Tics, as defined on our Dictionary page, are sudden, repetitive, motor movement or vocalization involving discrete muscle groups that seem to have no rhythm or predictability. Tics can be annoying, for both the person doing them and those around them, but they’re a way of relieving excess energy, pent up anxiety, or to show stress for non-vocal people, or those who find voicing what they’re feeling difficult.
There are many different types of tics, and we’re going to talk about them. There’s nothing worse than being misunderstood, and so next time someone complains about you or someone you know ticing, link them here!
These are movement based and involve discrete muscle groups. These fall into two categories: simple motor tics, and complex ones. Easy!
Simple motor tics are typically sudden, brief, meaningless movements and usually involve one muscle group. For example, this might be hand clapping, shoulder shrugging or head jerking. Lots of people do this, and there are loads of different simple motor tics people have.
Complex motor tics are typically more look more intentional (though they aren’t!) and take longer to carry out. These include pulling at their own or other people’s clothes, making rude gestures (copropraxia), or echopraxia (repeating someone’s words back to them). There are lots of types, and (as their name suggests) they’re complex. They seem like they are a conscious and calculated choice, but that is normally not the case. They’re still (largely involuntary) tics.
Phonic tics are tics that involve noise. They’re involuntary sounds produced by moving air through the nose, mouth, or throat. This might mean words, nonsense sounds, or other things that make sound. Like Motor tics, these fall into two categories.
Simple phonic tics can be almost any sound or noise, but usually not discernible words. Examples of these tics include throat clearing, humming, and sniffing. Lots of people have tics, and they might mean people think they are being deliberately off-putting. Like with any tic, this is not the case. It’s just who they are, and that’s okay.
Complex phonic tics are often a little m0re complicated as they often involve words, making them seem (like Complex Motor Tics) intentional. As before, they are not. Examples of this are coprolalia (saying explicit words – though you may associate this with Tourette’s, only around 10% of Tourette’s sufferers experience this tic), lexilalia (repeating words out loud after reading them), or echolalia (repeating someone’s words back to them).
Though I have said throughout this post that tics aren’t done on purpose, it’s important we explore to what extent tics are a choice. Most people who have one will say they can’t help it, and that is true. They are described as unvoluntary or semi-voluntary. Sometimes, they only appear in stressful situations, which means these are triggered. Whilst it may seem this is evidence of the sufferer being a volunteer, this isn’t the case. Most people who tic describe the sensation as “suppressible, but irresistible” (e.g. they have the power to resist somewhere inside them, but the urge to do it is too strong to overcome).
Whilst, to non-ticers, tics can seem annoying, they’re far more frustrating for the person doing them! Trying to make them stop, either by punishing tics or trying to bodily stop them, is wrong. The person is trying their best, and might be finding the situation stressful. People who tic don’t need punishing, they need support from those around them to feel safe. Reassuring people their tics are okay and nothing to be embarrassed about, helping them reduce stress, and ignoring the tics when they happen is a far more logical reaction.
Treatments like behavioural therapies, medication, and (in severe cases) surgery can be used to treat tics. But tics aren’t glitches – they aren’t indications you’re somehow “faulty”. Just like your eye colour, your personality, they’re a part of you, and nothing to be ashamed of. If you want treatment, get it for you, not for the person on the bus who is giving you evils for tapping your foot.