Due to the fact that narcissists feel entitled to having power and control over you for as long as they see fit, it is very common for them to use a variety of manipulation tactics to try to win you back.
When trying to win you back, a narcissist will try to exploit your wish for things to be different, they will try to make you feel guilty for leaving by victimizing themselves, they will promise to change, they will try to stop you from healing and moving on, and they will use other people to manipulate you.
This article is going to guide you through the different ways that narcissists try to win you back so you can get the information that you need to escape the narcissist in your life once and for all.
They Exploit Your Wish for Things to Be Different
One of the toughest parts of healing from narcissistic abuse is letting go of the wish for things to be different.
You see, for many survivors of narcissistic abuse, the relationship that they had with the narcissist wasn’t abusive and manipulative all the time.
In fact, narcissists are very good at manipulating the people that they abuse into equating their abuse with love.
This could look like a narcissistic father teaching his son how to ride a bike, a narcissistic girlfriend buying her boyfriend tickets to see his favorite sports team, or even a narcissistic boss giving their employee a big raise.
The point is that narcissists know that their abuse and manipulation can’t be obvious one-hundred percent of the time if they want to remain in power and control of the people that they abuse because everyone has a breaking point.
This back and forth dynamic is commonly referred to as intermittent reinforcement, which is the delivery of a reward at irregular intervals.
After months, years, or even decades of narcissistic abuse, it is very common for the “reward” of intermittent reinforcement to become the primary source of happiness for the person being abused.
It is for this reason that letting go of the wish for things to be different can be so hard for survivors.
They may think to themselves, “There were really good days too. I know that we could be happy if he/she treated me like this everyday.”
Sadly, having these thoughts makes them very vulnerable to a narcissist who is trying to win them back.
You see, narcissists often try to win you back by exploiting your wish for things to be different.
To do this, they use a manipulation tactic called wishful thinking hoovering.
The phrase “wishful thinking” means an attitude or belief that something you want to happen will happen even though it is not likely or possible.
Wishful thinking hoovering is the combination of:
- The narcissist pretending to acknowledge that they have been abusive.
- The narcissist expressing a tremendous sense of loss.
For example, imagine that you have recently left a narcissistic environment and are trying to move on with your life.
If the narcissist sent you a message saying, “I have been doing a lot of thinking and I am disgusted with how horribly I have treated you. Since you left, I haven’t been myself, I can barely sleep, I just feel sick that I pushed a wonderful person away.”
This would be considered wishful thinking hoovering.
If you are struggling with the wish for things to be different, this comment could manipulate you into believing that the narcissists had finally acknowledged their wrongdoings and are finally taking positive steps towards changing.
Wishful thinking hoovering gives you a false sense of hope and it is one of the most common ways that narcissists try to win you back.
In our article “Why Do Trauma Bonds Feel Like an Addiction?“ there is a lot of helpful information that you can use to learn more about why intermittent reinforcement is such a powerful form of manipulation
They Try to Make You Feel Guilty by Victimizing Themselves
After experiencing narcissistic abuse for months, years, or even decades, it is very common to struggle with many different painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
One of the ways that a narcissist will try to win you back is by exploiting your painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions by victimizing themselves.
This is called self-victimization hoovering.
One of the clearest examples of self-victimization hoovering that we have ever seen comes from one of our community members named Ida.
Ida was in a narcissistic marriage for 46 years.
When she found the courage to divorce her husband, he started victimizing himself by refusing to take his insulin.
He would tell Ida that he couldn’t take care of himself and needed her help.
When that didn’t work, he would tell mutual friends and family that he was afraid of dying because Ida wouldn’t help him take his insulin shot.
Now, Ida had lived with this man for nearly 50 years so she knew that he was more than capable of taking the shot himself so she didn’t fall for his manipulation.
But what was happening here was Ida’s narcissistic ex-husband was victimizing himself to try to manipulate her into feeling the need to rush to his aid.
Even though Ida knew that he was just trying to manipulate her, his self-victimization hoovering still triggered feelings of self-doubt, self-blame, guilt, and shame.
When you are trying to heal from narcissistic abuse it is so important that you process and overcome your painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions because self-victimization hoovering is a very common tactic narcissists use to try to win you back.
Our article “Why Do Narcissists Go Into a Depression?” there is a lot of information about a narcissist’s tendency to victimize themselves to manipulate others.
They Tell You That They Have Changed
When a narcissist is trying to win you back, it is very common for them to try to do so by manipulating you into believing that they have changed.
