more out of control because divorce has been a daily topic in our home as well as emotional and psychological abuse. I think it’s a way that my mind tries to relax me or to put some solid structure in my mind. That why I think i always trace sugared and rectangles are what pop out to me and I have to do it. Wish I knew if this was normal or what other things may be related to this behavior.

  18. Wow. I was just sitting here catching myself tracing. .. so I Googled and landed this page. I have traced all my life. I like to think of things in shapes and try to give things order or symmetry if they lack it. I used to be very much into art and I don’t know if that’s linked or not. Looking at crossword puzzles stress me out only because of the non structured color scheme and squares. Wierd….I also break up words and if it’s not symmetric them I must do it over and over again. I do it all day long until my head feels tired. I trace secretly with my toes, eyes, and tongue. I’m glad to see I’m not alone!

  19. OMG this exact thing happens to me, but outline ceilings, doorways, anything with corners and i even count the number of edges on things and i dont even realise im doing it. Is this a disorder or what? I would be interested in finding out.

  20. I thought i was the only one in the world who did this! I’m 18 and I’ve been outlining things since i was about 14 but not that much, I’ve noticed that over the years i have been doing it more and more and more. I would outline each letter in practically anything, from phrases in a commercial to outlining shapes like my tv, my door, windows, or anything really. I would also outline whatever form and i wouldn’t get up until i finished. Before i didn’t really pay attention to it but now it’s staring to worry me because i feel i’m doing it too much and i’m trying to stop but its hard because i outline anything. I was just on Google today trying to find if it was a disorder or because i’m stressed or just something related to this but i didn’t find a thing. After probably like 45 minutes i found this i was truly the most happiest person in the world to know that i’m not the only one who does this. If there is like a technique or something to control this habit pleaaaase let me know.

  21. I am 15 years old and I have been tracing objects all the time. Whenever I’m on my lap top or watching television I would trace random words on the screen. It’s very annoying tracing objects, but my eyes or fingers always seem to be doing it. I thought I was the only one who did this.

  22. I’m writing on behalf of my mother. She is 87 and has been doing this for roughly 40-50 years. She was both amazed and overwhelming thankful for your write up. Showing her your example, she says she traces similarly. She finds it tiring, says ” it wears me out. ” . Mom is not online so I’ll have bridge between you. Really glad to know she’s not the only one. Happy Thanksgiving!

  23. OH MY GOD. I never even knew how to describe this to people, including not to my therapist or psychiatrist, and was afraid to try. I’m 51 and this has been going on for decades, and it seems a bit worse now than it has been – but I’m three years out from the death of my husband and on Zoloft, and I wonder if either of those things are contributing to the worsening. Anyway, it’s annoying, but (so far?) not debilitating.

    I’m just astounded, and relieved, to find out I’m not alone in this. Thank God I finally thought of a good way to Google it. Thank you.

  24. I would like to add that when i trace it is done mentally. By that i mean my eyes are not part of the tracing action. If i close my eyes i am still tracing.

  25. I first noticed I was tracing when I hit puberty. My family noticed as I would move or lift my head as i drew a shape. I would use the tip of my nose to draw a line that perfectly intersected an object in the room. For example a window frame or light fitting. Light fittings were more obvious to others as I had to move my head more to get the shadow of the tip of my nose over or through that object. Then my hands came into the activity too and the same exact point my nose had passed through, my right hand must sweep through too in quick succession. This looked to my family as if i were nodding traffic by and swatting at invisible flies.
    The action became incredibly frustrating for me as I imagined it was not perfectly so i had to repeat it over and over.
    I also used to have to pass through a doorway at exact centre. This meant repeatedly going through the doorway. This had to do with an imagined rectangle with imagined verticle line from top to bottom of the door that would pass through the exact centre of the two left and right halves of my body.
    I grew out of these two and went onto counting, dividing words by threes and drawing geometric shapes. The shapes are always traced out horizontally and must be perfect and join up perfectly. I will repeat the tracing over and over until i am satisfied it is perfect. This causes me some irritation and anxiety. Usually happens when i am sedentary. Glad you posted this page, very interesting.

