Like anyone would be
I am flattered by your fascination with me
Like any hot blooded woman
I have simply wanted an object to crave
But you, you’re not allowed
An unfortunate slight ~ Alanis Morisette / Uninvited
Most folks who have been victims of narcissistic abuse know that a ‘no contact’ rule is an uncompromising imperative when breaking free of a tenacious trauma bond with a malignant narcissist. Dismantling the destruction from Stockholm Syndrome requires distance and a complete break from the abuser. Unfortunately, extenuating circumstances may prohibit this step, such as shared custody of children or, in a similar vein, being a young child dependent on a parental narcissist.
As a survivor and psychotherapist well versed in treating Narcissistic Abuse Syndrome, the reality is that even those who work fervently to stabilize from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the aftermath of NPD abuse are at risk of resuming contact. This is due to several factors, primarily the machinations of Stockholm Syndrome, the pathological attachment needs and debilitating withdrawal ignited by a trauma bond, the deliberate lack of closure, and last but not least, hoovering.
Often when the victim believes they got away or have a modicum of healing after a brutal degrade and discard, the narcissist will resurface to suck them back in. They begin to hoover, meaning they employ strategies to reignite a connection. Like the vacuum from whence the word derives, the narcissist will suck up to the victim to lure them back into their web of deceit. If groveling and seemingly amiable gestures fail to procure supply, the narcissist’s mask will fall, and more egregious measures may occur. The thrill of the hunt and the irresistible power of embodying both tormenter and redeemer fuels the narcissist’s quest.
Not succumbing to these tactics is a critical test. Responding to unscrupulous ploys can lead to returning to even worse degradation and abuse.
If the victim capitulates, it reinforces the narcissist’s sense of superiority, omnipotence, and entitlement. The narcissist concludes, it is the victim’s weakness that has afforded victory. Caving in reinforces for the narcissist that the victim is malleable supply, easily manipulated, and duped even in the aftermath of lies, infidelity, and emotional and physical violence.
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Knowing how the narcissist strategically maneuvers enables the victim to prepare for the onslaught of duplicitous behaviors following a period of separation. It empowers the victim to stay firmly anchored in truth. Anticipating what the narcissist will do to reinstate the cycle of abuse helps with remaining steadfast with maintaining no contact. Eventually, the narcissist will tire from being ignored and will seek accessible supply elsewhere.
It’s relevant to keep in mind that not all narcissists hoover. There are a variety of reasons for this. One reason may be that the supply’s function may no longer serve the narcissist. They played a peripheral role that ceased having a utilitarian purpose. Many feel wounded at having been designated as secondary or tertiary supply. This is a sad byproduct of brainwashing. Being not ‘good enough to hoover’ is tantamount to believing you are not deemed a good enough piece of furniture. Supply is supply. The narcissist’s supply is merely an object to be used and abused irrespective of where you land on the designated food chain. Dodging a bullet is a good thing.
Another standard reason for an absence of hoovering may involve the narcissist’s preoccupation with new supply. Or perhaps the narcissist knows you are on to their treachery and will not be easily exploited. This is actually an ideal scenario. Once the survivor knows fully who the narcissist is behind the mask and they are unyielding, it becomes pointless to hoover. In these instances, the former supply is no longer considered a useful pawn.
For those who are the unfortunate targets of hoovering, what follows are some common ploys to look out for.
Hang up calls
This juvenile tactic is designed to bait the target with an easy perfunctory jolt of intermittent reinforcement. It’s a taunt. A carrot on a stick suggests that perhaps you are a passing thought for the narcissist. The narcissist feeds off of knowing the victim is focused on the narcissist’s elusive presence.
Monosyllabic text messages
Similar to the hang-up call ploy is the arbitrary monosyllabic text message. Hey. Wow! Thanks. Alternatively, an emoticon will be employed. 🦋 😊 🌺 Confusion sets in. Like the hang-up call, this bizarre random crumb of attention is designed to send the jarring message that the narcissist is lingering. Fear, longing, and dreaded hope might be triggered by this effortless prompt.
Anniversaries, birthdays, holidays, graduation, or a new job are all opportunities for the narcissist to resurface with congratulatory wishes. Acknowledging any milestone is a seemingly appropriate, non-invasive way for the narcissist to hoover. This is an easy way for the narcissist to weasel back in. Any response, no matter how perfunctory, is supply. Ignore and move on.
