Hoovering is a staple of relationships with narcissists. In fact, narcissists thrive in relationships where they can come and go, rather than healthy relationships where the partners do not disengage with one another because hoovering benefits narcissists in ways that healthy relationships never can.
Hoovering is serious business for a narcissist. It’s how they keep anyone they were ever involved with sucked in for months or years. It’s how they pop back into the life of anyone they were ever involved with as if no time at all has passed, even for just a few minutes or a one night or a week to get some attention only to disappear again. H.G. Tudor, the self-aware narcissist who writes about how narcissists think and about whom I have written many times, has so many articles about hoovering, I couldn’t even begin to list them all, but I suggest reading some of them for an understanding of just how important the hoover is for a narcissist. If a narcissist’s partner/ex-partner doesn’t learn to navigate the hoover, then no-contact will never succeed.
When they are ready to come back, there are a variety of methods of hoovering that narcissists use in order to try to draw a partner back into re-engaging with them. Sometimes this happens in normal relationships when people want to start over again because they want to give the relationship another chance. One of the partners may use something that looks like one of these hoovering methods. For example, he or she may apologize for doing something in the relationship and indicate that he or she is willing to change.
There is something fundamentally different about the behavior when used by a narcissist, however: insincerity. When a narcissist uses these methods, he or she has scrolled through all possible scenarios for reconciliation and judged, based on the situation, which method will most likely garner a response back.
Wishing someone well on a new job, feigning anger over the fake news they supposedly heard about you, pretending to be ill, or promising to change are all just ruses to attempt to get the other person to say something back to the narcissist. Once the narcissist has his or her “foot in the door,” it’s a matter of keeping the conversation going long enough to extract what he or she wants out of the conversation. A chance to see the person again? To eventually restart the relationship? One small disingenuous step gets the ball rolling toward whatever it is that is in the narcissist’s sights.
Now that my own relationship is over and I am in no-contact, the insincerity behind these hoovering attempts is crystal clear. Trauma bonding while in the relationship and the confusion of being unable to have a real discussion about anything without being shut down made it difficult to understand that bigger pattern. I can look back now and see very clear signs that hoovering was used to keep the relationship going on as long as he could stretch it out to extract from me what made him feel good about himself, but that he did not genuinely care about making it an equal partnership. It was never really me that he wanted but something I provided to him.
Four Signs Demonstrating The Insincerity of the Hoover
- He was always more concerned with what I had been doing while we weren’t together than about repairing the relationship. I’ve made it no secret that he was a very jealous and possessive man. As soon as he was sure that he had me back again, the relentless questioning would begin. Who had I been talking to? How many dates had I been on? The pressure was oppressive, and it filled me with anxiety and dread when he made comments indicating that he did not believe anything I told him. Sometimes very overtly and sometimes in more subtle ways, he indicated that he expected me to be okay with him checking up on me and not having a life outside of our interactions. These actions to me represent his true intentions: he didn’t want to actually be with me, he merely didn’t want anyone else to.
- I found out exactly what he had been doing while the two of us weren’t together. There was a reason he was so interested in what I had been doing while the two of us were apart: he was projecting his own behavior onto me. Although often his hoovering method included something like not being able to live without me or to stop thinking about me or something to that effect, it felt a lot less genuine when I found out he was actually busy meeting new women, hitting up every woman he knew on Facebook, trying to talk as many of them as he could into dates, and meeting up with them. Even on the same nights that was hoovering me telling me how much he missed me, he was sometimes talking to several other women asking them for dates at the exact same time. If he knew I knew the women and they might tell me, he would “confess” to me that he had talked to them out of “loneliness,” but insist it wasn’t cheating because we weren’t together (although it was certainly cheating if I did something similar!). Hoovering is not about having an epiphany and missing that particular person– it’s a half-hearted attempt to see how hard they have to work to draw you back into the fold at the moment.
- I saw the narcissistic injury that occurred when hoovers didn’t work. There were times when his hoovering wasn’t successful. I was feeling too hurt or angry to be drawn back into the web at the time. Below is an example of a conversation that occurred when I was preparing to move out of the apartment that he and I had shared together after a period of about a week when we hadn’t been talking:
Him: “If you need help with taking ur bed apart or anything plz feel free to let me know. I think I owe you that much.”
Me: “Okay thanks.”
Him: [Meme: “It all comes down to the last person you think of at night. They have your heart.”]
Me: “I want to make a joke and say, so which one of us is that?”
Him: “F u. Thx… It was you but won’t be from now on. Go to hell.”
Me: “It never was. Don’t contact me again.”
Him: “Lol ok haha slut. The more I talk to you the more I hate you.”
And that is the very epitome of an insincere hoover. He had been doing it only for show.
Hoovers like these happened early during the period after I first knew something was wrong. Later he got more sophisticated. He learned that if he wanted the hoovering to work, he had to be relentless with love-bombing, avoid outbursts like this, and start pouring on the apology. But then even though a hoover might seem sincere, it’s apparent insincerity was in the continuance of his behaviors that led to any of our breakups.
4. Nothing ever changed. He would promise things would be different, but then he didn’t understand why there was no trust. He engaged in the same shady behavior but continued to gaslight me about it. If I wanted to talk, he stonewalled, deflected and accused me of arguing. This is when I developed a trauma bond waiting for a grown man to treat me with decency, and wondering why I had to explain basics of how to function in relationships over and over again.
* * * * *
Hoovers are deadly. Each time you return, you lose just a little more of yourself and replace it with a piece of the narcissist, because you’ve given up trying to resist that much more.
A hoover will never be what you want it to be. If you’re being hoovered, ask yourself why the person keeps having to hoover you in the first place? Wouldn’t something actually change? There would be no disengagement, and therefore no need to re-engage.
Cut it off and save yourself.