Your heart sinks as you read the text, “I’m not in a great place right now. I need you. Please help.”
It’s been over a year now. You’ve cut off all ties and contact with your ex, and you’ve finally gained some semblance of mental health. But this … this random text throws you completely off. As you quickly type the message with shaking fingers “What do you need help with?” and click send, your stomach drops. There is a dark feeling in the pit of your chest. It’s the ominous and foreboding feeling you sometimes get before thunderstorms and tragic news. Deep down, you know that you’ve made the wrong choice.
You’ve just been hoovered.
If you can relate to what I’ve just written, you’re likely experiencing a dangerously abusive manipulation technique known as hoovering. Hoovering is a technique that drags you into cycles of abuse, disrupting your entire life and those around you. In this article, you’ll learn how to prevent this abusive manipulation from fooling you.
Table of contents
What is Hoovering?
Hoovering is an abuse tactic frequently used by people who struggle with narcissistic, borderline, antisocial, and histrionic personality disorders. Named after the Hoover vacuum cleaner, hoovering is basically a way of “sucking” a person back into an abusive relationship. Hoovering is typically done after a long period of no contact between the victim and the abuser. In an attempt to regain control over their victims, hoovering abusers will use manipulation tactics that target their victim’s soft spots and emotional vulnerabilities. If they are successful, the hoovering abuser will use their victim until they are bored of them and discard of them once again.
3 Toxic Examples of Hoovering
Let’s take a look at what hoovering looks and feels like:
Scenario 1: Amanda broke up with Steven six months ago and has severed all contact. But one day, out of the blue, she receives a contact request on Facebook from Steven apologizing for all of his abusive behavior and that he wants to be given a second chance because he’s still “in love” with her. Amanda’s heart beats quickly as she writes a response, truly believing that Steven has “changed.”
Scenario 2: Ben managed to escape an emotionally abusive relationship with his partner Robert almost two years ago. When he arrive home, he finds a lavish array of flowers on his doorstep with a note that says “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and a phone number from Robert. Ben starts remembering how much affection Robert used to show him at the start of their relationship. Feeling lonely, Ben convinces himself that Robert must have matured past his paranoid and hateful behavior, and gives him a call.
Scenario 3: Ingrid has just left Scott out of a desperate attempt to regain control of her life. After managing to find solace for a few days from his gaslighting, infidelity, and outbursts of rage, he begins appearing on her doorstep. “You’re the only one I ever loved Ingrid,” Scott whines, “I want to marry you, I only ever wanted to be with you. You’re the love of my life, my soulmate.” After experiencing this behavior for a couple of weeks, Ingrid finally snaps, and rips open the door, “Get out of my fucking life!” she screams and starts to cry. Scott pulls her into a hug and she sobs on his shoulder.
Why Do Narcissists Hoover?
What’s the point of hoovering? To regain a sense of control over you. Narcissists begin hoovering when they want something from you such as attention, validation, money or sex. But the deepest reason why narcissists hoover is because they are completely internally empty. They have a pathological fear of feeling insignificant, unlovable, alone or worthless, so they do whatever they can to fill this empty void and sustain their false self-image.
Narcissists are fundamentally addicted to the attention of others. Without attention and control, they starve. When their reservoirs of narcissistic supply run out, they seek to prey off the old “meat” they managed to catch in the past – and that means you. This also means that they usually have many “backups” (e.g. other exes) to feed off when they begin to feel hungry again.
Like predators, a narcissist knows how to manipulate the weaknesses of those they have preyed on before. They will try to entice you through random texts, apologies, declarations of undying love, and “repentant” gestures which try to convince you how much they have “changed” and “care” for you.
The truth is that narcissists couldn’t care less about you, and their attempts to win your trust are all fabrications that are part of their sick game. Because of their severe soul loss and inability to show any form of empathy, a narcissist will say any lie and go to any extent to get you back under their control.
8 Creepy Forms of Hoovering
Let’s take a look at some of the creepiest and most common forms of hoovering below. Please note that many of these signs are common among relationships that have just ended. So if you’re still being pursued by your ex, this might not necessarily mean that you’re being hoovered or that they have dark intentions. Hoovering is a pathological and manipulative form of behavior that is intended to suck you back into another cycle of abuse. When reading these signs, please be honest about your relationship and ex-partner.
1. Pretending that your relationship isn’t over
They will ignore your requests to cut off contact, continue sending you the same messages, will show up at your house, job, etc. They’ll continue harassing you as if nothing has changed at all.
2. Sending unsolicited gifts
In an attempt to get you back, they will send you lavish and unexpected gifts such as flowers, cards, tickets to movies and concerts, cakes, you name it.
