* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.
Trying to leave a relationship with a narcissist can feel like going in circles, and it’s easy to feel like you’re being pulled back in. This is due to a form of emotional manipulation known as ‘hoovering’ – but what exactly does this mean?
In this guide, we’ll take you through all there is to know about hoovering, from what it means to what it looks like, as well as some ways to break out of this cycle of abuse.
What Exactly Is ‘Hoovering’ In A Relationship?
First things first – let’s take a look at what ‘hoovering’ actually means.
Hoovering is a form of emotional abuse used by narcissists, where the abusive person tries to manipulate their victim into staying in the relationship.
This strategy helps the narcissist maintain control over their victim if it feels like they’re starting to pull away from the relationship, or to pull someone back in after they’ve already left.
Narcissists use hoovering to suck their victims back into a repeated cycle of abuse; in fact, the term ‘hoovering’ comes from Hoover vacuum cleaners.
Hoovering also refers to the way a narcissistic abuser will try to suck the happiness and agency out of their victim to fuel their own self-centered and controlling behavior.
Relationships with a narcissist rely on cycles of abuse, and hoovering lets the narcist continuously pull someone back into a harmful relationship if it seems like there is a chance of the victim leaving.
What Are Some Examples Of Hoovering?
So now that we’ve established what ‘hoovering’ actually means, it’s time to go through some examples of how narcissists use hoovering tactics to manipulate their victims.
1) Showering You With Love And Praise
Narcissists can use dramatic declarations of love to try and manipulate a victim into staying in a relationship.
This can include grand romantic gestures like showing up at your house unannounced after the breakup to declare their undying love for you, or showering you with gifts and love notes.
However, these gestures don’t have to be overly dramatic – they can include simple acts of affection like sending you romantic messages or praising you without prompting.
This is known as love-bombing, and these ‘romantic gestures’ are just manipulation tactics to try and draw a narcissist’s victim back into a relationship.
Love-bombing is especially easy to spot if the abuser is very reserved with their feelings or is usually cold or aggressive.
2) Messaging Out Of The Blue
A large part of how narcissists maintain control in a relationship is by putting themselves at the center of attention.
If you’ve just broken up with a narcissistic abuser, they may try to reinsert themselves into your life by messaging out of the blue
Sometimes, a narcissist may message or call you out of nowhere and pretend that nothing happened.
This can be as simple as a “What’s up?” text; alternatively, they may message under the guise of asking you something – for instance, asking if you still have something that belonged to them or a detail about somewhere you went together.
It could even just be a ‘Happy Birthday’ text.
Regardless of what the actual message says, the main purpose of contacting like this is to try and bring your attention back onto them.
3) Apologizing And Saying ‘They’ve Changed’
Empty apologies are a common form of hoovering.
An abuser will show remorse and promise that they ‘won’t make the same mistakes again’, or promise some grand act of repentance to prove that they’ve changed (eg. “I’ll quit drinking”, or “I’m going to therapy”).
However, this is more often than not just a way to garner sympathy and trick you into giving them another chance. This is exactly what they want you to do, and it will give them back their control over you.
Sometimes an apology can be genuine, but if they get defensive when you bring up their actions then you know their remorse isn’t sincere.
4) Threatening To Harm Themselves
As mentioned before, narcissists thrive on attention. If you aren’t responding to them or willing to go back into the relationship, they may threaten to harm or even kill themselves if you don’t get back together with them.
They may also claim to have a personal crisis such as a sick/dying family member.
This is an extreme form of emotional blackmail and is used to guilt an abuse victim into getting back together with the narcissist.
Chances are, these are just empty threats and the abuser is just using every trick in the book to get you to stay; however, if you think there is a risk of them hurting themselves or others you should contact emergency services.
5) Involving People Around You
Narcissists may not just manipulate you, and they can use the other people in your lives to try and pull you back in.
For example, if you’ve cut off contact with them then they may get mutual friends or people they know to reach out on their behalf. They might even try to get in contact with your close friends and family under the pretense of concern or to apologize.
A narcissist can also play the victim in order to turn people against you, like spreading rumors among your mutual friends. This is to try and isolate you from people you’re close to and make it seem like going back to them is the only option.
How To Break The Cycle Of Hoovering
Breaking away from the cycle of hoovering can feel impossible.
Hoovering can make you feel isolated, guilty, and insecure. However, it’s important to remember that narcissists rely on you to be pulled back in, so breaking that cycle is the best way to reject a narcissist’s hoovering.
Avoid any contact with the narcissist whenever possible – if they contact you or your close ones, ignore these messages and block them if you can.
Even if they threaten to harm or even kill themselves, report this to the emergency services instead of responding to the narcissist.
It’s also important to remember that narcissists aren’t interested in changing because they don’t want to change. So no matter how grand or sincere their apologies and promises may seem, it’s all done with the intention of keeping you in the cycle of abuse.
It can be hard to break away from a narcissistic abuser, but knowing their tactics can make it easier. So now that you know exactly what ‘hoovering’ is and what it looks like, you can prepare yourself for dealing with the abuser’s emotional manipulation.
Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest organization fighting sexual violence: (800) 656-HOPE / (800) 810-7440 (TTY)
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The National Runaway Safeline: 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929)
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640. Both services are available between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233
Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support: www.suicide.org
Crisis Text Line: Text REASON to 741741 (free, confidential and 24/7). In English and Spanish
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The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365. (Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning—LGBTQ—young people under 25.)
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Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net
International Suicide Prevention Directory: findahelpline.com
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‘Find a Therapist’ Online Directories
- Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists
- GoodTherapy.org: http://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html
- American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: https://aamft.org/Directories/Find_a_Therapist.asp
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