The narcissistic abuse cycle is designed to erode your emotional stability. After months, years, even decades of a pervasive environment of manipulation, isolation, and abuse it’s very common for you to become so emotionally drained that you’re nearly unrecognizable to friends and family. 

The fact of the matter is that when you’re able to finally escape the narcissistic abuse cycle, you’re not a happy person. You’re plagued with self-doubt, depression, a sense of hopelessness, and ruminating thoughts. 

In all honesty, you’re the exact opposite of what a narcissist wants in their life, which begs the question, why do narcissists hoover you back into the relationship after stripping you of your happiness. 

The Five Reasons That Narcissists Hoover

  • They hate rejection. 
  • They have an insecure need to be accepted by society. 
  • To feed their insecure need for power and control. 
  • They are addicted to the highs and lows of a dysfunctional relationship. 
  • To regain control of the narcissistic supply.

When it comes to escaping the narcissistic abuse cycle, hoovering is one of the most important behavior patterns to have a comprehensive grasp on. 

This article is going to be a complete guide to hoovering, one of the most commonly seen forms of manipulation in the narcissistic realm. 

Table of Contents

What Is Hoovering? 

Hoovering is a manifestation of a narcissist charm, charisma, intelligence, manipulative tendencies, and confidence. 

When a narcissist sucks you back into a relationship by saying exactly what you want to hear, or doing exactly what you need, it’s called hoovering. 

A black woman sitting on a red couch contemplating whether or not she should give her narcissistic ex another chance after experiencing a hoovering phase.

It is a core dynamic in every single type of narcissistic relationship. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re the one who discarded the narcissist, or the narcissist is the one who discarded you, at one point or another they will use their charm, charisma, intelligent, manipulative tendencies, and confidence to suck you back into the abusive cycle. 

A Deeper Understanding of the Reasonings Behind Hoovering

There are a handful of narcissistic behavior patterns that once you understand the reasoning behind them, it opens the door to understanding many other hidden dynamics within a narcissist psyche and hoovering is one of them. 

Narcissists Hoover Because They Have an Insecure Need to Be Accepted by Society & They Hate Rejection 

Many researchers credit one’s development of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) to an unhealthy/abusive childhood. 

They depict an environment where the primary caregivers are unresponsive, unavailable, inconsistent, abusive, and/or narcissistic. 

The theory that has the best correlation with hoovering comes from Otto Friedmann Kernberg. He believes that narcissists are created by narcissistic parents. 

Child growing up with a narcissistic father.

The reason this aligns with the dynamics of hoovering is because narcissists are incapable of building their own self-esteem, so they try to conform to and exceed societal norms to do so. 

An unwritten rule in our society today is that we should have an abundance of healthy relationships in our lives. 

This means that people are expected to get married and build a future with someone else. We’re expected to have a very good relationship with our family members. We’re expected to have solid friendships and so on.

When we aren’t able to conform to these unwritten rules riddled throughout our society, other peoples first thought is, “there must be something wrong with him/her if they aren’t able to maintain healthy relationships with others.

When a narcissist is in a position where the relationship they have is ending, it is incredibly destabilizing because it goes against what they’ve built their self-esteem off of. 

They want to be perceived as likable, admirable, and desirable. So for a narcissist, having a falling out in one of their relationships symbolizes rejection and triggers their fear of not being accepted by society. 

A woman setting a boundary with a narcissist and the narcissist being afraid that she’ll expose his abusive behavior to mutual friends and family.

Why?

When a narcissist has a falling out with someone else it’s usually with an individual that they abused. Meaning that this individual knows the real version of the narcissist that not many people get to see. 

For a narcissist this is very troublesome because believe it or not, narcissists know that their behavior is wrong. 

We went into depth about this in our article, Does Gaslighting Have to Be Intentional, but narcissists make a very conscious decision when deciding who sees their abusive behavior and who doesn’t. 

They also have a very volatile reaction when they’re confronted about their abusive behavior because it triggers their suppressed shame

To sum it all up, one reason a narcissist may try to hoover you back into the narcissistic abuse cycle is to prevent you from exposing their true nature to mutual friends, family, coworkers and so on.

By keeping you trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle, they’re able to silence your voice which minimizes the risk of them being rejected by society because of their abusive behavior. 

Narcissists Hoover to Fulfill Their Insecure Need for Power and Control

Much like a narcissist’s insecure need to be accepted by society, a narcissist’s insecure need for power and control has a strong correlation with the tendency to blindly follow societal norms.

