You’ve broken up or divorced for several months now. You’re ready to heal and move on, but the narcissist has different plans for your future.
No matter what you say or do, they keep coming back into your life. It’s frustrating and confusing- you don’t want them there, but they can’t seem to accept that. What’s going on, and what should you do? Why won’t the hoovering Narcissist leave you alone?
Understanding The Narcissist And Hoovering
Hoovering is a classic manipulation tactic designed to convince you to return to a toxic relationship. Like the well-known Hoover vacuum, hoovering seeks to “suck you back in.”
Some hoovering attempts are apparent. Others are far more sneaky and insidious. Victims of narcissistic abuse may undergo several months or years of hoovering before leaving the relationship for good.
The hoovering narcissist is clever and quick. They know how to pique your interest because they already know your fears and weaknesses. Subsequently, they exploit those vulnerabilities to lure you back into their life.
Why Do Narcissists Hoover?
Narcissists hoover for several reasons, and each of those reasons seeks to fulfill their intrinsic needs and desires.
They Need Continuous Power and Control
Above anything, narcissists need to feel important and valued. Their relationship with you reinforces those ideals. Therefore, the opposite is true. Not having you in their life feels threatening and inconceivable- they need to do what they can to return to their usual homeostasis.
Narcissists don’t want you to feel empowered. That’s much too threatening to their psyche. They want you in a subservient role, in a role that adores, appreciates, and validates them.
They Believe They Are Entitled To You
When a narcissist has invested in something or someone, they believe they are owed those benefits. In some ways, they think you are indebted to them for whatever they offered you. To convince you of their fallacy, they might say things like, I sacrificed so much for you!
Narcissists don’t believe normal rules apply to them. That’s why they struggle with authority and boundaries. It’s also why they can’t seem to respect your needs or wishes. To them, rules are mere suggestions- and if these suggestions don’t fit into their mold, they disregard them.
They Seek Pleasure From The Process
If this motive may sound deranged, it’s because it can be. Many narcissists view people as submissive objects or “challenges to conquer.” To them, this back-and-forth can feel like a game, and they know how to win it.
Narcissists share traits with psychopaths and sociopaths. Extreme narcissists lack any remorse for feelings. At times, they also derive a sense of joy from harming people. Moreover, they can justify their behavior- they contextualize their actions as something they “need” to do.
8 Narcissist Hoovering Tactics
There are many narcissist tactics to get you back in their lives. Let’s get into some of the common examples.
Reading Suggestion: 15 narcissist Hoovering Examples
1. Flooding You With Flattery
But you’re my soul mate!
Nobody understands me like you do!
I’ve never felt so connected with another person.
You’re the only one I’m supposed to be with!
If any of those compliments sound familiar, recognize them as attempts to win you over with adoration. Narcissists recognize the universal need to be loved. They exploit this need by conveying how obsessed they are with you.
If you’re reeling from your breakup, these lines can easily work magic on you. They can convince you that you’re special and that this time will be different. Remember that a simple, But I love you, is one of the easiest things narcissists say to get you back.
2. Consuming You With Nostalgia
Remember when we first met- I’ll never forget that day?
Remember how we felt when we first saw our baby?
Remember how much fun we had on that amazing trip last summer?
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion that can trigger heightened feelings of optimism, social connectivity, and physical warmth. Narcissists may play on this emotion to remind you of all the good times you two shared.
Breakups hurt everyone involved. The narcissist knows if you still have ambivalent feelings about your relationship. Therefore, they will use nostalgia to heighten those feelings and increase your sense of guilt and longing.
3. Bombarding You With Crises
I’m sorry to bother you, but did you hear what happened to my mom?
I just lost my job, and things are rough right now.
I was in a bad car accident. Just thought I’d let you know.
The narcissist understands you have empathy for their pain. As a result, they might contort various situations to sound like full-blown emergencies. If an actual crisis does occur, they’ll run to you for emotional support and closeness.
This type of hoovering can be painful for loved ones. You don’t want to see the narcissist suffering. You also don’t want to feel guilty for ignoring them.
At the same time, their crises are often falsified or exaggerated. Even if they do occur, the narcissist’s response tends to be overly dramatic- as a way to draw you back in.
4. Making An Effort To Change
I’m ready to be a parent now. Let’s try to have a baby.
I know I need to work on things. I started therapy last week.
You’re right. We need to move. I’ve started looking at houses.
Did you and the narcissist have a continuous conflict with no real resolution? Did you desperately want something that they never wanted to give you?
If so, the “making an effort to change” hoovering appears to solve this problem. When this happens, the narcissist suddenly agrees to concede. They’re now ready for marriage! They want to go to therapy! They want to make you happy!
And, of course, you want to believe they’ve finally seen the light and that the changes will stick. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen. The effort to change doesn’t emerge from a profound desire to grow or improve oneself. Instead, the changes are meant to placate and impress you.
Once you’re back in their lives, the progress often stops altogether, and they return to their usual behavior.
5. Downplaying Or Lying About Why They Contacted You
My sister said she saw you driving yesterday. How have you been?
Oh! I didn’t realize I was calling you- that was an accident.
I didn’t mean to like your picture. Sorry about that.