  26. Google is a miraculous search engine. I have asked it many questions and there are always so many others writing in with similar issues.
    I trace things with my eyes all the time. My eyes run along ceilings, soffits, I like to see how lines intersect with other lines, doorway openings, objects in a room. I like to compare how shades of the same color paint can differ drastically from one wall to another depending upon the light source. I love to trace beautiful lettering on the sides of trucks or billboards. I trace the blades on all my ceiling fans. I trace people’s faces, particularly from one eyebrow connecting down to the nose the nostrils then back up the other side to the other eyebrow, as well as the outline of the face. I trace the backs of cars particularly the line around the break lights connecting to the line of the trunk. I always trace the logos on the center backs of cars. I will trace pretty much anything.
    Now lets talk about counting, which I have been doing for many years. I count lines on the road but I make games out of it like I force my eyes to count only up to an even number with 2 being its only prime factor so like 2,4,8,16,32,64,128 etc. my favorite # is 8, which is 2 perfect circles. I love to count tiles on the floors of bathrooms. Making bigger & bigger squares with my eyes and seeing that with odd numbered tiles like 5 by 5 there is a center square but with 4 by 4 not. Then there are the ordered sets and patterns like tree plantings in medians, I count the trees to see if the same number has been planted in each grouping down the road and get disappointed when not. I count lights on the backs of cars and trucks, vents on ceiling fans, windows on buildings, the vertical louvres on my window treatments, the list is endless. I am drawn to patterns. I love octagons, 4 sets of parallel lines. I also count the segments that make up the numbers on my digital clocks, noting that 4,5,&6 are the only numbers made of their exact amount of segments.
    I know that what I do is a little weird and my friends & family think so too, but I can’t help it and It doesn’t bother me, or create any problems, it’s just there.
    I love to draw, pencil sketches freehand. I am a retired architectural draftsman. I drew mechanically for 30 yrs. It feels so good to tell these things to others who understand. Thanks for this website.

    • OMG I thought I was the only one who counted the segments in digital numbers. Also when I count, I have to group words or letters into 4’s or 5’s. And I also constantly trace outlines. Even when travelling in a car, my finger traces the outlines on the side of the road.

      • Counting and tracing are so much a part of my life that I can hardly believe most people don’t do it. When my eyes see things my brain just makes them trace it over and over and in many directions. As a child I loved to do & to draw my own mazes, and play with my Spirograph. My mind was probably predisposed for this outcome early on. I caught on to mechanical drafting and drawing in perspective before any of my classmates. Most of them hated it but I was enormously drawn to it.
        So I guess when I trace with my eyes I am pretending to draw it. That is what I think.
        Counting is not drawing but, for me it’s a game. Any grid or pattern begs to be counted and traced, and in endless sequences. Counting is very much a part of measuring and drafting. I need things to divide evenly. Counting is more frustrating because there are time limits, and the numbers don’t always come out the way I want them to. Usually I will keep trying until I get an acceptable result which is an even number or a pattern of odd numbers. It’s hard to explain but I do have desirable outcomes. I can see where this behavior could be considered OCD, well so what if it is? I don’t feel any need to be cured, and I’m not hurting myself or others, it’s just brain games!!!
        I’m glad my last post helped someone else who counts the segments on digital numbers, of course they must be counted!!!!

    • So far I do almost everything you do. However I don’t do prime numbers. I sometimes get a song or words in my head and need to repeat them mentally until it feels right. I also say eyes, nose mouth as I look at faces. I count many things like couch cushions and need to count them in different ways like 1,2,3 3,2,1

      • Hi, I read your post and I too count clockwise & counterclockwise over and over. I count in rounds to see how long it takes to get back to the one I began on. Hard to explain.
        It’s The same with tracing. I trace with my eyes and finger from the beginning to the end, then the reverse.
        The past couple years I find myself trying to sound out words backwards. It goes along with that whole left to right then the reverse. None of this bothers me at all, I consider it part of a creative mind!

  27. i googled this as I have been doing this for years and years. I didn’t know othert p[eople did this. I don’t know why I do this. I have to draw lines with my eyes round an object and it has to join up.

