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Why Narcissists Hoover

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. 

But why? 

Because not only do the times with us benefit them, but the times apart. 

 

Contents hide

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.

You want closure?  Too bad.

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?

Sympathy.

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: “Anytime.”

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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Kristen Milstead

Kristen Milstead is a narcissistic abuse survivor who has become a strong advocate for finding your unique voice and using it to help others find theirs.

11 Comments

  1. Excellent article! This is very accurate and well written. I experienced most of this- I’m now out and not under the “spell” anymore (thank god) it was an awful feeling. Now that I see the patterns and that they mainly are seeking fuel at all costs…. everything they do makes sense. If I was a zombie in search of hearts that I needed in order to live- I may play this elaborate game too. It is pretty elaborate and complicated… And all of them don’t necessarily exhibit the same games…. but there’s so many similarities with most who are entangled with an emotionally abusive person with NPD. Once you understand their motivations – they’re pretty predictable. Thanks Kristin

  2. I wasn’t discarded as I got away from him as I couldn’t survive much more of his abuse. It’s been 2 years of no contact. I am trying to stay under the radar as I am afraid of him and his violent temper. Recently, I got word that he was in the area looking for me. I didn’t go back to old stomping grounds and I don’t think that he can find me. But, it does concern me that he was trying to find me 2 years after I got away and that he may never quit looking for me.

  3. I am on the other side of this. Let me preface this by saying generally I know where and when I’m not wanted, so I detach easily and move on. I never realized my tendency to hoover until I started researching my behaviour after a friend of the opposite sex and I had a falling out. I don’t think what I was doing was a deliberate act, I was acting more from a subconscious level without thinking about consequences.

    She and I spent a summer working together. Messaged all day, talked and laughed all night. For me to talk on a phone for 4-6 hours is really something special. She and I grew very close, but she had to call it quits.

    My first mistake was to write a farewell letter thanking her for everything before I left and say no need to reply and then ask for an acknowledgement of said letter.

    I didn’t want to lose her, so I’d write a brief email every now and then saying how I miss the conversations we had or just “hi”. One day she wrote me and said we have to go our separate ways. It hurt so I tried to challenge her to not walk away because I valued her friendship. She got upset and told me not to contact her again. I sat down and handwrote a letter and apologized profusely and mailed it. Some weeks later she emailed me and forgave me. I should have left it there. Nope. I thought it would be smart to try to email something smart everyday. I stopped after a couple of weeks when she never replied.

    My continual pushing would help for her to pull away. Not even business or work related emails would get replies. It got me frustrated enough where I had to call her and remind her that she should have the courtesy to respond to work emails if not the personal ones.

    In hindsight I shouldn’t have sent a card for a milestone birthday of hers or a christmas greeting with best wishes and luck for her exam coming up.

    I had to be in her area again for summer. I got the cold shoulder in person and email.
    What I realized was that even if I wanted her to be happy, maybe she didn’t want that happiness from me.

    I was always nice to her while I was there and we ended up having a fair working relationship.
    I gave her advice and helped her on her future academics within the business being a recent graduate. The day I left she sent an email thanking me and wishing me luck in future endeavours. I saw it as another goodbye. Another ill tempered email from me and another apology soon followed.
    We met again at a conference some months later. As she hadn’t bothered to respond to a christmas greeting and best wishes I kept my silence and my distance, which wasn’t meant to punish. I got her silence message – “Don’t talk to me!”. We were left as two people who would exchange glances across a room.

    I felt bad for my behaviour and reached out to apologize. No response. I just don’t communicate with her anymore. No point. I sent her aunt a letter telling her how sorry I was because we were all friendly and she knew our situation. There was no intent to try to ask her to reach out to her niece, to make amends it was just an apology from me to her.

    I wanted to contact people I know in the area where she’s schooling to keep an eye out for her if she needs anything, but eventually decided against it, as she neither wants nor needs my help. As much as I’d like to ask others there how she’s doing, I refrain from even doing that. I have to remind myself “leave her alone”. I learned my lesson the hard way and lost a friend. I read the articles on hoovering recently and saw myself in them. I am mortified about my behaviour and the stupidity of it. Not that I don’t care for her and think about her, just that it is better to continue to keep my mouth shut and stay far.

  4. Dear Kristen,

    I have just found your articles in my ongoing recovery and they are beautiful and helpful. I was wondering if I could have your thoughts on something I feel. I was in a bad relationship with a narcissist for 10 months and had to leave and go no contact because the inconsistency of their words and actions was destroying my mind. When I read about how narcissists leave their victims in silence, I feel very guilty that I seem to have done the same thing to her. How do I deal with that?

    Thank you very much for your site.

    1. Hi Cliff: You are so welcome. Thank you so much for your kind words and for reading what I have written. You have a great question and it’s something I have thought about a lot. Here’s what I have come up with and see if this helps.

      Narcissists like to compare our actions with theirs because of “acts” that we take, first, because they take them out of context and leave out everything that has happened around those acts, and secondly, because they project their own behaviors onto us, which includes things like the motives around what they did. Did your partner often tell you things like what they thought you must have been thinking or what they thought you would do next because “I know you.” Mine did– I would be baffled by what he thought about why I was doing or thinking.

