Please read my article on Thought Catalog: When Your Narcissist Ex Comes Back, Please Choose Yourself
When trying to leave or cut yourself free from any type of relationship with a narcissist (dating, marriage, family, friend, coworker, etc.), many victims feel like they’re constantly being pulled back in, making their escape nearly impossible.
This is due to a form of emotional manipulation known as “HOOVERING“.
The term is taken from the Hoover vacuum cleaner. And like the vacuum, the narcissist will attempt to suck a victim back into the abusive relationship using insincere words and actions that the victim will find irresistible.
This manipulation tactic consists of any attempt to reopen communication and connection with the victim, no matter how seemingly innocent. This allows the narcissist to keep their foot in the door and maintain control over their victim when they start pulling away… or to pull back a victim after they’ve already left.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Hoovering does NOT mean the narcissist has had a change of heart or that they’ve finally realized their wrongs against you and decided you deserve to be treated with genuine love and respect.
Hoovering is done to pull you back into their “pantry” filled with various sources of supply to use as back up until they find something better. Their “feelings” and behavior will never change no matter how much you love them or show patience and forgiveness… it’s why this is called a narcissistic cycle of abuse.
Examples of Hoovering:
The narcissist might message or call you out of the blue to ask how you’re doing… or that they miss you… or wish you a “Happy Birthday.” It’s also common for abusers to reach out and ask if you have something that belongs to them (I can’t find my favorite shirt. Do you have it?)… or information about a restaurant or movie you’ve seen together.
Some narcissist fake a text message sent to the wrong person (“Hey, I’m thinking about you” … “Sorry, that was for someone else”).
Block them on your phone, email, social media, etc., to avoid this altogether.
Shower You with Love, Affection, and Attention
This can include grand declarations of their undying love for you or showering you with gifts. But they can also be something simple like sending you messages that make you feel like they care about you or that they still think about you.
For romantic relationships, the narcissist is fully aware you’ve been longing to get back that loving feeling they made you feel at the beginning… encouraging you to hope that things might go back to how they were. For family relationships, it’s to get your guard down by making you feel like you’re finally being appreciated and accepted.
This tactic is known as love-bombing and there is nothing sweet or considerate about it. All they’re doing is keeping you around while they haven’t found a new, reliable source of supply.
Claiming to Have Changed
The abuser will appear to show remorse and promise they will do whatever it takes to prove they’ve changed for the better (“I’m going to therapy”, “I’ll quit drinking/doing drugs”, “I will never cheat on you again”). This is an attempt to insert even a sliver of doubt into your mind after you’ve worked hard to find the courage to cut the abuser off. It’s how they take back control over you.
Remember – narcissistic personality disorder is a very serious mental health condition. They can’t “suddenly” change their natural thought process and behavioral patterns – not even if they claim to “finally realize” how special you really are to them.
Unless they receive YEARS of EXTENSIVE therapy… narcissists CANNOT change how their brains have been conditioned and wired throughout their whole life.
If you are non-responsive to the narcissist’s hoovering attempts, they may threaten to self-harm or suicide. It’s also common for abusers to claim a crisis such as a serious illness (so many abusers suddenly have cancer when they don’t get the attention they want) or sick/dying pet or family member.
This is an extreme form of emotional blackmail used to guilt victims into opening communication with the abuser. In most cases, these are empty threats; however, if you believe there is a risk of them hurting themselves or others contact the emergency responders.
Getting Your Family & Friends Involved
Narcissists will use the people in your lives to try and pull you back in. If you’ve blocked the abuser they may enlist mutual friends to reach out on their behalf. There are many cases where abusers contact the victim’s family and friends, pretending to be concerned or desperate to apologize.
It’s also common for narcissists to spread lies about you to your mutual friends. This is another manipulation tactic known as the smear campaign.
How To Defend Yourself From Hoovering
Hoovering can make you feel confused, insecure, hopeful, and relieved – all at the same time. However, while you may see a glimmer of hope that perhaps they are “coming around”… do not forget the pain they’ve dragged you through… and that they didn’t care about how badly they were hurting you.
Always keep in mind that YOU are the source of supply and have what the narcissist needs to survive. They have nothing to give you aside from miserable company… if that. All they do is give you phoney compliments and a false sense of hope and security just so they can leech off of you.
It’s important that you go NO CONTACT (or MODIFIED CONTACT if you share children, business, or family with the narcissist). Block the narcissist and those they “enlist” to spy on you… and ask your family and friends not to share information about you to them, and let them also know that you don’t want any news or updates about the narcissist – unless it affects your safety/well-being.
If the narcissist threaten self harm or suicide, report this to the emergency responders. They are professionally trained to handle these situations.
One of the most effective ways I’ve found to begin moving forward and breaking free from the cycle of abuse is to go no contact, stop hoping for them to change for the better, and familiarize myself with their manipulative tactics so I can better protect myself.