You had the courage to get out of an abusive relationship and you got yourself on the path of recovering and healing. It’s been going reasonable under the circumstances and it might be two weeks, four months, or more than a year since you’ve spoken to your narcissistic abusive partner that damaged you in a brutal way.
This narcissistic partner disrespected, degraded, confused, and/or manipulated you. It was clearly an unhealthy relationship with a few highs and mainly a lot of lows. At first, they idealized you and this was great! But then, sadly, they started to devalue and eventually discard you. So you decided and promised to yourself: Not anymore and never again!
Then suddenly, you get a message from this person saying ‘I need you. I’m not doing well and only you can help me.’ Being a kind and caring person you answer without thinking it through. If someone asks sincerely for help, you help them, right? Well, not when dealing with a narcissist! You might become hooked again!
The above example shows a narcissist’s attempt to suck you back into an abusive relationship called ‘hoovering’ and that’s exactly what this article is about. Any response to such an attempt is an opening to get you back into this relationship or at least engage with this person. Hoovering is a way to suck you back into the abusive cycle of idealizing, devaluing, and discarding you. If you haven’t heard of the cycle of narcissistic abuse it could be useful to first read my article about narcissistic abuse.
Hoovering is an important subject when dealing with narcissists because it’s essential to keep the door closed after you went no contact with a narcissist. This holds for a romantic relationship but also for when you’re in no contact with a narcissistic parent.
Knowing how to stay in the no contact situation can thus be a lifesaver and therefore we need to know how to deal with hoovering. It can be very challenging to deal with hoovering. I’m sorry if you’re experiencing this or have experienced any of this and I hope this article provides some helpful insights to you. I will first explain what hoovering is and then go into hoovering tactics, reasons why narcissists hoover, the challenges of being hoovered, and how to possibly deal with it.
What is hoovering by a narcissist?
Hoovering is a narcissist trying to trick or bait you into breaking no contact and re-engaging with them. After a breakup and/or going no contact a narcissist might try to suck you back into the abusive relationship. If they succeed, the consequence is being sucked back into a cycle of abuse.
Therefore, it’s very important their attempts fail and to do this it’s essential to learn about hoovering in order to recognize and deal with it.
Hoovering is one of the many manipulation strategies a narcissist uses to control you. It’s an emotional abuse technique and it’s called hoovering because it’s named after the ‘Hoover‘ vacuum cleaner. This name makes sense because the person hoovering you is treating you like dirt and trying to suck you back into their control.
Hoovering is thus an attempt by a narcissist to restore the lost emotional supply you once were. It’s all to fulfill their unending needs such as needing power, control, validation, and/or drama. They will open a box full of tricks to get you back into the unhealthy dynamics with them. A narcissist will try anything to get your attention and re-engagement.
Hoovering tactics of a narcissist
I will go into different kinds of hoovering tactics now. There is an unending variety in possible hoovering tactics and I will give some examples of these tactics. I’ve categorized them into positive hoovering, negative hoovering, and random hoovering.
1. Positive hoovering examples
Positive hoovering is the narcissist basically telling you what you want to hear or do kind things. It can be an attempt to suck you back into the cycle by using the idealizing behaviour. Examples of positive hoovering are:
- A hoovering narcissist can try to give you gifts with ‘no strings attached’. They could say they just want you to have it and it doesn’t mean anything.
- They could use love-bombing to attempt to influence you with great amounts of love, attention, and affection. They could praise you or something you did.
- The narcissist might declare their newly realized love for you. They could say they finally realized how much you mean to them and how much they love you. They will try to paint a newer more beautiful picture with a lot of false promises and possibly talk about feeling a strong bond and being soulmates.
- A narcissist could try to convince you that they are sorry and that they have changed. They can make false apologies and pretend to take responsibility. Sadly, it doesn’t last and is simply a way to pull you back into the cycle of abuse.
- They might remember important dates and events to you. They could ask about specific events or wish you luck with something that is important to you. It’s a form of faking interest and being involved.
- Using special occasions to make contact. They could use your birthday or holidays to send you a ‘Happy birthday’ or ‘Merry Christmas’. It all means ‘give me attention!’. They could also use your kids for contact with you and ask you to say ‘hi’ to them or wish them luck with a sports game.
2. Negative hoovering examples
Negative hoovering is a narcissist using your vulnerabilities, pity, and negative emotions to get you to re-engage. This type of hoovering corresponds with the devaluing behaviour in the cycle of narcissistic abuse. Examples of negative hoovering are:
- They could (ab)use negative feelings such as guilt, shame, or use silence to manipulate you into re-engaging. They might say things like you’re the only one that understands them and they are alone in the world. Sadly, it’s all a lie and a way to use emotional triggers to lure you back in.
- A narcissist might fake injury, vulnerability, depression, or helplessness to try to make you worried and get you to reach out to help them. A narcissist has no boundaries in lying about medical conditions, using suicide threats or threats to hurt themselves.
- Trying to provoke you to make you angry and respond. A narcissist will do anything for a reaction and might make all kinds of accusations, devalue you or attack your reputation.
