Hoovering is a toxic manipulation technique employed by narcissists to suck you back into a cycle of abuse. Here are 7 signs to be aware of.
You've gotten out of an abusive relationship. It's been three weeks, or two months, or nine, or even a year since you've last talked to that abusive partner who damaged you beyond belief.
They used to degrade you, humiliate you, mistreat you. They broke you, and when you threatened to leave they'd start love-bombing you, giving you gifts and excitement and sweetness. And that was the cycle. It went on for years before you finally left. You promised yourself: never again. You promised.
Suddenly, you get a text, a call, an email. "I need you," they say. "I'm not doing so well and you're the only one who can help me." You answer. How could you not? You're a good person who cares about others, so if you can help, you are willing to. Suddenly you're hooked. You've opened the door for another round of love-bombig, of promise-making, or guilt-shaming. You've been sucked right back in. You've been "hoovered."
What is hoovering
Hoovering is a toxic manipulation technique designed to suck an ex-partner, son or daughter, or even friend back into an abusive relationship, typically employed by narcissists and people with similar personality disorders. The term comes from the Hoover vacuum cleaner, famed for its ability to literally "suck" things in. Hoovering is explicitly used by narcissists to regain control over their victim and reestablish the cycle of abuse that they rely on.
Keep in mind hoovering is not always about gaining you back. Sometimes, though less often, it's simply about getting you to engage with them in a conflict out of which they are looking to get something. So, it's good to be aware of the signs and techniques outlined below so you can prevent their manipulation.
We must be careful distinguishing true narcissists from your run-of-the-mill broken-hearted exes. Narcissists aren't confused about how they feel, they are very aware of what they're doing, they know they're being manipulative, and they truly don't have your best interest at heart. Narcissists are unable to show or experience empathy, and will have no qualms about using you for their gain and then discarding you as soon as they don't need you. They won't be in a relationship with you for any other reason than their personal gain.
One of the best ways to know if you're dealing with a narcissistic or an otherwise abusive person is to look back to your history. If you constantly felt psychologically or physically abused, if they engaged in toxic behavior like gaslighting, shaming, or violence on a regular basis, then you were dealing with a person who didn't care about your wellbeing. That's not just some ex. That's an abuser.
Signs a person is "hoovering" you
1. They ask for desperate help
So, the narcissist has been out of your life for a while, when suddenly you get a text where they claim to be in a bad place. Perhaps they are depressed. Perhaps something happened to them. Some narcissists lie about medical conditions, with some claiming to have gotten cancer or some other terrible disease, for example. In the most extreme cases, hooverers can actually go as far as to threaten to hurt themselves if you do not give in to their will—trying to exploit a vulnerability or your guilt-prone personality. They know how to get to you, so they'll use the lie that they think will have the best effect.
It's common that the narcissist will tell you that you're the only person that could possibly help them at that time, perhaps because, in their words, "you're the only one that gets them."
It's important to know these are outright lies, so you don't have to play into their game. Especially if they start guilt-shaming you, trying to make you feel bad if you don't respond. "You are going to have blood on your hands if you don't come save me," a narcissist once told me. That's false. Remember that no one has the right to guilt-shame you into helping them. It's not your fault, and it's not your responsibility.
2. They suddenly declare their ever-lasting love
It's a typical move: an ex calls back promising to give you everything you've always wanted. They will say they've realized how much they love you, and that they will be there with you forever from now on. Even worse: if you were in a relationship where your narcissistic partner couldn't bring themselves to say "I love you," they'll do so now. If you're indeed dealing with a narcissist, this will be nothing more than manipulation, so be extremely careful about believing anything they say.
3. They send random messages
Whether it's through a random "I miss you," "Can't stop thinking of you," "I dreamt of you," or other small, seemingly harmless texts, narcissists will try anything to get you to answer. They'll go mostly for nostalgia. One of the most typical phrases is a variation of something like this: "I'm standing in the place where we met, thinking of you." There's also the classic "I'm listening to our song right now." If nothing else works, they'll even try random questions. "Have you seen that jacket you used to like? I can't find it anywhere." If they still don't get you to give in, they might progress that last question into number#6 on this list.
Whatever you do, remember not to respond, or you'll open the door for more abuse.
4. They emphatically apologize and ask for another opportunity
When a narcissist finds themselves without any more sources of energy or entertainment, they'll want to get you back to drain you even more. They will go to ridiculous lengths to convince you they've changed. Unfortunately, if you give in, this "change" will not last. Almost immediately after getting back with them (sometimes as little as one hour later, other times about a week or a month), they'll revert back to their old selves and start the cycle of abuse all over again.
It's easy to fall for this. You want to believe they've changed; but, more often than not, if your relationship was abusive before, it'll be abusive after.
5. They send random gifts
Love-bombing is a typical stage on the cycle of abuse. They'll send splendid gifts and flowers or perform extraordinary gestures to get you back, only to continue abusing you after giving them that second, third, or thousandth chance. So, you can expect these gifts, and if you know what's good for you, you won't let them sway you. Turn them away or simply ignore them.
6. They bait a reaction out of you
When all else fails, narcissists will use drama to bait a reaction out of you. They'll make outlandish accusations that they know you'll want to address. "You're a cheater!" Or, "You stole my favorite jacket, thief!" Or some such nonsense. They'll go after what they know you care about. If you're proud of your job, they'll say you are terrible at it. If you are proud of your parenting skills, they'll undermine that. They'll try to tarnish your reputation and provoke you. The most important thing here is for you not to react. You might clarify things with your loved ones, of course, but never talk to the narcissist directly. That's just what they want.
7. They indirectly manipulate you
As a last resort, some narcissists try and get other people to get to you. Perhaps they'll use your kids if you have them, or your mutual friends, or other members of your family, asking them to deliver you messages or guilt-shame you. They'll get what is known as "flying monkeys," enablers that try to make you, rather than the narcissist, responsible for the current state of affairs. Flying monkeys are the ones who side with the narcissist, believing them to be the victim, and explicitly ask you to give in to the narcissist's whims.
Picture this example: a son has a fight with his dad. The latter abuses in psychological abuse against the child, calling him "stupid" or "worthless" or similar sentiments. Then, the father storms out, leaving the child terribly harmed. Suddenly, an aunt or grandparent approaches the son and tells him that he should apologize to his dad. That's a flying monkey.
The best way to avoid being the victim of hoovering is to simply avoid contact at all costs. Be strong, and don't fall for their lies. Remember they are not your responsibility, they won't really change (because they don't really want to), it won't get better (on the contrary, it almost always gets much worse).
So, don't give in, and above all, keep in mind you don't have to give any more of your time, energy, or affection to someone who's only trying to manipulate you. You're worth more than that. Block them on your phone, mail, and social media, and even if they do manage to get a message out to you, simply ignore it. Once they realize you're not going to give them what they want, they'll look for other victims that will. Let's just hope they don't find them.
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