  28. I have traced outlines for as long as I can remember. It is most frequently letters/words where I have to follow the shapes up and down as well as count the letters. I trace people’s outlines – eyes, nose, mouth, ears etc and count as I trace. I trace rooms, floors, tables and these traces are embedded now!! Number plates is also a nightmare. I trace in and out of all the letters/numbers whilst counting as I go. If I don’t trace to a certain number (which changes every time) I need to keep tracing until it feels right.
    I went to see the GP who’s response was to simply medicate me on anti depressants. Does anyone else trace and count?

  29. I too am a tracer. I typically trace large items…walls, doorways, roads, etc. I trace with my eyes but more often I find myself tracing with my tongue inside my mouth. So peculiar.

  30. Obviously, I’m a tracer as well. I was just watching television and caught myself tracing the hairlines of the characters on tv. I’ve don’t this for years now, everything from the frames of glasses to eyes and lips. I’m not sure if there’s any relation, but I also have trouble focusing at times. It would be interesting to see if there’s any correlation between the two, but anything about this strange tracing phenomenon would be great.

    • wow i am so glad to have found this. that is the exact same thing i do! i seriously thought i was alone. i dont know how it started but i used to count simple things like the shape of tv screens and windows but now tracing out peoples face, hairline, walls with objects by them.. its ongoing. Also very stressful cause i try not to do it anymore but for some reason, my brain automatically does it. i had told a family friend about this and she said its somehow connected with Depression.. i dont know if shes right or wrong.

  31. I am 29 years old and I’ve been tracing as long as I can remember. When I was in grade school spelling bees I would trace the words on my leg with my finger. Now I am constantly tracing letters with my eyes, finger, toes, head, or even just in my mind. Particularly while watching television. Certain words will stand out to me and I have to trace the letters inside the rectangular box of the television. They must be symmetrical and I will go over them again and again until they feel perfectly symmetrical in my mind. Sometimes they are numbers or polygons instead of letters. Other times I will trace entire words. I do this not just inside the rectangle of the television but with any rectangle in the room (digital wall clock, computer screen, mirrors, doors, etc). My husband has noticed me doing this on several occasions, which is rather embarassing to know I am unaware of myself doing it that noticibly.

    Recently this tracing habit has become more and more bothersome and distracting to me, as sometimes I am removed entirely from paying attention to what someone is saying or what is going on. I’ve tried for the past few months to train my brain to stop tracing whenever I notice I am doing it. I calmly note that I am tracing again and remind myself that I want to stop it, and refocus my mind on whatever it was I was paying attention to before I became aware I was tracing. This method has not proven very successful. I find myself redirecting my thoughts over and over and over again, and I start tracing again as soon as I’m refocused, it’s completely subconscious when it begins. I can stop myself from continuing to trace once I notice I am doing it but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to keep from starting it again a few seconds later. Very, very, very frustrating.

    One thing that was mentioned that seems particularly relevant to me, “a hyperactive mind craving activity that melts away with physical activity” — I’ve noticed that the tracing has increased since my lifestyle has become more sedentary the past couple of years. I don’t do this while I am outside walking or jogging or if I am doing anything with my hands, it is mostly when I am physically idle.

    Aside from the tracing I have a lot of obsessive/intrusive thoughts, and repetition of things in my head, some of which are just ordinary annoying things and some are more stressful and anxiety-provoking.

    Anyway, when I came across this website it was the first I had ever, ever heard of someone else doing this tracing thing, super weird but nice to know it’s not unique to myself :)

  32. I too do this. Have done this as long as I can remember. It drives me crazy sometimes. I trace alot of things and do it sometimes without realizing I am doing it. I will also do it timed, like if I am watching TV and there is a shape or word on the screen, I feel like I have to do it before the person finishes their sentence. Sometimes I find I have to use one finger to trace and then another finger to fill it in as if my fingers are different color markers or something. I trace alot of different things all the time. I am not an artistic person. I cant draw, paint, sew, or anything. Not sure what I am good at. But I do it rather I am stressed or relaxed. I dont get headaches either. I really hide it. My kids and husband have no idea I do it. Glad to hear I am not the only person out there doing it!