- This person could use triangulation and hoover by proxy. To do this they use ‘flying monkeys’, friends, or family to reach you and let them, for example, convince you they have changed. They often play the victim to create outside pressure on you. If you want to read more about this you could read my article about the narcissist’s web of control.
- A narcissist sadly has no problem using your children to trigger guilt, worry, or simply to gain a response. They could also use religion and say you’ve lost your faith or that divorce is wrong.
- Fully pretending the relationship hasn’t even ended. They might continue their behaviour as if you are still together. It’s a brutal form of gaslighting to act as if nothing has changed. I wrote an in-depth article about gaslighting for more information about this very manipulative behaviour they could use in order to confuse you.
3. Random hoovering examples
Random hoovering is the narcissist using quite ‘random’ attempts or tricks for your attention. It seems small and meaningless, which makes it quite a covert way to lure you back into engaging. Examples of random hoovering are:
- A narcissist could wait for a long period before making an attempt to reconnect with you. This can make it seem very random if they decide to hoover you.
- They could use random messages or texts that seem small or meaningless in order to get some response from you. It could be a text saying ‘What’s up?’ or ‘Long time no talk’. They could also send more nostalgic messages like ‘I just walked by the place where we met and thought of you.’, ‘our song was on the radio just now’ or ‘I miss you.’
- This person might ask random questions merely because they want a response. They could ask for the name of a restaurant or a recipe for something you used to cook.
- You could receive an ‘accidental’ call or text. They could send you an ‘accidental’ message meant for their new lover or a ‘mistake call’.
Reasons why narcissists hoover
The above examples show there are unending ways a narcissist could try to hoover you. But what exactly is the reason why they try to do all this?
A narcissist craves attention, validation, appreciation, and/or ego-boosting. It’s an addiction and they might need a lot of sources to fulfill their needs. A narcissist could thus be short of narcissistic supply and decide to try to lure you back in. They might sense you’re still vulnerable to them and try to manipulate you into re-engaging.
When in contact or in a relationship with you they will drain your energy by trying to get their unending needs fulfilled. They simply like to have control over you. They don’t care about your feelings or needs but are merely focused on fulfilling their own needs.
A narcissist uses these periods of disengagement to fulfill their needs in other ways. You can’t know for certain a narcissist will never try to hoover you. It can happen after a long period of silence without any contact.
The hoovering attempts happen mostly after being discarded or given the silent treatment. I wrote an in-depth article about the silent treatment if you want to read more about this manipulative behaviour. They probably felt the need to give the silent treatment or discard you as a reaction to a change in your behaviour.
You possibly were trying to protect some boundaries, questioning them or you just didn’t act the way they want you to act. The silent treatment followed by hoovering is a way for the narcissist to press the ‘reset’ button and to gain more control and superiority in the relationship.
When a narcissist hoovers you, the reason is they lack narcissistic supply and they are exploring where to get this. They might be in the phase of discard and silent treatment with other supplies and switch it up again. Sadly, you are thus on the list of their best options again. It’s emotional survival to a narcissist and victims are merely an object in order to fulfill their unending needs.
The challenge of being hoovered by a narcissist
A narcissist thus doesn’t have the intention to really work things out or to work on themselves. There won’t be any change and they only reach out if they can gain from it. They will try to use the methods you seem most sensitive for and abuse your kindness, love, belief, or hope. Responding to hoovering would be opening a door for more abuse. So, do not engage.
If you are sensitive to helping others they might use the method that they aren’t doing well and they need help. If you have a weakness for feeling loved they will try to love-bomb you and say they have changed. It’s thus very personal. Therefore, remember it’s all manipulation based on their knowledge of your triggers, emotions, and weaknesses and they will (ab)use their knowledge. It’s brutal and abusive how they manipulate.
Know the words of a narcissist won’t match with their actions. This is a core sign of a narcissist. Their actions simply don’t match what they say. In the hoover attempt, they could state declarations of love and at the same time hoover others and search for more supply.
It’s simply not sincere and there is only emptiness. They won’t change their actions once they have successfully hoovered you. Promises will fade away. They will gaslight, ask for trust, use stonewalling, blaming, and show all kinds of manipulative and abusive behaviour.
A hoover will thus never be what you might hope it will be. You will be back in the same abusive situation and probably lose a bit more of yourself every time. Their control will increase, the relationship will grow into more unhealthy dynamics and there could possibly develop a trauma bond between you and the narcissist.
How a hoovering narcissist abuses your triggers
Hoovering is customized to you by their knowledge of your emotional vulnerabilities. They know what you care about and what your triggers are. This is what makes it so dangerous and challenging. Sadly, they have no boundaries in what they will do to get your attention again. Examples of how they could trigger you by their hoovering attempts are:
- Your hope in someone being able to change or the belief that this person can change or be helped. Clearly, you want the person you love to be helped and possibly rescue them. A narcissist will try to abuse this hope.
- Your denial of what’s really going on. It’s normal you want to deny what happened because accepting it seems very brutal and makes it definitive. You might feel like you will lose the time you had or the good times in the love-bombing phase. It can be cruel to accept this was not real (unconditional) love and also a form of manipulation.
