Hoovering is a tactic that narcissists will use to draw you back into their life. Like the Hoover vacuum, they are trying to suck you back into their drama. This usually happens after the cycle of narcissistic abuse has played out and you are no longer in contact with the narcissist. It doesn’t matter if you were the one who went no contact or if it was the narcissist who discarded you. They will come back into your life and you can expect the hoovering to begin.
Hoovering can be direct, where the narcissist contacts you directly, or indirect, where the narcissist acts in a more subtle manner to draw you back in. Whether direct or indirect, hoovering means the narcissist is trying to get you back into their life and back under their manipulative control.
If you don’t want to fall back under the control of the manipulative narcissist you left behind, it’s critical to understand the hoovering techniques they will use to draw you back into their life. Direct hoovering is fairly obvious, but it’s the more subtle tactics of indirect hoovering that you might not realize are just part of the narcissist’s game.
What is the Narcissistic Cycle of Abuse?
The narcissistic cycle of abuse refers to the phases that a relationship with a narcissist typically passes through. It begins with idealization. This is the stage where the narcissist idealizes the person who has captured their interest.
During the idealization stage, the narcissist will be learning all they can about you. They will appear very supportive of and interested in your life. They will want to learn everything about you. Romantic partners of narcissists often report that during this stage, they genuinely felt as though they had met their soulmate.
The narcissist appears to love everything you do in the idealization stage, but as time goes on, the narcissist either grows bored with you or comes to believe they have gotten everything from you that they need or want. That’s when the devaluation stage begins.
During the devaluation stage, the narcissist will criticize virtually every move you make. You can’t seem to do anything right. This is such a confusing stage for the victims of narcissists because they have difficulty reconciling this behavior with the loving, supportive person they fell in love with.
Initially, the victim often makes excuses for the narcissist, but as time goes on and nothing changes, they begin to realize this is the narcissist’s true nature. It’s at this point that the victim may decide to leave the narcissist.
If that doesn’t happen, however, the narcissist, who has already begun to cultivate new relationships and a ready replacement for the victim, may finally decide to discard their bewildered victim.
How is Hoovering Related to the Cycle of Abuse?
After you have either gone no contact with the narcissist or the narcissist has discarded you, you may think you’re rid of them forever. It’s more often the case, however, that the narcissist will come back into your life after some time apart.
It’s typical for narcissists to cycle through the people in their life. Once someone gets wise or has served the purpose, the narcissist will discard them or the narcissist is discarded, but after some time has passed, the narcissist will attempt to come back.
This is where hoovering comes in. Like the Hoover vacuum cleaner sucks dirt into its bag, the narcissist tries to suck previous victims back into their drama. This may be done directly by simply contacting you or it may be indirect by contacting, for example, mutual friends to get information about you.
Once contact is reestablished, the narcissist will start to re-idealize you. Once again, the charm is back, and the narcissist seems to be that same loving, sensitive, and supportive person you thought you knew in the beginning.
Unfortunately, however, this is all just part of the narcissist’s manipulative game of control. They enjoy being the puppeteer, and they feel a strong sense of empowerment by being able to convince people to come back into their life.
What Does Hoovering Look Like?
Hoovering can come in different forms, but in general, there are two types: direct, which is more often used by overt or grandiose narcissists, and indirect, which is a favored technique of the covert narcissist.
Direct forms of hoovering involve the narcissist making direct contact with you and often includes the following:
- The narcissist calls you out of the blue;
- The narcissist ‘coincidentally’ runs into at the store or gym or other location they know you frequent;
- The narcissist shows up at your home or workplace.
Indirect methods of hoovering can be more difficult to spot. Here are some common forms of indirect hoovering often employed by narcissists:
- They start liking your posts on social media;
- They imitate you in shared social settings – for example, they start doing a particular hobby, they start doing it too, usually in the same place;
- They start hanging out with people in your friend group;
- They start showing up at places they know you hang out. For example, they start shopping at the same grocery store or running in the same park where you run. As Bob, one of the moderators of Narcissistic Relationships and Codependency, notes, “They do this to triangulate too.” In other words, they will happily do something like show up with a new partner to get a reaction out of you and pit the two of you against each other;
- They start asking your friends about you;
- They get their friends to start following you on social media;
- You unexpectedly run into a friend of theirs who tells you about the narcissist’s new relationship or job. These messengers the narcissist sends are known as ‘flying monkeys’ and they use them to both pass on information to you and to keep tabs on you;
- They hoover your family or friends to get close to you.
These hoovering methods all have the same goal — to draw you back into their drama web and regain control over you as a renewed source of narcissistic supply.
Why Do Narcissists Need Their Narcissistic Supply So Much?
Narcissistic supply refers to the admiration and adulation that narcissists need from the people in their life as a source of external validation. They need this from other people because they don’t have any internal mechanism to support their self-esteem.
For healthy people, the internal mechanism that supports their self-esteem and helps to soothe them when they’ve experienced a failure is the ego or sense of self. It’s what comforts you when things go wrong in your life and it motivates you to take care of yourself because it reaffirms your sense of self-worth.
Narcissists don’t have a healthy ego, however, because they came to believe their true sense of self was worthless because of childhood experiences that filled them with shame and self-loathing. As a result, they buried their true self deep inside and constructed a false self with which they can interact with the world.
The false self, however, is not able to do the work of a true, healthy sense of self. It can’t soothe the narcissist or help sustain their self-esteem. Instead, the narcissist must rely on external validation for that.
That’s why they constantly manipulate the people in their life. They need them to constantly focus on the narcissist and provide them with a steady stream of praise and love so they can feel like they have value as a person.
How Should I Respond to Narcissistic Hoovering?
When considering how to respond to narcissistic hoovering, it’s important to realize that it’s simply another manipulation tactic the narcissist employs to control you. You might want to think they have realized the error of their ways or how much they love you. You might want to believe that they have really changed.
It’s more likely, however, that they simply want to draw you back in so you can supply them the adulation the narcissist needs to feel good about themselves. They’ve been moving through — using and discarding — their other friends and loved ones using the same cycle of narcissistic abuse they used with you, and now they’ve come back around to you.
They already know you so, for them, it means less work. They know what you like and how to appeal to you. If you want to avoid falling prey to their manipulative tactics, you would be wise to avoid them altogether. Block them on your phone, your social media accounts, and let your family and friends know you don’t want to be contacted by them or hear about them.
If for any reason you decide you do want to reconnect them, you would do well to set and maintain firm boundaries, and you’ll also want to adjust your expectations for the relationship.
Unless the narcissist has committed to long-term therapy, it’s unlikely they will change, so you need to realize that the relationship will never be as satisfying for you as it will be for them. You’ll want to practice a good self-care regimen and ensure you’re getting your psychological and emotional needs met through other relationships.
Hoovering is one of the many manipulative tactics that narcissists employ to get you back under their thumb. When they start to try and draw you back into their circle of drama, it would be best for you to stay away. They will begin the narcissistic cycle of abuse all over again.
If you can’t stay away, for whatever reason, you need to realize that this is simply another one of the many manipulation techniques the narcissist uses to get people in their life to do what they want. For that reason, you need to set strong boundaries and take good care of your own needs no matter what the narcissist says or does.
To more fully understand the narcissist’s thinking and why they employ hoovering to get you back, it’s vital to gain a deeper understanding of what motivates them. You’ll want to read this blog about whether or not a narcissist even misses you when you’re gone to get more valuable information about this devastating mental condition.
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