      So, here is what I think the difference is. There are at least three things that comprise an “act” that both us and the narcissist in the relationship may commit, and only one of them may be the same:

      1. Motive
      2. The Act Itself
      3. Effects of the Act

      So let’s say the act itself, as you mention, is going no-contact. You’re blocking, not speaking to, ignoring, cutting off all lines of communication. If your partner did this in the past, we call it a silent treatment or a discard. You’re wondering how it’s different? The narcissist tries to convince us that our acts are the same as theirs by ONLY focusing on the behaviors themselves. This is how they get us to blame ourselves and pull us into their twisted realities.

      So let’s look at motives for a moment. Narcissists engage in the acts of blocking, cutting off contact, ignoring, etc. for the following purposes: intentionally hurting us, cheating and focusing on other people, punishing us and conditioning us not to question them on their bad behaviors. Our motives for engaging in cutting off contact are to stop being hurt by them, to set boundaries, to protect ourselves. Do you see the difference? It’s a power imbalance. They try to convince us we are in an equal relationship and we are engaging in acts that are equally damaging when really we are just taking our own power back by doing what we are doing.

      And the third aspect– the effects. When they engage in the actions, our suffering is traumatic. We are often trauma bonded and/or chemically addicted and the act is one of many that can trigger PTSD symptoms. It also ASSISTS the narcissist by giving them additional power if they return by conditioning us not to speak up about anything that upsets them so they don’t ignore us again. In contrast, when we go no-contact, the effects on them are to either remove a source of narcissistic supply and to make them feel powerless over us or to have very little effect because they move on to another source of supply. They are not traumatized by it. It is more of a blow to their ego.

      What the narcissist does, however, is fool us into thinking our actions in the relationship (this is one of many) are equivalent to theirs when they are NOT and then we feel guilty merely for standing up for ourselves or reacting to abusive behavior when we feel we have been left with no other options.

      Does this help at all?

      -Kristen

  5. Thank you once again for all your articles Kristen.
    It was also important to mention this chemical dysregulation in our brain; I can really feel it and also wonder if the majority of narcs victims are still able to be efficient at work, and also with family life as they used to (or tried to be) because I am not. Do most of them have to stop working?
    I feel I have a tornado in my head and heart on a daily basis… I sometimes feel I’m becoming insane. So scared to become really crazy.
    Next week I have an appointment with a psy. Hope this will help a little… but what truly helps are articles like yours because I know I’m not mad and feel understood 100%.

    Maybe one day I have the strenght to do a similiar work as yours in french and start a blog to help other victims. (there are so little articles in french talking seriously about relationships with narcs – so happy I found yours ^^)
    xoxo

    1. I think we all feel it. I know I was having trouble functioning in other areas of life and I do still sometimes because of PTSD. I recommend writing even if not on a blog yet, For me it helps get thoughts out of my head so they don’t feel so overwhelming anymore. I hope your appointments help. You may also want to try connecting with others online in survivor forums if you’re not already. Thank you for reading.

  6. I absolutely love reading your posts and have told you this before in a private message. I was hoping you would be addressing the hoover issue soon as I know I would find so much value in getting your perspective as you’ve provided so well. Your words and situation resonate SO much to what I have gone through that it gives me so much strength and comfort to pull myself together and start seeing things for what they really are instead of falling into the same cycle of despair and depression that I’ve been enduring for the last couple of years since the “first” discard. What makes me feel stronger and certain as that the stories are so incredibly similar in terms of pattern and how we are left feeling that I am better able to confirm it’s not just an isolated heart wrenching situation that I’m experiencing but one of predictability and something none of us have control over no matter what kind of pretzel we try to make of ourselves. That helps me to put the focus back on me and my life and what I need to do to move forward. It is therapy that can only really be provided by someone who has had the experience and can touch people with such eloquent writing such as yourself. Thank you for that Kristen.

    1. Thank you so much, Beth. And your echoing back your own stories and feelings also does the same for me and gives me strength as well. You are so right when you say that knowing it’s not isolated experiences helps move the healing process forward. There’s something about knowing that the narcissist’s behavior is following a pattern that makes it feel like the spell can be broken. They will always be stuck there, but we will not. Thank you for reading.

  7. Thanks Kristen. Finding your writings on Quora, and now your blog has been a Lifesaver for me. I’m post break-up but still sick with preoccupation for this guy.
    He’s giving me silent treatment currently so I expect hoovering to begin anytime. I particularly like how you coined ‘manege down (my) expectations’. Keep up the good work. Your writing is helping many I’m sure.

    1. Thank you, for your kind words Cynthia. I am humbled and honored that my words are so helpful to you. I can’t take credit for the phrase “manage down expectations,” but I do think it’s really applicable to narcissists. The preoccupation is a normal part of the process, as you probably know. My thoughts will be with you through this period of no-contact so that your strength can build and you can begin to heal from the relationship.

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