Throughout our lives we are either taught, or shown examples of strength, independence, determination, and sheer will. 

A child being influenced by what he sees on the television.

But the catch is that everyone’s definition of those attributes that I listed above are going to be different. 

The most primitive example of a person with the attributes I listed above would be someone in a position of power, dominance, and control over others. 

But as we become more mature, we realize that strength can be found in every single individual on the planet regardless of the position they’re in. 

Because of a narcissist’s emotional immaturity and inadequacy, they gravitate towards the more primitive sides of our society. 

Incessant controlling behaviors, a constant exertion of authority and power, and a relentless desire to win are key dynamics in narcissism and narcissistic people. 

When a narcissist is able to hoover you back into the abusive cycle, it soothes them because the idea of not being able to control you is incredibly destabilizing.

So, by hoovering you back into the cycle they regain their superficial stability because they control you now, and the sense of control that they feel by simply being able to suck you back into the cycle is exhilarating for them. 

Whether you discarded them or they discarded you, hoovering is a technique they use to fulfill their insecure need for power and control. 

Narcissists Hoover Because They’re Addicted to the Highs and Lows of a Dysfunctional Relationship

One of the hardest aspects of narcissistic abuse is how addictive it is. This is because narcissists are masterful when it comes to the weaponization of intermittent reinforcement. 

Intermittent reinforcement is a delivery of a reward at irregular intervals. Because of how emotionally starved narcissistic relationships are, narcissists use empathy, compassion, and intimacy as the “reward.”

A woman in a pink dress experiencing intermittent reinforcement by a narcissist.

What essentially happens is that the narcissist learns how much abuse you can endure while remaining a sufficient source of narcissistic supply. 

The moment they realize you’re reaching a breaking point, they use intermittent reinforcement to drag you back into the relationship. 

This is extremely addictive because what ends up happening is that the narcissist essentially becomes your only known source of happiness. 

Those moments of empathy, compassion, and intimacy actually activate your brain’s reward sector and floods it with dopamine, which is an incredibly addictive feeling. 

While it sounds similar, intermittent reinforcement is not as grandiose as hoovering. The best way to understand this would be to pretend that you have a broken window in your home. 

Intermittent reinforcement would be putting up a wooden board, and calling it a day. Hoovering would be to replace the window altogether. 

In other words, intermittent reinforcement is when a narcissist uses the bare minimum to hook you back into the relationship and hoovering is essentially a second version of love bombing, they go all out. 

With that being said, narcissists are addicted to the abuse cycle as well. 

As I mentioned before, narcissists are incapable of maintaining healthy relationships. In fact relationships that are drama free and steady are destabilizing for them. 

A narcissist being uncomfortable with a healthy relationship.

Their grandiosity causes them to be addicted to the highs and lows of the relationship, the exhilarating sensations they get from manipulation, and the admiration and validation they extort from you. 

Narcissists Hoover to Regain Control Over the Narcissistic Supply

Another downside to a narcissist’s emotional immaturity and inadequacy is their inability to build their own self-esteem. 

Earlier I mentioned that narcissists build their self-esteem by conforming to and exceeding societal norms, but they also depend on you to build their own self-esteem. 

Narcissistic supply is the validation and admiration they receive from others. Depending on the type of narcissism you’re dealing with, the way the narcissist in your life accumulates narcissistic supply could be different. 

A communal, grandiose, malignant, and covert narcissist sitting at a table talking about the ways they accumulate narcissistic supply.

The fact that they can portray themselves as dominant and superior human beings yet be heavily dependent on your validation and admiration is insane, but it’s true. 

If you were to discard a narcissist, they would try to hoover you back into the abuse cycle to regain a sense of self-worth and stability. 

This dynamic is very similar to a child having a piece of candy, or something else they like, taken away from them. They’ll cry, and reach out to whatever it is until they get it back. 

Hoovering is a narcissist’s cry for help. 

On the flip-side, narcissist are novelty seekers, meaning that they’re always looking for the next best thing. 

So, it’s very common for a narcissist to discard you before you’re able to acknowledge that what you’re experiencing is abuse and discard them. 

Under these circumstances you could still experience the hoovering phase. Because narcissists are novelty seekers, chronic cheaters, lack empathy, have attachment issues, and always are looking out for threats, they move on incredibly quickly. 

It is very common for a narcissist to already have a new source of supply lined up before they actually discard you. 