  33. I CONSTANTLY outline and trace things in my mind. The room (as above), people I talk to, their eyes, lips, head shape, people and or things on tv, while I drive – the road and where driveways or other roads come into play, and the list goes on. I don’t do it “sometimes”, I do it ALL the time. I don’t know why but I HAVE to do it. It has been getting worse. I’m 47 and remember doing it since I was a probably 16 or 17. I get headaches often. I guess because I never let my mind “rest” from anything. I don’t know how to quit. HELP!!!!

  34. Quite a few more responses since I last looked in. Very interesting. Particularly the fact that so many mention headaches that it is beginning to seem significant.

    When it comes to headaches, I have discovered the only cure is a preventative one: physical activity. I used to get migraines every few days and they would last 2-3 days each and no kind of medication would help. Life was barely worth living. That was when I had a particularly sedentary lifestyle (for various reasons). Lately I have been much more active (for various reasons, including living in a different place) and the headaches have mostly gone.

    The impression I am left with is that the headaches were due to sluggish blood-flow almost as if the blood congeals after a long period of inactivity leading to a build up of pressure in the brain. That’s just a feeling, but you can feel the veins bulging at the temples, and it seems to me better than many other medical explanations I have seen.

    Anyway, regarding the tracing condition, I am coming to suspect that it is also linked to this: a hyperactive mind craving activity that melts away with physical activity. Perhaps biologically speaking we just weren’t meant to sit around all day long.

    • I’m glad to have found information about my tracing habit. I’ve done this since childhood as early as I can remember without any apparent negative impact. I was probably tracing the TV set when I watched JFK get shot. I don’t get headaches. I am a sculptor and I draw daily. A lot of my artworks deal with profiles, radial symmetry, chiral symmetry, silhouettes, skylines etc, I’d be happy to contribute to any studies or provide additional information.

      • So much for the headache theory. Well, I like the idea that it’s linked to creativity too…
        One thing that’s for sure: it’s persistent.
        I suppose I could show this site to some academics who specialise in this area, which might persuade them to do some research on it…

  35. Omgg yeah, I do this too! I trace faces, big writing. I count things like tiles &i have to get them an even number. I trace other things too like how many pavements I’ve walked on &stuff

  36. AHHHH!!! YAY! I am so happy to have found someone who does the same thing!

    When I “trace” things, I….yeah. I HAVE TO. Or I am just in a horrible mood all day long. I usually trace circles and squares, pupils of eyes, outlines of hands, and I even count by 4s and 6s. I break the square lines down in to smaller squares and outline them by 4s and try to make a hopscotch-like pattern, and if it comes out unevenly, I get upset. I count tires on the road by fours and trace the square they would make, I trace the squares and outline fences and count up to 48 by 4s, wires, telephone poles, signs, anything. Literally anything I will trace and outline and count.

    I have perfect pitch as well, so when I hear a song or if I’m paying attention to it, pitch percussion of anything that drops or makes noise, I’ll also “play” those notes as if I’m playing them on a piano. I don’t know why I do it! I’ve noticed I do it when I get nervous or if something triggers it, like a nice set of squares that are begging to be traced, but other than that….I wouldn’t say it disrupts my life at all, heck, no one even knows I do it besides my therapist! She says it can be a mild form of OCD.

    I am also afflicted with migraine headaches. Lucky me.

  37. I do this too and have done for as long as I can remember. I am now 23.

    I used to think that maybe it was because I needed glasses and was trying to make up for some visual problem by tracing things to make them clearer, but my optician has assured me that there is nothing wrong with my vision.

    I really have no idea why I do this and I do not have any other health problems, so I don’t consider it a symptom of something else.

    I notice I do it more with squares and rectangles (doors, windows, radiators, walls, ceilings etc) but I have found that it’s gradually moved to other shapes and I’m doing it more frequently. I don’t know why this is either, as I’m not stressed or feeling anxious, so I cannot pinpoint a trigger for the change in frequency.

    I may just bite the bullet and ask my doctor next time I see him. He probably won’t have the answer but he may have more of a theory than me.

    • I forgot to say that, like some other commenters, I too suffer from headaches and have things played on a loop within my mind.

