When you end a toxic relationship with a narcissist, you might think that it’s over – but very often, the narcissist has other ideas. in fact, more often than not, the narcissist will do something to suck you back into their drama – or even fully back into the relationship – using a technique called hoovering.
What is hoovering?
Hoovering, named after the famous vacuum cleaner company, is what we call it when the narcissist tries to “suck you back in” after you’ve left them or ended the relationship, or after they have discarded you. They may use some kind of personal problem or dramatic issue to pull you back in, or they may use love-bombing. Hoovering is always an attempt to obtain more narcissistic supply from you, and in many cases, it can be an attempt to reconcile the relationship. It can also just be a manipulation tactic used to get you to break no contact.
What are the signs of a hoovering narcissist?
The first thing you need to remember here is that there is no level to which a narcissist won’t stoop – nothing is off-limits for them. Here are a few ways narcissists might engage in hoovering you.
- Finally saying that one thing you’ve been dying to hear. Narcissists are infamous for holding things over your head and for feeling justified in not giving you what you want and need in a relationship. For example, if you were dating a narcissist for 10 years and you just wanted them to pop the question, they might hoover you with a diamond ring and a proposal. Or if you were married to the narcissist and always wanted a baby, they might hoover you with an offer to try to get pregnant.
- Future faking you. Narcissists are known for their future-faking ways – where they promise you an amazing life together and never follow through. Many narcissists will use future-faking as a way to suck you back in. They will promise you the world – maybe they promise to buy you a house, or to finally go to couples counseling, or to really stop cheating on you this time. Most often, they fail to deliver, but use this future-faking in order to get you back into their clutches – and into the relationship.
- Getting you involved in their drama. As someone who has struggled with codependency, you’re especially susceptible to helping someone in need. The couldn’t be more true for someone you love or have loved. So, a narcissist might come to you with some big problem or issue in their lives that they need your help with. This could be something as serious as the death of a loved one that they just can’t make it through without your support, or something as simple as an argument with a friend or a coworker. One of my clients told me that her ex tried to hoover her by bringing his sick dog to her house and asking her to help take care of it. Like I said, they have no limits.
- Accidentally “butt-dialing” you or sending you a text “meant for someone else.” This is a sneaky one. Narcissists will often “accidentally” call your phone or text you something random and mysterious so that you’re enticed to call or text back and ask what they need, what they meant by that text or why they called. Then, they’ll pretend that it was an accident or that they meant to call or text someone else – and before you know it, you’re in a full-on conversation during which the narcissist will try to pull you back into the “circle of supply.”
- Swearing that they can’t live without you. When they realize that you’ve truly moved on, a lot of narcissists will use a resounding declaration of love and claim they cannot live without you. They’ll say you’re their soulmate and they’ll even pretend to admit their own flaws and faults in order to get you to fall for it. This will effectively begin a whole new period of love-bombing, designed to suck you back into the relationship.
- Engaging flying monkeys to do their dirty work. Narcissists always have a crew of flying monkeys on hand – people who are happy to “do their bidding” for them. This may include flying monkeys who are willing to help them manipulate you without remorse, and it may also include “unwilling” flying monkeys – well-meaning people who fall for the narcissist’s lies and who are really trying to help. In hoovering, narcissists send the flying monkeys your way with worries and concerns about your (or the narcissist’s) well-being, all designed to get you to communicate directly with the narcissist or to manipulate you with drama.
- Suddenly recognizing the error of their ways. In a last-ditch effort to get you back into the relationship, some narcissists will come to you in tears, telling you they’re a terrible person and admitting “everything they did wrong,” which is often done by parroting back exactly what you’ve been trying to tell them for the duration of the relationship. They’ll say things like “I know I don’t treat you right” and “You really do deserve better than me” in order to soften you up and pull you back in.
- Using fear and intimidation to bully you. Some narcissists will even go so far as to try to scare you back into the relationship. They may also use guilt or blame-shifting to force you back in. And bullying is a very common manipulation tactic for most narcissists.
How can you deal with hoovering?
The next question on the mind of every narcissistic abuse survivor is usually, “How can I avoid the hoover?” Here are a few of the most important things you can do.
- Remember that knowledge is power. Simply be aware of the fact that the narcissist may try to hoover you and become familiar with the signs of hoovering. That in itself can be enough to help you avoid falling for it.
- Use the gray rock method. Don’t show any emotion and only talk to the narcissist if you must, about what you must. If you have no shared children or shared business, you can completely go no contact.
- If possible, eliminate their ability to contact you. Change your phone number, block them on your social media and don’t answer the door if they come calling.
- Focus on YOU for once! Take the time you need to do self-care, to do that redecorating project you’ve been meaning to do, or to just do more nice things for yourself. You deserve it, and it’ll help you to distract yourself from the narcissist’s hoovering attempts.
- Reconnect with old friends, and make new ones. While you shouldn’t jump into any romantic relationships too soon after ending a relationship with a narcissist (because you need to heal first), it’s a great idea to dive into your friendships. Since you may have lost touch with old friends as a result of the narcissist isolating you during the relationship, what better way to celebrate the end of it? Reach out to your old friends and consider making new ones by getting involved in a group of like-minded people. Maybe that means taking a class, going to church or synagogue or joining a local club. You can also look at sites like Meetup.com to find groups of local people with similar interests. If that feels like too much, start with one of our online support groups for survivors of narcissistic abuse.
This video playlist goes into more detail and offers more coping techniques for how to avoid being hoovered by a narcissist.
Why haven’t I been hoovered yet?
This question is often asked by survivors of narcissistic abuse who aren’t quite ready to be done with the narcissist just yet. They actually want the hoover because they want another chance to try and fix the relationship. While this question is one that makes me a little sad, I totally get it. And there are a number of reasons the narcissist may not be hoovering you.
Get the full rundown of reasons the narcissist isn’t hoovering in this video.
Bottom line: even if you do fall for hoovering and get back into the relationship with the narcissist, chances are that any change you see will only be temporary. Once the narcissist knows you’re back “in” officially, they will quickly return to their usual manipulative, abusive ways. Don’t fall for the hoover!
Angela Atkinson is a Certified Life Coach and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic relationships since 2006, Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own.
Atkinson offers trauma-informed coaching and has certifications in life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves.
Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded QueenBeeing.com Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. In her life coaching practice, Atkinson’s clients enjoy her personalized approach that allows and encourages them to become the best possible versions of themselves and to succeed in doing what they love most. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online and NarcissismSupportCoach.com.