Many times, the narcissist doesn’t want to acknowledge how your breakup impacts them. This acknowledgment would display weakness, which they are not willing to reveal.
Instead of overwhelming you with obvious attempts to win you back, they’ll take an even more manipulative approach by “accidentally” forcing entry. That said, your response tends to open their floodgates.
6. Denying The Current Reality
I wasn’t thinking right. We’re still together.
That was just us going through things.
Babe, that was just a fight. We both said things we didn’t mean.
At times, the narcissist may act as if nothing has changed, as if you’re still happily together. This denial can come in various forms, like a sudden message reaching out, flowers and a romantic card, or showing up at your place by surprise.
7. Gaslighting Your Truth
You’re imagining things! We were so happy!
That was not what I meant. You’re twisting my words.
Now I can’t call you to see how you’re doing? Wow, you’re being so sensitive.
Gaslighting coincides with many narcissist hoovering tactics. Gaslighting is an attempt to manipulate your reality- the narcissist attempts to invalidate your thoughts, feelings, memory, and overall mental sanity.
Gaslighting can be incredibly explicit, meaning you know when it’s happening. Other times, however, it can feel downright confusing. For example, I was just joking, can make you question if you really are overreacting. A simple, I never said that may lead you wondering if you misheard what they told you.
8. Narcissist Hoovering By Proxy
You two seemed so good for each other.
I know they really miss you. They’ve been such a mess since you broke up.
You know they would never want to hurt you.
Proxy hoovering occurs when the narcissist uses someone else to do their dirty work. Instead of contacting you directly, they rely on other people to convey their needs. Proxy hoovers can include friends or family- at times, it may even be people who are seemingly on your side!
Narcissists pick these individuals with careful precision. They choose people who are also charmed or impressed by their behavior. As a result, those people want to look after the narcissist. They want to help them feel better.
How Long Will A Narcissist Hoover?
Narcissists hoover for as long as they feel enabled to do so.
Some narcissists will repeat their destructive cycle until you either get back together or completely cut ties. The hoovering is on their terms- they set the rules for the game, expecting you to participate along with them.
At times, it may seem like they’ve stopped the hoovering behavior. But despite long periods of silence, they almost always come back. In fact, they often stretch the periods of silence after each hoovering episode- just to keep you on your toes.
Narcissists don’t want you to move on from the relationship or from the pain they inflicted. They intend to keep you thinking about them- even if those thoughts are negative. They are wired to crave the attention of others. Without the attention, they often feel completely empty.
If you want to end a relationship, cutting off all ties tends to be the only effective approach. Narcissists often exploit any opportunity to hoover. They typically prey on weak energy, and they can spot ambivalence if you reveal any signs of it.
How To Respond To the Hoovering Narcissist?
The best response is no response.
If you’re broken up (and want to stay that way), a narcissist will prefer you lashing out or threatening them over nothing at all. Narcissists thrive on attention, and they don’t distinguish between positive or negative attention.
Again, hoovering is all about “sucking you back in.” These tactics are designed to provoke you to respond- even if you have no desire to talk to them.
Don’t answer the phone. Don’t respond to the texts. Block them on social media. Ignore the narcissist hoover and ignore any efforts they make to reel you back into their life. If you maintain complete consistency with your approach, most narcissists have no choice but to stop.
The commitment to continue rejecting a narcissist hoover is their greatest fear.
That said, it’s important to note some narcissists may resort to dangerous tactics, such as stalking or abusing others, to pique your attention. If, at any point, you feel physically unsafe, contact law enforcement, and consider reaching out to an attorney. You may need additional legal and practical protection. This is an especially important point to consider if the narcissist physically or sexually abused you in the past.
Hoovering is a common strategy narcissists use to restore their sense of power and control in a relationship. Narcissists struggle to let anyone else make decisions for them. That’s why they continue to hoover- they haven’t decided that the relationship is done.
In their minds, the relationship is over when they want it to be over. And even in that case, they still wish to access you in the peripherals of their daily life. They still feel entitled and owed to you- even if you no longer want that dynamic.
It is no secret that hoovering can be exhausting for loved ones. You want to heal, but they know how to suck you back in.
If you want to move on from this frustrating cycle, no contact is the best approach. It isn’t easy, but it’s the only method that allows for real closure.
Sources & References
- Telegraph.co.uk. (2017, October 11). Your brain on nostalgia: first study shows neurons light up in meaningful places. The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/10/12/brain-nostalgia-first-study-shows-neurons-light-meaningful-places/
- Heart-warming memories: Nostalgia can make you feel warmer. (2012). ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121203082050.htm
- Psychopath Free (Expanded Edition). (2010). Google Books. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=RZ8vBgAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PR13&dq=narcissist++and+sociopath&ots=A1_1s-IAq7&sig=RVyLoE8MgO66nov2xvK8TBpWJJs#v=onepage&q=narcissist%20%20and%20sociopath&f=false
- APA PsycNet. (2020). Apa.Org. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-08435-003
- Lancer, D. (2018, August 17). Mental Health & Relationships: Can a Narcissist Love? | DIFFERENT BRAINS. DIFFERENT BRAINS; DIFFERENT BRAINS. https://www.differentbrains.org/mental-health-relationships-can-a-narcissist-love/