Hoovering is a common tactic that narcissists will use when you have escaped (or are escaping) their toxic web and they want to pull you back into their world. Much like a Hoover will vacuum up everything in its path.
Oftentimes, the words or actions that the narcissist is employing will seem innocent enough on the surface. Other people might even respond with, “oh, that was nice of them,” when you relay what they’ve said or done. However, you know deep inside, that it just doesn’t feel right, even if you can’t put your finger on ‘why.’
Always trust your gut feeling, especially when dealing with a narcissist. Your body will instinctively and energetically pick up on subtleties that your mind will automatically rationalise.
The narcissist will know you well enough to be fully aware of what specific manipulations will work best on you, based on your innermost wounds.
Whichever variation of tactics the narcissist uses on you, know that they are emotionally controlling you for their own gain, with zero empathy given towards your own wellbeing.
How a narcissist will ultimately manipulate you back in:
- Tug at your heartstrings – using your empathy and compassion against you.
- Bully you back into their web – using your fears and vulnerabilities against you.
Hoovering is incredibly manipulative, abusive and selfish. It’s hard for an emotionally stable person to even fathom that someone would intentionally pull them back in, purely for the purpose of using and abusing them. Welcome to the world of a narc.
Let’s delve into exactly which hoovering tactics narcissists use to draw their victims back in and how they use those ploys for their own selfish end.
Hoovering Tactics Narcissists Use
Randomly reach out
Just when you think you’re doing really well with moving on, the narcissist will randomly reach out, completely out of the blue. They seem to have an uncanny knack of sensing when you’re going, going, gone… and they’ll grab you just before you’re free.
The’ll usually send a random text or message through social media. It will seem innocent enough, which will inevitably create a bit of a conundrum for you. To not reply would seem rude, yet replying will just encourage the narc, which you want to avoid at all costs.
Examples of what a narcissist may randomly contact you with:
“Hey, I thought I just drove past your car. Was that you in town?”
“I’m just listening to our song on the radio, thinking of all the good times we had.”
“I heard that you just lost your job. I hope you’re okay.”
[Random jumbled text] “Oops, my niece had my phone and must have sent you that message. So, how are you, anyway?”
“I just saw a new health food cafe pop up down the road and thought of you. Have you seen it?”
If you get that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, despite how innocent the message seems, honour it. Do not reply to the narcissists hoover at all costs.
A narcissist may try to hoover you back into their life by coming to you and showing remorse for the things they’ve said or done.
They’ll say, “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again. I’ve changed.”
Narcissists are compulsive liars. They are people of words and mind games, they are not people of action.
Here’s what “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again. I’ve changed,” actually means:
- “I’m sorry” = I’m sorry I got caught.
- “I won’t do it again” = I won’t do that particular thing again, I’ll just do it differently next time.
- “I’ve changed” = I haven’t changed, because there’s nothing wrong with me. I will just manipulate better next time.
|READ: The Narcissist Apology →|
Even if you do see some apparent changed behaviour in the narc, you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be short-lived. You’ll be lucky if you get a few good weeks before everything goes back to how it was before. And just like that, you’re back in the same old cycle of abuse.
Make false promises
Following on from appearing to be remorseful, another one of the common hoovering tactics that narcissists use is to make false promises. This particular angle is actually called ‘Future Faking.’
For emotional black holes, narcissists are masters at figuring out what your innermost needs and vulnerabilities are. They will know exactly what you’re wanting for your future and will paint the entire scene before your very eyes with their words.
They may promise that they’re ready to start a family now, even though they’ve made it abundantly clear that they never wanted children. Maybe they’ll be promising you a fancy holiday or to do the renovations on the house that you’ve been asking for for five years!
Beyond material promises will come the sweeping proclamations of them having changed. They may even promise to go to couples counselling, which could go one of two ways. Either they won’t end up following through on the promise, or if they do go, they’ll gaslight the therapist and make out that you’ve got mental health issues that they’re really concerned about.
No matter what promises the narcissist makes, they never intend on holding true to their word. The aim of the promises are to hook you back in, not for them to change or take any responsibility for their behaviour.
Act as if nothing has happened
Narcissists are fantastic actors. They have no qualms in acting as if nothing has happened after they’ve just finished gaslighting you, raging at you, dishing out the silent treatment or withholding their love from you.
The same principle applies when they attempt to hoover you back into their world. You may have gone No Contact with a narcissist after a huge blow-up, yet they’ll happily reach out two weeks later, pretending like nothing ever went down.