  38. I also have to walk on as many of the lighter coloured slabs of pavement as I can and when it gets to the thin path on the pavement I have to walk on it even if makes my journey longer..
    I get headaches all the time and find it difficult to sleep unless I’m reallly tired.

    • Sounds like a bit of a syndrome there. I get headaches very easily too. And another thing, I often get things stuck in my mind playing on an endless loop – this is particularly the case with those TV sitcoms that have been repeated so often that I suddenly find I am re-running entire scenes in my head – lately it has been Fawlty Towers. Once it’s stuck in there it plays over and over with a fairly ridiculous tenacity. Something about the gears in the brain churning around when they really shouldn’t?

      • I haven’t commented for a long time, but I’m excited to see the response to this topic. I find myself tracing all sorts of things. I don’t seem to have a particular subject. When I’m reading, I’ll trace small words, such as- a, it, to, the, for, etc. When watching tv, things like people’s eyeglasses, shirt collars, or ears will catch my attention. Almost all geometric shapes get traced by me, but while I’m driving things get weirder. The lines of the road, curb (or where a curb should be), even telephone poles ( I trace the entire cylinder, even if I’ve passed it). I also have to read signs, I think someone else mentioned that as well. I’m reminded of the womans father in the movie Forget Paris! There’s so much more… but if I had entire episodes of Fawlty Towers rerunning in my head, i’d be a happy camper! :-)

      • P.S. I’m always counting things too. Like the steps I take when I’m walking, the lines in the road, books on my book shelf, tiles on the floor, the list goes on…

  39. I don’t so much trace out shapes but I sort of nod my head to register a shape, for example I will constantly nod my head (psychologically not physically if that makes sense) to every wall in the room I am in and every square or rectangle I see in the windows.
    I do it in every room constantly.
    I also notice myself doing it when I’m in the car but with every car that I see I’ll just nod whenever one drives past.
    I also imagine there’s like a massive piece of metal attached to the front of the car that stretches across the motorway so that if there’s too many cars passing by at once I can use the piece of metal to touch say four at once.. It’s so hard to explain!

  40. Finally I have found other ppl that trace things just like I do! I thought I was the only one. I have traced objects for as long as I can remember and I trace everything I look at. It drives me crazy some days and other days I don’t even notice I’m doing it. I’m not artistic but I have been told by friends I need to sit and draw whatever comes to mind. I have a hard time thinking that this could be OCD. I wish we knew what it is and what it means.

    • Perhaps it’s an attempt to control the environment visually. Rooted in some kind of insecurity? Just a thought. I really have no idea. Anyone have any more theories?

  41. Finally, I found other people who do this, too! I’ve been doing this for years, though I was not conscious of it until recently. I prefer rectangular shapes and making sure that they form patterns (with symmetrical ones being preferred and ones with “odd” remnants, or asymmetrical, sometimes irritating). Overall, it doesn’t bother me, though I admit my curiosity on this topic.

    However, how is this OCD? I was under the impression that there had to be some sort of negative “effect” surrounding it, such as if you don’t trace the wall, the moon crashes down. (Admittedly, I know little about OCD and the DSM doesn’t give much more insight.)

    Thanks for setting up this page.

    • To be honest, I used the term OCD mainly so that people would be able to find the page – I don’t know if it is technically correct. The obsessive-compulsive bit does seem appropriate, but, as you say, ‘disorder’ implies there is some harmful effect and that doesn’t seem to be case with this – assuming everyone here is leading reasonably normal lives.

      • Regardless of the details, thanks for making the page. I look forward to reading other replies.

  42. I decided to look this up because lately I can’t watch tv with out tracing a persons eyes…I have to go from the inner corners to the outers, then trace the pupil in…the. Then the outer corners to the inner and trace the pupil out…it’s been driving me crazy..I have to do it until it feels perfect, then I’m ok for about ten minutes and I start again. I have no other OCD behavior, but I’m not sure what else it could be

    • It seems we all have our little specialty. I’ve never done eyes myself. I’m more into walls :)

      Well, now there are seven of us. Perhaps we should start thinking about this as a kind of accomplishment rather than an impediment. Our brains must be trying to analyse things at an intense rate and perhaps that has good implications.

