Hoovering: how to overcome the narcissist’s tactic

Photo by YoonJae Baik on Unsplash

Hoovering is a term named after the vacuum cleaner brand. It describes the narcissist’s attempts to “suck” you back in after you’ve separated or they sense you detaching from them.

For example, I went no contact with my emotionally abusive mother years ago. Despite the fact I’ve blocked her messages on email and phone, she continues to try to reel me in.

It’s only recently I’ve been able to discern the difference between hoovering and sincere attempts at reconciliation. Before that, my mother’s messages, when they made it through, produced guilt and self-doubt in me.

Now, I realize her attempts at reaching out have been clear cut examples of hoovering. Let’s look at some of the differences between authentic connection and a narcissist’s manipulation.

What hoovering looks like

1. Hoovering is a way to draw you in so the narcissist can regain control over you. Instead of extending sincere empathy or compassion, they view you as an object to be handled.

Hoovering is meant to draw you in so the narcissist can regain control over you. Click To Tweet

2. Such contact can send you spiraling. You go from focus on yourself and your healing to focus on them and the feelings they produce in you.

Because hoovering is seductive, you may second-guess yourself and question why you’re being so hard on this person. That’s because narcissists can put on the charm when they need to.

3. While you’ve been working on yourself, your abuser has likely done zero self-reflection. Their communication is designed to manipulate you into re-entering the relationship. Even when they’ve done nothing to demonstrate they’ve changed.

4. They threaten to harm themselves, even commit suicide. My mother has threatened to take her own life countless times, but she’s still here. (Of course, if you think they’re in immediate danger you can call 911.)

Rewriting history

5. They act as if nothing is wrong between you. This prevents them from having to face the unbearable (to them) emotions that remorse and true reconciliation require.

My mother has used the tactic of asking if I have something that once belonged to her. She has also emailed to say she ran into someone we both once knew.

The former produced guilt that I did not have the item and fear that she would retaliate. The latter resulted in depressive feelings because this person reminded me of my traumatic childhood.

My mother was only thinking of herself and her need to draw me back in by any means necessary. As usual, she filled her own emptiness at my expense.

6. They may seem apologetic and make promises about changing. Test them, however, by expressing your valid reservations and watch how quickly they turn on you.

If you mention their past behavior, let the gaslighting begin. Rewriting history is the narcissist’s special skill.

If you mention their past behavior, let the gaslighting begin. Rewriting history is the narcissist's special skill. Click To Tweet

8. If they’ve been unsuccessful in re-establishing contact, they might send out their flying monkeys. These are people they enlist to do their dirty work, and contact you on their behalf.

What to do when faced with hoovering


Don’t fall for it! Narcissists tend to attract sensitive, empathic, people. As a result, their contact will likely pull at your heartstrings and arouse guilt. That’s their plan.

Instead, hold fast to your boundaries. If you’ve gone no contact, remain so. Silence is the best defense against a narcissist.

Hold fast to your boundaries. If you've gone no contact, remain so. Silence is the best defense against a narcissist. Click To Tweet

There are good reasons you’ve detached from your abuser. Don’t let their tactics make you forget the whole history that got you here.

If you’re like most narcissistic abuse victims, it’s taken a long time to gather the courage to stand up for yourself. Keep your needs front and center and protect yourself against this harmful relationship.

Remember, while you’ve been working on yourself and healing, your abuser has been doing no such thing. If you let yourself back into their lair it will be a dark Groundhog Day soon enough.

Resist the urge to catastrophize. When my mother contacts me, for example, I go into a panic that she’ll never stop and I’ll never be free of her. How will she retaliate?

But the silent treatment works. She gives up until the next hoovering episode. Presumably, she’s getting her supply from somewhere else.

Supply is what narcissists seek from other people to try and fill their chronic emptiness. There is no honest human connection with these people; only what they can get from you. And it’s never enough.


Medicine Net: What does being hoovered mean?

MBG Relationships: What is Hoovering in Relationships?

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