When the narcissist acts as if nothing has happened, it can further add to your confusion of “did I just make that whole thing up?” On the one hand you clearly remember their awful words and behaviours, yet you’re now being presented with a nice, reasonable person. This mental mind game is designed to distort your reality, which is gaslighting.
|READ: Narc Gaslighting Phrases →|
It’s also another attempt by the narc to control the storyline. They want to appear like a rational, reasonable person so that you don’t go telling other people (or other people don’t witness) who the real person is behind the mask.
You know your reality, don’t let them bend that for you.
It helps to have a support person to talk to who will help to validate that you’re not crazy. This will help to hold firm in your own reality, not the narcissist’s distorted reality.
Use important dates or events to contact you
Another hoovering tactic narcissists love to exploit is by using important dates and events to try and manipulate people back into their world.
They effectively push through a person’s boundaries in the guise of being ‘caring’ or ‘supportive.’ Even though they never displayed those qualities throughout the relationship (besides the fake love bombing), they will still put on a good show.
A narcissist may post a Happy Birthday message on your social media account or send you an anniversary message out of the blue.
They might send christmas gifts for the kids in the mail or call you out of nowhere to say that their grandma died.
Maybe they’ve somehow found out that you’ve gotten married or graduated from a course. They can use that milestone to send a seemingly well-meaning message of congratulations.
Despite what the message appears to be, you know deep down that there’s subliminal messaging in there. On the one hand they are trying to appeal to your kind nature so that you allow them back in. On the other hand, they’re letting you know, in no uncertain terms, that they still know what’s going on in your life – you can’t escape them.
Examples of dates & events narcissists will use to hoover:
- Christmas/ Easter/ religious holidays
- Mothers Day/ Fathers Day
- An event of someone passing away or becoming ill
- Major life transformations/ milestones (graduation, wedding, retirement etc.)
Give you gifts or money
Narcs are material creatures as they only view the world through their ego self. As with everything narcissistic, nothing they do comes for free.
If they give you a compliment, it’s because they want three back.
If they give you a gift, you can be 100% sure it’s because they’re expecting you to become a source of supply for them again.
|READ: What is Narcissistic Supply? →|
When the narcissist gives you money, you can guarantee that they are attempting to ‘buy’ you back.
Whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, when a narcissist gives something to you, there’s always an unspoken energy of them expecting something back in return. If you pay attention to how your body feels and reacts during the exchange, you’ll likely pick up on that energy, which you would have overlooked in the early love bombing phase.
When a narcissist gives, you inevitably feel indebted to them. It’s wise to not accept any gifts or money from narcissists if you’re trying to cut them from your life.
Tell you how much they love you
If you take yourself back to the early phase of the narcissistic relationship, you may remember the narc telling you how amazing you were, how it was fated that you two came together and how you must be soul mates.
Before long the love bombing ended and was replaced by devaluing, discarding, pulling you in, pushing you away, being nice one moment, then raging at you the next.
There may have been moments throughout the relationship where the narc told you that they loved you or cared for you. It would most likely have been in the parts of the cycle where they were pulling you back in after a discard.
You were probably so relieved that everything was calm and okay again, that you believed their words of love for you. But deep inside, you probably also felt that something wasn’t right or that those words weren’t truly genuine – even if you ignored that deep recognition. Don’t beat yourself up, we all did. It was part of the abuse.
Saying, “I love you” at this point is emotional manipulation and nothing more.
Now fast forward to the other side where you’re free, but the narc is trying to hoover you back in. One of the most common hoovering tactics that narcissists use is to proclaim their undying love for you, right as you’re walking away.
Don’t fall for it. Remember all of the moments throughout the relationship where you were not treated with love OR respect. All of the times where you were manipulated at their whim and they took zero responsibility.
If they did truly love you, they would never ever have treated you that way in the first place.
Play the victim card or guilt you
Here we go with another sprinkling of emotional blackmail. The next in the line of hoovering tactics that narcissists use is to play the victim or do whatever they can to guilt you into coming back.
I remember my ex saying to me, “Oh man, I’m so tired with having to go to work AND do all of the housework by myself. When are you coming back?” with tears in his eyes (not even joking!).
“Ahhh… never,” was my immediate response. It was all I could do to hold back my laughter!
I mean, there was no, “I love you and I miss you.” It was all, ‘I’m so exhausted from having to actually adult for the first time in my life. Please feel sorry for me and come back to be my slave.’