  43. Yes i have the same condition. I can be at a light and realize ive been outlining the shape of the tail light over and over. Or that ive been counting the lines in the road. I will trace the shape of aaannnnything! I will go over the patterns my tiles make in the bathroom because the colors alternate. But my biggest thing is tracing. Ill catch my head nodding because i was tracing something with allot of curve or what ever. The reason i found was because in traffic i caught myself tracing the huge turning arrow painted on the street. Im not compulsive as in, i have to do it. Or that it helps me somehow. Im not stressed or anxious when it happens. I wonder if creative people do this more. I am an artist to the bone, draw, paint, sew blah blah. So are you creative or have you found something else you can link it to in your life?

    • I’m not much of an artist, but I would say I do have an artistic temperament and think creatively. I’m more of an ‘organiser’ and I tend to link it to that, as if I’m trying to pin something down that might otherwise escape me – and while it’s annoying to find I’m doing it involuntarily, it does gives that kind of subconscious satisfaction.

  44. Wow I thought I was the only one, I have been doing it since childhood. I trace objects as if I can’t lift my ‘pen’ off the page.

    I’m not sure if it is related or not but I’m a compulsive reader. Not like I read a lot of books but my eyes search out signs, fine print, anything to read.

    • Interesting about the compulsive reading. I’ve not been aware of that, but I do find too much signage and advertising in the street to be exhausting, as if it is compelling me to read, so maybe that’s related.

      Might be an idea if we all summarise some aspects of our personality to see if there are any other common traits. Me, I would say I’m a bit neurotic, a bit emotional, a bit introverted (people exhaust me), not sporty, not artistic, but intellectually curious; I like sorting and organising things and prefer zen-like serenity and calm and order whenever possible – oh and I get a lot of headaches (always have done). I don’t know if any of this has any bearing. How about everyone else?

  45. I trace outlines just all the time. Nobody notices it, although I usually use my index finger to trace things. During a period in my childhood, I remember I used to raise my head and rotate it in clockwise direction to outline lamps on the ceiling! It stopped later probably because I felt embarrased, people around me noticing it. At least in my case I think it has to do with problems related to my childhood. I find it very strange and sad at the same time that this ‘disorder’ is not recognized and that this page is apparently the only webpage you can find on this subject.

    • Yes, it would be interesting if the boffins got round to researching this. Well, now there are a few of us. Perhaps if we can get 100 people together we can get it listed in DSM-IV. ;) As far as I can see, it is currently lumped in with stimulation-craving conditions like restless leg syndrome. I’m not sure that helps much in terms of explaining where it comes from. Interesting that you trace it back to childhood. It certainly is persistent.

  46. I also trace shapes and have for many years…I truly can’t recall when I first realized I was doing this but I noticed it at least 15+ years ago. But I do not trace rooms…I trace shapes such as my TV, doors, even traffic lights (while waiting for them to change). I not only trace them, but I feel compelled to trace them one direction (clockwise) and then the opposite direction (counter clockwise). As an example…for a rectangular shape such as a TV, I start at one corner (upper left) and trace clockwise and then counter clockwise and then move to the next corner in a clockwise direction (upper right) and repeat. Then I restart at the upper left corner but first trace counter clockwise and then clockwise….and continue clockwise around the shape. And then I start “again” at the upper left and repeat everything, only first tracing counter clockwise and then clockwise. I do this with all types of shapes. I also trace eyes…whether I’m actually looking at a person or watching them on TV. I do the same procedure I described above…first one direction and then the other.
    I also trace cartoons in the same manner…such as the Simpsons or Family Guy…I am constantly tracing their faces, ears, noses, etc. I find myself attempting to trace them in the same fashion I described above before the scene changes.

    • Welcome to the club!
      I also start at the top left and trace counter-clockwise, but unlike you I feel no compulsion to go back in the opposite direction, almost as if that might spoil the shape I had just created (I just tried doing it clockwise and it felt ungainly). Maybe you are more sophisticated in this than I am.
      I tend to think everything has some evolutionary significance, which leaves me wondering what the particular advantage of it might be (assuming it’s not completely pathological). My best guess is still that it has a calming effect like jiggling the leg, even if the effect, and the nerves we are smothering are subliminal.
      Just to add, I can’t paint or draw so I doubt there’s any artistic impulse there.
      Any more theories as to why we do this?