If a narcissist were to feel that their new source of supply wasn’t sufficient enough, they’ll likely try to hoover you back into the cycle to make up the difference.

A woman confronting a narcissist about talking to his ex girlfriend and the narcissist justifying his betrayal by claiming she isn’t a sufficient source of narcissistic supply.

The Three Types of Hoovering 

For those of you who don’t know, there’s a very wide spectrum of narcissism. Each type of narcissism has their own behavior patterns and personality traits, but they often overlap with each other.

For example, did you know that depending on the type of narcissism, there are four different ways love bombing can manifest?

If not, be sure to check out How to Protect Yourself From Love Bombing because to escape the narcissistic abuse cycle you have to understand how you got there in the first place.

If you were to believe that you didn’t experience a love bombing phase just because you only knew one way it could manifest, it could trap you in the cycle for the foreseeable future.

Hoovering has a few different variations that you should be aware of so you can accurately identify narcissistic abuse and ensure you manage it properly.

Love Bomb Hoovering

Narcissistic abuse is mysterious. We speak so much about the lack of empathy, arrogance, entitlement, and self-centered behavior patterns that we forget they have an eerie ability to know the ins and outs of your life very quickly.

You’re not going to find a better example of a narcissist manipulative prowess than love bomb hoovering. 

For those of you who don’t know, love bombing is a phase in the beginning of a narcissistic relationship where a narcissist will pay an incredible amount of attention to your goals, desires, vulnerabilities, insecurities, personality traits, likes, dislikes and so on.

This is called mirroring, and what a narcissist is essentially doing is reflecting your identity back to you. 

This is very intriguing because it makes you feel like you’ve met your soulmate or someone who understands you better than anyone else.

A man and a woman wearing pink shirts in the middle of the love bombing phase.

Not every survivor of narcissistic abuse experienced the love bombing face, but those who have, they’ve describe the phase as magical and/or a once in a lifetime experience.

Love bomb hoovering is love bombing on steroids because the narcissist already knows exactly what you want and what you want to hear. 

So, with phrases like, “you were right I took you for granted” or I miss you so much, I didn’t realize what I had until we ended. I feel so dumb for letting you goa narcissist is able to hoover you back into the cycle by manipulating your desire to be heard, wanted, and respected. 

Guilt Hoovering 

Narcissists are very, very good at using guilt to keep you trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle. 

The most common way the weaponization of guilt manifests is as an excuse for manipulative, abusive, and/or unsettling behavior. 

Examples of Guilt Being Used to Justify Abuse

  • I didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I’m like this because my last partner made me feel so horrible about myself, being around someone as wonderful as you makes me act differently than I normally would. 
  • It is fine. You don’t have to spend the holidays with me, nobody wants to see me anyway. 
  • Maybe if you trusted me more these things wouldn’t have happened. 
  • I can’t believe you’re going to complain about my attitude problem while we are on the trip I worked hard to pay for. You’re so selfish.
  • I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.
  • You’re the reason I’m acting this way. How would you act if you had to wake up next to someone as miserable as you every single day? 

Guilt can also be a very effective hoovering tactic, especially when it comes to covert narcissism. Covert narcissists have a tendency to victimize themselves, which means they attract empaths and those who feel like they need to rescue other people. 

With that being said, it’s important to remember that narcissism is on a spectrum. While guilt is a very common dynamic among covert narcissists the three other types of narcissism that we cover also exhibit these behaviors. 

Examples of Guilt Hoovering:

  • It has been so hard without you in my life.
  • I can’t believe we’re not together anymore, you were supposed to be the one. 
  • I didn’t deserve you. 
  • Are you seriously going to leave me just as I start therapy to get better for you? 
  • How arrogant are you that you can’t sit down with me and have a cup of coffee?
  • Are you trying to hurt my feelings? Because if so it’s working.
  • I gave you my everything but it seems like that wasn’t enough so I’ll stop contacting you, I promise. 

As I mentioned before, guilt hoovering manipulates your desire to be a rescuer, to be nice, and to be empathic towards others. 

Guilt hoovering is a very effective tactic, especially if you’re overly empathic. 

Jealous Hoovering 

Hoovering through jealousy isn’t necessarily a type of hoovering, but it shows a very important aspect of narcissism that coincides with the concept of hoovering. 

A narcissists’ sense of specialness drives a large portion of their behavior patterns, hoovering being one of them. 