- You being a good, sweet, and empathic person.
- Your wish to be loved, loneliness, or a fear of abandonment. You might mistake conditional love for unconditional love. I wrote an article about narcissism and love if you want to read more about this.
- Your guilt, fear, anxiety, lack of self-love, or shame. You might doubt or fear whether you can take care of yourself and therefore feel like you need their support.
- You feeling an obligation or responsibility towards them. This could be that you (desperately) want to make the relationship work.
- You wanting something such as revenge, an apology, closure, or possibly simply show you’re doing great without them and that you have moved on. You could also want to explain or justify yourself. It’s a form of not being able to let go and therefore attachment remains.
From the list above it becomes clear we need to realize true emotional detachment from the narcissist. If we can detach, there will be no more emotional hooks they can try to use. In a twisted way, they force you to work on yourself. If you are able to shift attention to yourself and you sincerely don’t care about the narcissist anymore, you will have control over your life. You thus always have this control.
It’s very important to remember hoovering is a game of manipulation and every attempt is a manipulation technique. Decide not to play the game. It’s easy to say to have no contact with a narcissist but actually succeeding is very difficult. The hoovering can go to extremes and you might question whether it will ever stop. You might feel like you won’t survive. It thus can require a lot of strength and courage. Know you will get there!
What to know when being hoovered by a narcissist
This is what you need to know and recognize when being hoovered:
- Realize your health is at risk because it’s a very unhealthy situation. It can be both mentally and physically unsafe and unhealthy.
- Understand and (try to) accept there won’t be closure, an apology, an explanation, or a peaceful ending.
- It doesn’t matter what you do or whether you change. You can’t do anything differently because it will never be enough to fulfill the unending needs of a narcissist. There is no such thing as having to earn love as true love should be unconditional.
- Know the love-bombing stage is not real unconditional love. Idealization is empty.
- It’s a waste of time to try to prove something to a narcissist. There is no reasoning or normal communication. There is no underlying authenticity or foundation to build a deeper connection.
- Their behaviour is not about you. It’s about them. You are not responsible for the behaviour of others. Don’t take this responsibility.
Hoovering attempts might feel good or flattering. This can, however, be a threat when you started healing/recovering and you started feeling better. This is because you might think you can handle it now and overestimate that the situation is something you can change. A narcissist won’t change and going into contact will lead to eventually being drained again.
How to deal with a hoovering narcissist
Going no contact takes a lot of courage and can be hard to maintain because of hoovering. Some might settle for a reduction in contact, grey rock, or a form of ‘friendship’. This could eventually encourage a narcissist to find new supply for their narcissistic needs. When reducing contact or the intensity of contact you try reducing the fulfillment a narcissist gets from you. If you’re lucky they get bored and search for new supply.
You could try the grey rock method temporarily if you were baited into a relationship again to help you with (emotionally) detaching. This is a method on how to deal with a narcissist when going no contact is not an option (right away). I wrote an in-depth article about the grey rock method if you want to know more about it.
The best way to deal with hoovering would clearly be to not get sucked back in and not re-engage. Work on emotional detachment and learn about your triggers. A narcissist stops hoovering when they have no doubt about the fact that they will not get any narcissistic supply from you. Block them, stay no-contact, and focus on yourself.
You might have to change your phone number, email, and social media if you need to. If you have children with them, you could use only an email for contact about the children and don’t respond to anything else. Set clear boundaries/rules for contact.
It’s important not to blame yourself if you have been hoovered back in and find out nothing has changed. Try to see why you were triggered and learn from it. You will become stronger and simply try it again with more certainty. To conquer the hoovering attempts and not engage you could write down why you ended the relationship and the unhealthy dynamics that were involved. It can be helpful to write down a list of all the bad and draining experiences you had with this person.
Questions to ask yourself to better deal with hoovering
- Does this person want me to develop, have kind thoughts about myself, and become more confident?
- Does this person makes me less doubtful or did I feel more confused or a need to ‘work’ harder on the relationship?
- Did I feel it was loving and effortless or that I needed to change myself more and more to make it work?
- Does my intuition tell me there is a deeper connection with them and is this person kind and loving in an unconditional way?
- Does this person seem to only care about themselves and what I did wrong?
- Do I feel sincere attention and empathy when this person listens to me or when I share my feelings?
Write the answers down to these questions and you will know when it’s an unhealthy situation. Know these are things that won’t change. Read your answers every hoover attempt and choose with awareness for your freedom! Know within they don’t have control over you anymore. You can decide not to engage.
Shifting attention to yourself
It would be great if you possibly went to a therapist and/or a support group and are able to start working on yourself. Shift the attention to yourself again and try to be loving, compassionate, and kind to yourself. You deserve this!
It can be tough to shift attention to yourself again and I believe conscious breathing (mindfulness) can help with the mental aspect of shifting attention to yourself again. You could read my article about conscious breathing if you’re interested in this. If you want to read more about self-worth you could read this article about self-worth and narcissism.
I hope this article was helpful in some way and I wish you strength and more kindness in the future!
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