  47. You arenot alone in this. I to, havebeen doing this for many years. I’m 31 and can remember having troubles with this as far back as 11 years old. I am constantly finding myself tracing things, everyting, and my son let’s me know when I’m moving my head. Once iI become aware of my head movements, I use my toes to trace. I would say more about the types of thigs I trace, but I’m. Afraid I can’t write that much, or explain. I just wanted you to know that there are others with this condition. :-)

    • Your case sounds exactly the same as mine. I sometimes trace things with my toes too. Weird isn’t it?
      I’ve been thinking more about the possible reasons. Several possibilities occur to me:
      1. Heredity. There is definitely some history of neuroticism on my mother’s side of the family.
      2. Childhood habit. I dimly remember how we used ‘tracing paper’ to copy pictures. Possibly the activity was intense enough to became ingrained in the mind.
      3. Need for visual stimulation. In the way that a tiger in a cage paces up and down, maybe our eyes crave activity when our lives have become too inactive.
      4. All of the above :)
      I wonder how many people have this condition? It can’t be so rare. Hope we hear from some more people.

      • I too am another case. I find it more comical then anything, and almost completely attribute it to a mild form of OCD, as I have other indicators which point me in this direction. Concerning the tracing, I prefer simple shapes, squares, rectangles, triangles, whatever. I’ll fixate on one, trace it over and over until it becomes annoying and my eyes start to hurt. I trace clockwise then counter clockwise then switch. And then, when I cant take it any more I have a method to stop myself, which is; I focus on the centre with all my might, and imagine the outline of the square bolded in, as if, instead of tracing, the whole square is traced at once. and then from the centre outwards, I push out, forming a secondary square unto the border of the original square. For some reason this calms my mind, and I don’t feel a compulsion to trace any more for a little while. This doesn’t always work though, and usually I’ll go on to make shapes inside of the shape. So I’ll start tracing imaginary triangles inside the square, lined up with each other. Like the bottom and left sides of the square form one triangle, so I trace it. Then I trace the top and right sides, and form a triangle, and then i do left and up, and then bottom and right, and repeat to infinity. Also I will trace down the left side, go halfway up toward the centre of the top but a quarter of the width of the square, then I’ll trace all the way down to the centre of the bottom and then almost all the way up to the top of the square, but stop right before the end. And then I go on to do this with all the other sides and their correspondents. It creates a strange, symmetrical zig zag pattern.

        Just in comparison, I have a fixation with where my mouse has to be on the computer screen, it’s not a big deal, but if im watching a video, it has to be in the centre of the pause button, exactly between the two lines. the point of the pointer has to be on just the right pixel.
        Another one is my headphones, especially when I’m in a quite environment. I constantly have to push the cord into the source of the sound, and check it relentlessly in fear of it being unplugged and everyone around me hearing the music, and not my headphones picking up the feed. I’ve broken many headphones like this because I literally jam it in every 2 minutes, twisting it everywhere possible, taking my headphones off and on, and plugging and unplugging the cord over and over again, each time shoving the cord in just a little bit harder, thinking this might help somehow. Because of this issue, I haven’t used headphones since i was 16 (I’m almost 20 now). This issue by far was the scariest for me physically. I now just play music out loud, and it doesn’t bother me a bit.
        Another thing I had was when I started dieting around the age of 14, I started counting calories obsessively. I became anorexic for awhile, but that’s a different matter. All day long, over and over again, I would recount the amount of calories I have consumed, food item, by food item, no matter the amount. All. Day. Long. I eventually stopped dieting after everyone kept telling me i looked horrific and way to skinny, and my counting issue subsided. This counting also was rather terrifying.

        Anyway, the only issue I have now is the tracing, and this one is rather benign and I prefer it to the others ten-fold. I’ve never told anyone about this before….

        I am a male, if it matters.

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