Because of a manipulation tactic called mirroring, narcissists are actually very good at tricking people into thinking that they have changed.
In this context, mirroring is when a narcissist studies the identity of someone else, absorbs information about the other person’s identity, and uses that information to create a falsified identity that the other person can relate to.
For example, imagine that you are on your first date with a narcissist and tell them that your father died when you were young.
They could mirror you by saying, “I don’t want to take away from anything you just said but I lost one of my family members when I was young too. I just wanted you to know that I know what it feels like.”
Over time, these types of interactions are going to make you feel heard, understood, valued, and encourage you to open up more and more to the narcissist.
This is exactly what the narcissist wants to happen because it gives them the information that they need to gain power and control over you.
Fast forward to the end of the relationship, narcissists can use the months, years, or even decades of information that they have about you to create a falsified identity that convinces you that they have changed.
This is called I have changed hoovering.
A very good example of I have changed hoovering comes from a book that Heather Kent, one of the mental health professionals that we work with, wrote.
Heather is a Registered Psychotherapist, Canadian Certified Counsellor, and author of the best-selling books, I Left My Toxic Relationship – Now What? and Heal From Your Narcissist Ex.1
In her book I Left My Toxic Relationship – Now What?, Heather speaks about a time where her narcissistic ex showed up to her parents’ house on Christmas even though they were no longer in a relationship (image below)
Guess what? It worked.
His hoovering attempt convinced both Heather and Heather’s family that he had changed, so they got back together.
This type of hoovering is very common to see when a narcissist is trying to win you back.
If you haven’t had time to process the abuse that you experienced, you may find yourself going back to the narcissist because you believe that they have changed.
They Will Try to Stop You From Healing and Moving On
One of the scariest parts about being abused by a narcissist is the fact that they feel entitled to having you at their disposal.
They don’t care about your thoughts, feelings, emotions, or needs. They feel like they have a right to remain in power and control of you for as long as they see fit.
Because of this, one of the ways that they will try to win you back is by preventing you from moving on.
As we have mentioned in the previous sections of this article, they will try to hoover you back into the relationship.
But they will also try to confuse you with flying monkeys, destroy your self-esteem, and control you with financial abuse.
They do this because they want to manipulate you into believing that leaving the narcissistic environment was a mistake.
If they are successful, it is called self-hoovering.
This is when a survivor of narcissistic abuse can’t move on from the narcissist and accidentally talks themselves back into the abusive relationship.
A Quote From One of Our Community Members
“I was on a family vacation when my narcissistic boss called. I had quit because of the abuse but she called me crying, shamed me for leaving, and even offered to pay me more. It was a really confusing for me because I wasn’t sure what to do, but I ended up convincing myself that I was wrong, that I did do something shameful by leaving, and that I should go back. -Toni
It is very common for narcissists to try to win you back by preventing you from moving on.
Our article “Will a Narcissist Let You Move On” does a really good job at explaining the different ways that narcissists stop you from moving on.
They Use Other People to Manipulate You
It is very common for a narcissist to try to win you back by using other people to manipulate you.
This is called triangulation hoovering and narcissists use flying monkeys to do it.
Triangulation is when someone turns a one-on-one situation into a two-on-one situation by involving a third party.
A flying monkey is someone that a narcissist manipulates into helping them abuse others.
For example, imagine that the narcissist in your life is trying win you back but you have gone No Contact with them
One way that they could get around this strong boundary that you have set is by using a flying monkey to manipulate you instead of manipulating you themselves.
Imagine that you are going out to lunch with someone who you consider to be a friend but what you don’t know is that they are a flying monkey.
The narcissist has told them a ton of lies about you, why the relationship between the two of you ended, and asked them to get you to reconsider everything.
You sit down with this flying monkey and somehow you end up talking about the narcissist.
You are trying to explain why you have left and gone No Contact, but all you are getting from them is invalidation.
They are saying things like “I don’t think that you should have left him/her. He/she loves you so much and you are breaking his/her heart. Besides, don’t you think giving him/her the silent treatment is a bit narcissistic?”
Now, if you are still trying to process and overcome all of the painful thoughts, feelings, and emotions that narcissistic abuse creates, a comment like this can feel incredibly destabilizing.
It can manipulate you into questioning yourself, feeling guilty, feeling isolated, feeling ashamed, and so on.
It is very common for a narcissist to try to win you back by using other people to manipulate you.
About the Author
Hey, I’m Elijah.
I experienced narcissistic abuse for three years.
I create these articles to help you understand and validate your experiences.
Thank you for reading, and remember, healing is possible even when it feels impossible.