The term “hoovering” comes from the brand name vacuum, Hoover. A vacuum sucks up things. Manipulators like narcissists will try to suck you back after you’ve gotten out or even after they’ve discarded you.
The goal of hoovering is to use any means necessary to get you back under control. They will beg, cry, yell, shame, guilt-trip, blame-shift, make false accusations, threats, false revelations of the past and generous promises for the future, etc. They will go to all kinds of lengths to pull you back, and the danger is you might think that things are different now, for them only to do the same thing to you again, only worse this time. Once you leave and go back, abusers punish you for having left.
The hoover attempts will resemble the same abuse cycle that you’re already familiar with, the sweet/mean, love-bombing/devaluation cycle. The difference is that during the hoover attempts, the manipulator will likely go back and forth in a much shorter timeframe. It could be one week, one day or even in one text message, you might notice how they go back and forth in the intermittent reinforcement.
It’s like an expedited version of your entire relationship.
It might start the moment you break up with someone. It might start later that day. The next day. Next week. Next month. Next year. Years down the road. There is no limit to the time or the lengths that manipulators will go to in order to try to get you back under control if they are left without a supply source.
Now, if you want to set yourself up for success, block the manipulator from any way of contacting you. Ideally you would be 100% No Contact. However, not everyone does this and there is a chance you might be hovered at some point. Maybe you think, oh that’s immature, it doesn’t need to come to that. Or maybe you think, I’m strong, I’m not going to contact them even if they contact me. Or maybe you feel powerful knowing that you could hear from the manipulator and know they miss you or hurting and you’re fooling yourself into thinking that you just won’t respond but there’s no need to block. Maybe you blocked the manipulator from everything and even got a new phone number yet somehow some day they either get ahold of that or find another way to contact you. Knowing what to expect from hoovering and what to do could save you from falling back into more abuse.
This is usually how it goes:
Test #1 — Sweetness. They usually start off all sweet and seemingly vulnerable, maybe even with a pity ploy. They’ll tell you something they know you want to hear. They’ll act like they’re sorry or they can’t live without you. In this test they try to pull on your heart strings of compassion and love. If that doesn’t work and your boundaries are solid (ie: you don’t budge in your stance, you ignore them, etc.) they will quickly shift into Test #2.
Test #2 — Meanness. They’ll tell you how you’re not good enough. They’ll suddenly adopt the 180 degree point of view about something about you that they told you earlier in the relationship or even earlier in that texting conversation where they were praising you or agreeing with you and now they’re saying just the opposite. They will degrade you. They’ll show off their superiority by trying to tell you how they’re better than you somehow. They’ll often sandwich that in between phrases like “I just want the best for you” or “I am only sending you positive vibes” “I am only telling you this because I’m worried about you” and of course this will piss you off to no end or worse yet it might confuse you into believing them. If your boundaries withstand test #2, they will move on to Test #3.
Test #3 — Grand Finale. This is when they go after what hurts the most. They often know what most matters to you and they will try to destroy it for you. If they know being a parent is what gives you purpose in life and how much you enjoy that, they’ll accuse you of being an awful parent and/or remind you of any failures in the past. If they know that your work is what gives your life meaning then they will tell you how you’re no good at what you do and how you’re actually hurting people instead of helping them. (Btw you can watch a narration of a real life example of that in a video from last year called Leaving the Narcissist Before the Discard). This is the part where they often fabricate stories of “everyone thinks…” or “everyone says…” about you so you feel alone and isolated, so you will doubt yourself and maybe just maybe feel that false shame or guilt that they want you to feel because in that low state you could fall back under their control. Be very careful not to internalize these messages that the manipulator is saying. This is the Grand Finale test because by now either you got the point that this person is not someone you want in your life and you’re beyond done and/or the manipulator has given up their attempts to suck you back because you’re maintaining No Contact and they must move on to a more reliable supply source. Sometimes we wait for this level of the manipulator revealing themselves so we can assure ourselves that we made the right decision to leave.
3 tests, 3 words: JUST SAY NO. No response. No reaction. No taking the bait.
Block. Block. Block.
If this is a co-parent, block them from texting and calling your cellphone. Give them an email address only which they can use for communication re: the kids and do not respond to any emails about anything other than the kids.
The most common hoovering traps:
Trying for closure
Wanting to rationalize and clear things up
You really want that apology
You want revenge
You want to show them that you’re doing fine and you’re moving on
The anxiety and panic of the withdrawal is out of control and you can’t take it so you give in
You feel bad, you feel responsible.
You want to rescue them or care for them.
You think “things will be different now.”
You’re ashamed to admit things ended this way.
THE MANIPULATOR SAYS/DOES
“I miss you.”
“You’re hurting me so much” or “You abandoned me” (or other form of guilt-trip)
They give you a fake apology, they use all the right words
They call you selfish or some other insult that makes you want to prove yourself.
They accuse you of doing something you didn’t do.
They spin a 180 degree gaslighting special about a past event, now making you the culprit.
They win you over with gifts, flowers and other gestures.
They finally promise you that thing you’ve been wanting (engagement, marriage, kids, moving, getting a job, doing something responsible… or maybe they finally say “i love you”) and you believe them.
Keep in mind that any contact with the manipulator is capable of the rubber band effect. No matter how far you’ve come in your healing journey, all the work you’ve done, one contact from the manipulator can throw you all the way back to Ground Zero again.
If you respond to a hoover, you are participating in your own demise. You might think that you’re standing up for yourself, or proving yourself, or setting the record straight but all you’re doing is feeding the manipulator and making them stronger while wasting your energy.
When do they ever stop hoovering you? Usually when you call them straight out for who they are. They have to have no doubt that you’re absolutely stone cold and they are not going to get anything from you. Block them anyway even if you called them out.
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