Narcissists don’t break up with you. They give indefinite silent treatments because it gives them control. Sometimes they put us in a deep freeze.
It is not unheard of for narcissists to reappear after years or decades declaring undying love. They may perhaps engineer a reverse breakup and incite us to leave.
Yet it’s never really about breaking up, but a period of separation. They are disengagements that allow narcissists to do certain things in our absence.
It is impossible to ever say for certain that a narcissist will never hoover. This is because hoovering is just what it sounds like. Named after a brand of vacuum cleaner, it’s a tactic meant to “suck” you back into the relationship. It happens after a period of silence during which you are not in contact with each other.
Will the narcissist hoover? When do we ever know when a narcissist is finished with us? Can we?
Just as leaving gives them a measure of control, so does the threat that they might one day reappear. That is why the cycle of narcissistic abuse–the consistent leaving and reappearing is part of the abuse because it keeps us forever tied. Leave and reappear. Leave and reappear. Leave and reappear. Thus the chain is never broken. Until we never break it.
Because not only do the times with us benefit them, but the times apart.
Why Silence Occurs Before Narcissist Hoovering
Instead of asking why narcissists hoover and whether they will do it again, we can flip the question and ask what they are doing in the gaps when we are not together, before the hoovers. This helps shed light not only on why narcissists hoover, but on the breakup/makeup cycle as well. Examining all of these things together helps shed light on how a relationship functions for a narcissist.
What do narcissists do when they are not in contact with us at a moment in time, but come back later?
1. Narcissists who discard or give a silent treatment are punishing you because something you did or said didn’t reflect back the image they needed to see of themselves.
They refuse to take responsibility or even discuss the things they’ve done. They even insist it’s you who is the source of the problem because you won’t let it go. Perhaps they blame you for your own pain or why they did what they did. They may say things such as:
“You never appreciate anything I do for you.”
“You always have to start an argument.”
“It’s always all about you.”
“You always have to bring up the past.”
“You’re so selfish.”
What they fail to recognize is that as you uncover new lies and secrets or as they keep mistreating you, you want to discuss the present or a pattern of ongoing behavior.
Your confusion is never ending because you keep discovering new lies and secrets they insist on using circular conversation tactics to avoid fully acknowledging what they have done, such as projecting, accusations, withdrawing, answering questions with questions, stonewalling, gaslighting and crazy-making responses that turn into conversations that go on for hours. They then blame you for causing arguments as your anxiety grows, culminating in their departure.
2. When narcissists discard or give a silent treatment, they’re conditioning you to avoid talking about how little your concerns matter by letting you sit alone with your confusion over the relationship.
You were the love of the narcissist’s life, now their silence says you mean absolutely nothing.
They flooded you with attention and made themselves the center of your world, isolating you from everyone else, and now they’ve disappeared and left you filled with doubts about whether they ever meant anything they ever said.
And we haven’t even talked about how all of the emotional ups and downs have actually caused a chemical dysregulation of the dopamine and oxytocin in your brain and you’re going through withdrawals when they aren’t around.
Finally, when they come swooping back in when they’re ready, you’re weakened and vulnerable to what they have to say. The whole thing has the effect of making you dependent, but managing down your expectations so that you’ll let them get away with more and more.
3. Narcissists spend their time shoring up supplies by talking to their other exes and looking for new men or women to add to their line-up during a silent treatment or a discard.
They aren’t sitting around heartbroken as you are. They may miss the love and attention you were bringing them, but they will be vigorously trying to replace it.
If you were the one to cut it off, they will likely return to old stomping grounds because they may not have anyone else new of sufficient quality lined up yet. Narcissists don’t just hoover “the one that got away” or the one with whom they really want to try to work something out.
They hoover everyone, which is one way you can tell how insincere their hoovers are.
What I didn’t realize was that my ex-boyfriend hoovers all of his exes. He has married girlfriends with children he hasn’t seen since high school he keeps in the rotation to hit up when he’s bored or feeling a lack of attention. This is just something they do.
Because narcissists do not ever think of themselves as having truly broken up with any of their exes, they may check in even after a very long time to reminisce about old times and talk about about how special those times were to try to get the other person to say something back that will provide them with an ego boost.
They keep all of their old flames in the rotation to hoover because they already know the strengths and weaknesses of each one. This makes it so much easier to say the right thing and glean some quick narcissistic supply, rather than going out and starting from scratch with someone new.