3. “Apologizing” for their behavior
To try and engage you, the narcissist will appear to “own up” to their mistakes and will feign humility and remorse in an attempt to pull at your heartstrings. Their messages or words will sound very convincing, so be careful.
4. Indirect manipulation
If they can’t get through to you directly, they will go a different route: your friends, children or other family members. For example, they might try to send you messages through your friends or say something slanderous about you to your family which you’ll then feel the need to correct. When you’ve been hooked, you’ll be lured into confronting them about their lies.
The narcissist may even try to use your children against you. For instance, if your ex has custody of your children, he/she might put the child on the phone asking you to come back home or get them to write letters to you. This is a powerful and highly manipulative hoovering technique.
5. Declaring love
Declaring undying love is perhaps the most common hoovering technique out there. Because love is such a powerful emotion, narcissists will not hesitate to use it to lure you back into their clutches. They will say things such as, “You’re my soulmate,” “We were made for each other,” “You’re the only person I’ve ever loved,” to tempt you into contact again. Do NOT fall for these tricks.
6. Sending random messages to you and “ghost” phone calls
If you’re being hoovered, you’ll likely receive random messages from the narcissist asking for and commenting on different things. Expect text messages such as “Please wish (so-and-so) a happy anniversary from me,” “Did you take my (personal item)?” “Are you going to (so-and-so’s) dinner tonight?” “I’m standing in the place we first met. Thinking of you,” and so forth.
The narcissist may even send you “accidental” messages with the intention of putting a knife in your heart such as, “I love you honey, I’ll be home at 6” to their new partner with the intention of inciting a response from you.
Another creepy tactic is receiving ghost phone calls. For example, you might receive frequent phone calls from private numbers and receive long silences or soft breathing on the other end. This tactic is used to freak you out and get you to engage.
7. Faking vulnerability and the need for “help”
The narcissist will go to any extent to get your attention and sympathy. Faking the need for help is such a powerful hoovering technique because it preys on our natural tendency to show compassion to others. The narcissist might send you messages and leave you voice mails telling you that they’re sick, they need your help, they’re desperately in trouble and need you to call them back, or even that they’re going to kill themselves. I’ve heard of narcissists that have gone as far as faking serious illnesses like cancer and heart attacks, just to prey on others and reel them into abusive cycles again. (Note: if you think someone is going to kill themselves, please call your local police services.)
8. Baiting you with drama
If all other hoovering techniques fail, the narcissist will try baiting you with drama. They will send you melodramatic messages, create havoc in your social life through spreading rumors, use your children as an excuse to express rage and hissy fits, and put on scenes with the intention of provoking reactions from you.
How to Stop Being a Victim of Hoovering Narcissists
Firstly, it’s important to understand that hoovering is designed to trick you by playing on your emotional vulnerabilities. A narcissist knows very well how to manipulate you, and they will disguise their contact as an attempt to seek reconciliation, forgiveness, friendship, and even love.
Because hoovering is essentially about emotional survival for the narcissist, they will often go to extreme extents to get your engagement. They will lie, pretend, and coerce you in any way they can so that they can get what they’re truly craving: power, control, and validation. If you feel that you’re being stalked, don’t hesitate to contact the police. Narcissistic abuse is a very real issue.
Here are some of the best ways to end the cycle of narcissistic abuse:
- Change your phone number, email, and social media accounts (or block his/her number)
- Pay attention to the signs that you’re being hoovered and know these hoovering manipulation tactics inside out so that you can identify them when they occur
- Set a firm rule that you will NOT contact, acknowledge or respond to the narcissist in any way, shape or form
- Learn to love and take care of yourself (read this article on how to love yourself more for tips)
- Join a narcissist support group
- Develop mindfulness so that you can become aware of your emotional triggers
- Try google the ‘gray rock method‘ if you’ve been lured back into a relationship
I truly hope these actions can help you regain a sense of personal clarity, confidence, and empowerment once again as you recover from the narcissist’s hoovering mind games.
Eventually, the narcissist’s tactics WILL stop. The sooner you completely ignore every one of their attempts to lure you in, the sooner they will realize that they have no control over you anymore.
Are you experiencing hoovering? Do you know someone who is? What advice can you share that can help others? Please share below.
I have a unique situation. I suspect my daughter has NPD. She mostly abuses me and her husband, possibly her sister in the past, but they are estranged now. Looking back, this has been going on for years. I have experienced the hoovering cycle many times. It is really, really hard to cut all ties since she is my daughter. After extensive conversations about how I felt, she turned everything around on me and told me it was some unresolved insecurity of mine and she took no responsibility for any of her actions. I told her we needed a break from each other for awhile. Do you have any suggestions for me about how not to get sucked in again? I feel like she is also poisoning my grandkid’s perception of me as well. I really don’t want to cut off the entire family.