But humour aside, some of the things narcissists can try to guilt you with can be much more serious. They may try to guilt you by saying that they’ll harm themselves or others. Or they might say that you need to come back to fix the dynamics of the family, even though it was their abuse that had caused all the problems.
Staying out of emotional blackmail can be hard, especially because they’ll find things that will really pull at your heartstrings.
Stay strong and know that whatever they try to guilt you with is solely their problem. Although you’ve probably solved all of their problems in the past (which is exactly the way they liked it), it’s not your stuff anymore.
They need to pull on their big kid panties and actually take responsibility for their own stuff without expecting others to enable their behaviour.
Use other people to trigger you
Considering how good a narcissist can be at lying and controlling the storyline to suit their own agenda, they may use other people to trigger you.
If you’ve got kids with the narcissist, they might make comments to the kids, knowing full well that those comments will get back to you. Or, on a more insidious note, they will often devalue you when speaking to the kids, with the aim of making the kids think less of you.
The narcissist might keep in contact with your parents or siblings and chat to them regularly. This way they can set the appearance of being a ‘nice, reasonable person,’ so that it’s harder for your family to believe what you have to say. They may even get your family members on their side to the point where your Mum’s saying to you, “I’m sure he didn’t mean to say that. He seems sorry, maybe you should give the relationship another go.”
Narcs can get into the ears of mutual friends or your personal friends, saying things like, “I’m worried about their mental health. They’ve been saying some crazy things.” Or they can get in and rewrite the storyline to alienate you from your support circle.
They can also purposely give your family or friends information that they know will get back to you and make you jealous, especially if they’ve got a new partner.
Start the love bombing cycle again
You may find that however the narcissist love bombed you the first time is what they’re trying to replicate again. But this time, they have the advantage of already knowing how to hook you into their web, so they will know which tactics to use on you for the second (or third, or fourth) time around.
Because you’ve already escaped the narcissists grip and now they want to reclaim you, this time the love bombing is effectively a ‘hoover.’
Use your gift of hindsight to see all of the falsity and red flags that you missed the first time around. Recognise their fake words and actions for what they are and keep on walking.
Do whatever you need to do to cut the narc out and avoid being sucked back into their distorted world. Because if you do end up back there, I can guarantee you that the abuse will only become worse. The narcissist will end up resenting the fact that they had to ‘play nice’ to get you back and will inevitably punish you for it.
Urgently need your help
One of the typical hoovering tactics that narcissists use is to urgently need your help with something.
It might be something that only you can help them with, making it even harder for you to say no. But, it could also be something that anyone could help them with, they are just using an opportunity to put it onto you.
Examples of the narcissist urgently needing your help:
- Have an urgent question on how to do something
- Need help with paperwork that you used to fill out
- Need an urgent lift somewhere
- Need professional advice that they know you can offer
- Have a health crisis
The idea is to create a sense of urgency and drama to get you hooked and engaged before you’ve even had time to think. They are simply playing on your empathy and compassion, which is not okay.
Throw accusations at you
Narcissists love the drama, in fact they quite literally feed off it. The narcissist knows that by throwing accusations at you, you’ll be thrown off guard and will feel the need to defend yourself.
Remember, there is no winning with a narc. There is no right answer. It doesn’t matter how you respond or what reasonable explanation you can come up with to defend yourself, they’ll twist it around in a heartbeat.
Accusatory questions are their favourite because you will feel compelled to respond.
Some examples of narcissistic accusations:
“You’ve blocked me on Facebook, haven’t you?”
“Why didn’t you reply to my messages?”
“Why don’t you ever answer my calls?”
“You were cheating on me, weren’t you?”
“Why are you ignoring me?”
“Why did you lie to me?”
You don’t need to defend or explain yourself to anyone. The best course of action is to not respond if the narcissist is calling or sending you messages.
If they’re accusing you in person, exit the conversation as quickly and calmly as you can and do not engage. They want you to get caught up in their word salad, so that they can gaslight you again.
It’s important for your own freedom and mental health to stand strong against the hoovering tactics narcissists use. Remember that they are merely manipulations, no matter how well disguised they are.
The narc does not care about you, they just want to pull you back into their world to use you up for their own energetic supply. When they’re done, they won’t give you a backwards glance when they discard you.
Take the power into your own hands and say ‘no’ to the narcissist. This ‘no’ doesn’t have to be spoken out loud to them, it’s setting the healthy boundary within yourself and sticking with it.
I know it’s incredibly difficult, but your future self with thank you for holding your ground. You can do it!
Have you been on the receiving end of a hoovering narcissist? Feel free to share your experience in the comments below.