It also feeds the narcissist’s ego to keep an ongoing harem to cycle through. In their minds, all they have to do is say the right words and they can have any one of them at their beck and call again if they so choose.
If they cut it off with you, it’s likely because they want some intensive time to work on the new girl or guy without having to spend any time on you.
Yes, think about that for a minute. They’ve got someone else in the pipeline they’re grooming intensively.
When my ex-boyfriend was love-bombing me heavily, he blocked and deleted from Facebook both the woman to whom he was engaged who was on the periphery for the time being and the ex with whom he was cheating on me who was in a different country. He didn’t want me to know he was still interacting with them, and this enabled him to provide me with better stories about their “lack of importance” in his life.
4. During silent treatments or a discard, narcissists may also be using the time apart to tell their friends (or the new person they want to be with) things about you to gain their sympathy.
Narcissists live for sympathy. If you only examine their behavior and ignore what they say, it is easier to understand them. You can tell that they do lack guilt or empathy because it would be impossible to for them to do the things they do and not learn from their mistakes if they did have remorse.
However, they also know that they can’t go around and act as if they don’t care. They must feign normality to keep up the facade, which allows them to keep getting away with what they do. They have to come up with some explanation that will make their abnormal behavior “fit” with the normal persona they are trying to present.
How can they be let off the hook for it?
In this case, if they are cheating and lying and acting controlling and saying hurtful things and getting into overlapping relationships, well, it’s because of something outside of themselves. In the case of the disengagement, guess who they are using to gain sympathy?
Yes, the narcissist will start to plant these seeds with the smear campaign when you aren’t around that you aren’t the person they fell in love with. The very things they are doing to you and the very behaviors they are inciting in you with their actions, they will use to make others feel sorry for them so they can look justified in your continued abuse.
Why Do Narcissists Hoover?
So why do narcissists hoover?
Because they are finished doing whatever they were doing when they were not in contact with you or it is no longer serving their needs.
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, a self-aware narcissist who writes about how narcissists think, has written many articles about hoovering that describe the conditions under which a narcissist will hoover. If a narcissist’s partner/ex-partner doesn’t learn to navigate the hoover, then no-contact will never succeed.
In short, narcissists will try to hoover when they have not found a source of narcissistic supply as good as what we supplied and they believe that we will be contrite enough to supply it to be amenable to hoovering without challenging their entitlement once again.
Why Hoovering is Insincere
There is no shortage of things that narcissists will try to hoover you back.
Sometimes, after the breakup of a healthy relationship, one of the partners may want to start over and try to contact the other partner with one of the statements that looks like a hoovering method. 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 there is an emergency, or expressing an apology without genuine remorse are all just manipulate ruses to attempt to get the other person to say something back to the narcissist. They are indeed methods.
Once the narcissist has his or her “foot in the door,” it becomes 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.
Four Signs That a Hoover is Insincere
I will use my own past relationship with a narcissist to demonstrate this insincerity.
1. The narcissist is more concerned with your loyalty or supposed lack thereof during your time apart than about making things right or 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.
2. The narcissist’s declarations of love (words) and how he or she acted while you were apart (actions) don’t match.
I found out exactly what he had been doing when we had been apart. 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.
When a narcissist leaves you alone, that means he or she is preoccupied with someone else.
3. If hoovering doesn’t work, you will witness a narcissistic injury.
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 engaging with me in a friendly manner and offering assistance only for show. When I asked a question that indicated I wasn’t as amenable as he would have liked, he turned on me and attacked me.
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 that were overtly abusive, and start pouring on the apology.
Then it became more confusing to me because he used the fact that he’d stopped attacking me to try to demonstrate his commitment and sincerity. This, looking back, is where the real knowledge of what a hoover ultimately comes.
Without the distraction of his conflicting words, then I could turn to his actions. The apparent insincerity of his hoover was in the continuance of his behaviors that led to any of our breakups.
4. The narcissist doesn’t change his or her actions if hoovering is successful.
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 the 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?
Yes, but then there would be no disengagement period and re-engagement, and both of those things serve the narcissist.
Cut it off and save yourself.
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Don’t forget to check out these free resources:
- Taking Your Life Back After a Relationship With a Narcissist – Recovery Toolkit
- Comprehensive Narcissistic Abuse Dictionary
- The Best Resources for Narcissistic Abuse Recovery