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Hoovering and the Narcissistic Victim

How abusive narcissists lure victims back.

As I previously wrote in my article, Domestic Abuse and the Narcissist, I spent 21 years as a police officer and SVU detective. Most of my time was spent at the street level, answering calls for service that included far too many domestic disputes.

Too many times I would answer a domestic violence call, call paramedics for treatment for the female (victims in domestic disputes are typically female) and, because of the assault, arrest the male, only to be called back to the same residence in a couple of days, a week, or a couple of months later. Another domestic dispute with injuries.

I often asked the victim: "Why did you come back?" I received a plethora of excuses: "He said he would not do it again." "He told me he loved me." "He said he needed me." "He is a good provider." None of these excuses, at that time due to my not understanding, made any sense to me.

Why did these victims, most often women, go back into the abusive relationship? Why did they put themselves in harm's way and into a very volatile and dangerous situation? I now know that the reason for a lot of these returns was due to narcissistic relationships where the narcissist would use something called hoovering.

More specifically, hoovering can be defined, in terms of a current or prior toxic narcissistic relationship, where the abusive narcissist tries to seduce and convince the victim to return to the abusive relationship from which she had previously escaped.

The term hoovering derives from the vacuum cleaner corporation, Hoover, and invokes the company's vacuum cleaners' process of sucking things in, just as the narcissistic abuser sucks the victim back into the psychologically and, oftentimes, physically abusive relationship.

During the process, the narcissist abuser may employ virtually any means necessary to obtain their desired result: the return of the victim to the abusive relationship. These ploys can include attempting to put the victim on a guilt-trip, generating false promises of changed behavior, false promises of too-good-to-be-true gifts, begging, screaming at the victim, use of relationship shame, making threats, insincerely accepting blame for the failure of the relationship, or even using others (flying monkeys) to help persuade the victim to return to the relationship.

The abusive narcissist is on a no-holds-barred campaign to convince the victim to return to the abuse and their abusive clutches.

Unfortunately, these abusive narcissists succeed in their efforts. That was evidenced to me at the street level as a police officer when I would be called back to the scene of a domestic dispute or domestic violence call where I had been previously.

How does this happen? Why would someone knowingly go back into an abusive relationship?

There's a process, close to the same process the abusive narcissist used in the relationship previously.

Step One

They are kind, loving, and compassionate. They will say nice things that they believe the victim wants to hear. They will attempt to court the victim and woo them with their fake charm. However, if this does not work, they may proceed to the next phase.

Step Two

They may become verbally abusive and try to convince the victim that no one else will want them, that they are damaged, not pretty enough, not smart enough, or not worthy of anyone else. Their degradation may be limitless. In between the degrading, the victim may also hear that the abusive narcissist only wants what is best for the victim or is looking out for the victim. If this step does not succeed in convincing the victim to return, step three may then be employed.

Step Three

This is their Hail Mary pass. This is where the abusive narcissist attempts to destroy that which the victim holds dear to themselves. This can come as attacks on their intelligence, their skills as a parent, job skills or position, organization positions, or any other thing the victim holds dear. Not uncommon is their attempt to convince the victim that, not only does the narcissist believe they are a failure at any of those things but that "everyone else" also believes the same.

This process can start at any time, immediately after the break-up or even many years later.

What are some of the exact ploys the abusive narcissist may use to gain control of the victim and get her to return?

The ploys are only limited by the narcissist's imagination. Some of these ploys may include:

  1. Sending the victim unexpected messages saying how much they miss the victim or that they love the abused individual.
  2. Contacting the victim on meaningful dates such as prior anniversaries, birthdays, or new milestones in the victim's life.
  3. Asking for help. This may include needing your urgent help in their home or asking for help in a medical situation or mental stress condition. Perhaps they may say they are about to commit suicide to get a response from the victim. This is one of the major signs of hoovering with a narcissist.
  4. Sending gifts for no reason. The abusive narcissist may send flowers, cards, or other gifts as a way to reach out and tug at the victim's heartstrings.
  5. Promising luxurious gifts such as vacations, a new car, even a new home.
  6. Acting as though the previous abuse never happened and attempt to restart a conversation with the victim.
  7. Pleading and begging for just one more chance to make it right.
  8. Saying they are so, so in love. The victim may hear how the abuser now wants to express his undying love and promise the loving relationship the victim has always wanted.

One must understand, narcissists are in a relationship for one reason — to get what they want from the victim — and they will do whatever they feel necessary to get the victim to return to the abuse using false and manipulative means.