When you leave a narcissist and begin to see someone else, work for someone else, spend more time with another family member, or find a new group of friends it contradicts their sense of specialness. 

This is very troubling for a narcissist because the only thing keeping them from a catastrophic meltdown is the concept that they are superior to others. 

They despise the idea that someone else could replace them. 

Under these circumstances hoovering can be terrifyingly intense. When fueled by jealousy, narcissist have been known to stalk their victim, randomly show up at events uninvited, and make up the most absurd lies you could possibly imagine. 

A narcissist hoovering by pretending that the relationship didn’t end and showing up to events uninvited and unannounced.

While this behavior is obviously insane and something you should stay away from, if you haven’t done the work to have a comprehensive grasp on narcissism, squash your ruminating thoughts, and reconnect with your core values, you could find yourself back in the narcissistic abuse cycle. 

When you don’t have an understanding of narcissism, ruminate about the narcissistic abuse cycle, and neglect your core values, hoovering through jealousy can actually rebuild your self-esteem. 

It could make you feel as if they’re finally seeing you for the amazing person you are, when in reality, they’re just manipulating you like they always have, and always will. 

Why Does Hoovering Work? 

Not only hoovering, but the narcissistic abuse cycle as a whole works because it triggers your sense of hope, guilt, ruminating thoughts, and paralyzes you with fear.

Hope

During the hoovering phase, the narcissist in your life is most likely doing many of the things you want them to do. 

They may change their behavior for a little while, they might join you in couples therapy, they might pay more attention to your children, they might offer to pay for your studies, or give you a raise and so on. 

Without a comprehensive grasp of narcissism, this phase can manipulate the hope you have embedded within your psyche that one day things will get better, one day the narcissist will change and be the spouse, coworker, family member, or friend that you always wanted them to be. 

This statement is riddled throughout this website, but in order to escape the narcissistic abuse cycle or defend yourself against manipulative tactics like hoovering, you have to let go of the wish for things to be different.

A man with a big beard and a black shirt radically excepting that his narcissistic ex will not change her behavior.

Fear

The narcissistic abuse cycle is also very good at fostering a crippling level of fear within your psyche. 

Even though narcissists are a horrible influence there’s no denying that they are a significant part of your life. 

I would even go as far as saying that before you are able to get a comprehensive grasp on narcissism, they are a significant part of your identity as well. 

Therefore manipulative tactics like hoovering can play off of your fear of being alone, the fear of the unknown, or the fear of having to rebuild yourself. 

A woman with a pink bracelet encouraging herself to heal from her narcissistic relationship one step at a time.

Guilt

Much like hope, guilt is the glue of many narcissistic relationships. We live in a strange era where we are expected to just go with the flow. 

It’s almost as if it doesn’t matter if someone is abusive because we aren’t supposed to give up on family, we are told relationships aren’t meant to be easy, or that the work environment is supposed to be a ”competitive” environment. 

While some of that may be true, it does not excuse abusive behavior. You should not feel guilty for leaving someone who willingly hurts you and everyone around them with little or no remorse. 

Ruminating Thoughts

Rumination, obsessively over thinking the same thoughts, is intertwined with all of the reasons I listed above. 

You could be ruminating about the life you would have if they weren’t a narcissist, the fear of being alone and having to rebuild yourself, or the guilt you have for giving up on someone else even though it was the right thing to do. 

Rumination is truly a narcissist secret weapon because it keeps you trapped within the narcissistic abuse cycle long after you’ve escaped. 

If you haven’t squashed your ruminating thoughts before the narcissist tries to hoover you back into the abuse cycle, you could find yourself getting sucked back into the abusive environment because you haven’t let go of the wish for things to be different.

What Should You Take Away From This Article? 

Hoovering is a part of every single type of narcissistic relationship. It is one of their many behavior patterns that when you understand the reasoning behind it, you also understand many other aspects of narcissism and narcissistic abuse.

Hoovering works very well on those who haven’t let go of the wish for things to be different. 

If you are still carrying a tremendous amount of fear, guilt, hope, and rumination from the abuse you endured, you are very vulnerable to not only hoovering but falling into another narcissistic environment as well. 

It is so important that you find the right therapist and work hard to address the trauma you’ve experienced. If not, you could very well become your own worst enemy and find yourself stuck in the narcissistic abuse cycle indefinitely. 


All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

Suggested Readings:

A Complete Guide to the Narcissistic Abuse Cycle
How to Protect Yourself From Love Bombing