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Spotting the Hoovering Techniques of a Narcissist

...and how to avoid being manipulated by them.

Key points

  • One of the most frightening prospects for a narcissist is being forced to live without someone to blame for their problems.
  • They often react by "hoovering" up all the happiness, positivity, and optimism that the other partner may be experiencing, making growth harder.
  • It's important not to engage when a narcissist employs the hoovering technique so as not to get trapped in a toxic or abusive relationship.

One of the most frightening prospects for a narcissist is being forced to live without someone to blame for their problems. They also fear not having someone to admire them and to look to them for everything they need. They will do almost anything to avoid being in this position.

Narcissists are experts at attempting to control others to get what they need in the world. They have no remorse for their behavior and no empathy for others. This allows them to engage in a range of different highly manipulative and emotionally abusive techniques without any guilt, embarrassment, or shame.

What is hoovering?

Most people have heard of the term gaslighting used in conjunction with narcissistic behavior. Gaslighting is misrepresenting an event to convince the other person they are wrong and cannot trust their senses, memories, and experience. This is a common tool used by a narcissist to create doubt and uncertainty about perceptions in their victim.

Another tool or technique used by narcissists is hoovering. This is most often deployed when the narcissist fears the partner is moving away or has gained personal empowerment. The term hoovering is used in relationships to represent the vacuuming up of happiness, positivity, and optimism that the other partner may be experiencing. As these feelings of empowerment threaten the narcissist's control; sucking them out of the environment is critical in establishing the status quo of the abuser-emotionally abused dynamics of the relationship.

What hoovering looks like in a relationship

Hoovering can begin anytime after you leave the relationship with the narcissist. Suddenly, and without any warning, the narcissist begins to reach out to you. This may be through a phone call, text message, card in the mail, or a social media post.

Often the message is related to something positive from the relationship. For example, it may be the message, "I miss you and am thinking of you," or a reference to something special from the positive aspects of your relationship.

Some of the other possible signs of hoovering include:

  • Claims of recognizing their behavior and making dramatic and significant changes
  • Talking about not finding anyone as special as you
  • Reaching out on a birthday or another significant day in your life
  • Calling you about a health scare or their need for your help or assistance
  • Threatening suicide or self-harm if you do not return the call or text
  • Sending messages through friends who may not understand the narcissistic behavior or the past relationship abuse

How to avoid hoovering techniques

It is important to see hoovering as another form of highly effective manipulation. It is essential not to engage with the narcissist and to avoid sending messages to him or her through friends.

If there is a concern about his or her mental state regarding suicide or harm to self or others, do not contact the narcissist. Instead, call the police or emergency services in your area and make a report.

It is very tempting to listen to the false promises of change and the willingness to make the relationship work. The narcissist will be engaging and charismatic, triggering your memories of the good times in the initial part of the relationship.

Working with a therapist is the most effective way to understand the manipulative techniques used by a narcissist. Your therapist can also help you to set healthy boundaries and avoid falling into the trap of returning to a dysfunctional and emotionally abusive relationship.

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