Let’s be ‘friends’
Out of nowhere, with no recall of prior heinous actions and injurious betrayal, the olive branch of friendship is extended. The narcissist feigns innocence and virtue. They would love to reconnect. Fond memories are casually mentioned. This overture can strongly ignite the longing to latch on to the fictitious narrative that one actually mattered to the narcissist. This is exactly what the narcissist wants.
It’s back to square one with slurpy proclamations of love, excessive compliments, gifts, and romantic declarations of happily ever after. As I shared in Simone Paget’s article, “when one has been love-bombed and seduced to believe they are ‘the one,’ it is traumatic and surreal when reality kicks in and the narcissist segues into playing insidious games designed to shake the target’s confidence and distort the target’s perceptions.”
Once you’re off this relational roller coaster, it’s best to stay off.
Here comes the fake apology, the bogus repentance, the melodramatic heartbreak, and the false contrition. Suddenly the narcissist epitomizes what the targeted supply sought all along. This ostensible conversion and fabricated narrative put the target at risk for acquiescing and trying again, especially if the narcissist’s claims of penance include an invitation to engage in couples therapy.
The malignant narcissist, whose aim is to reignite the relationship to glean supply from their romantic partner, will present as contrite, sensitive, and charming. It is challenging, especially after the initial discard, to not buy into this ruse. It may be necessary for the victim to return until it becomes absolutely irrefutable that a leopard can’t change its spots.
The victim card
Female narcissists are particularly adept at weaponizing victimization. The guise as the fragile damsel, the martyr mother, and the chaste maiden conceal sinister motives. She understands that acting demure, nurturing, and empathetic is a powerful ploy. Bearing this facade, she returns in need of help. It may be the need for financial assistance, or she might be a maternal narcissist ostensibly heartbroken by estrangement from her adult children. The male counterpart may also use a fragile, anguished approach to encourage contact. Their dossier of infractions and slights will be utilized to remind you how you’ve hurt them and owe them attention. The narcissist affecting victimhood will use blame and guilt to pull the target back into their swamp.
It’s an emergency
OMG! The narcissist is in yet another crisis, and your presence is crucial. This pity ploy is similar to weaponizing victimization, but it relies more on inspiring compassion than guilt. Real or made-up, the narcissist simply can’t cope with some catastrophic event without your support. It could be as serious as a crippling physical or mental illness or as vapid as a stock market loss. Their objective is tugging enough at your co-dependent heartstrings to garner a response. Targets who have difficulty saying ‘NO’ to others' demands and struggle with erecting strong boundaries are susceptible to falling into this trap.
Triangulating Your Peeps
A commonly relied upon tactic by narcissists is triangulation. Traditionally it involves pitting a supporter or a militia of supporters against the target to Divide and Conquer. When hoovering the narcissist who has stayed in touch with the family and friends of ex-supply will either innocently confide in a designated go-between to send the target a circuitous message.
At first, the narc might simply send their regards or build you up as the one who got away. If these efforts fail to encourage a response, malicious gossip may ensue. The narc will commence with going for the jugular when flattery and wooing doesn’t work. This brings us to more insidious methods.
Flaunting New Supply
Under the guise of casually updating you that they’re happy (without you), the narcissist achieves a sadistic thrill by broadcasting how quickly they’ve moved on to a new source of supply. If those in the survivor’s inner circle have contact with the narc, they will be informed of how jubilant the narcissist is with their new romantic interest. They will also inevitably be informed of how insufferable and disturbed the ex-supply was.
Being characterized as an abusive lunatic in the aftermath of the degrade and discard is standard procedure with a narcissist. The new supply is dubbed as the ‘special’ one who will turn the narc around and glean the extraordinary benefits that you experienced in the early stage of love bombing. This set up can trigger disquieting symptoms such as obsession, self-blame, and cognitive dissonance. This is an extraordinarily challenging part of the healing process to navigate.
Threats & Stalking
Seemingly benign tactics have not worked, and the narcissist perceives the absence of a response from the targeted supply as a personal attack. When a malignant narc does not get their way, the escalation of rage can be fierce. That’s when they pull out the big guns. Although not all narcissists stalk, many do. Research conducted by the National Center for Victims of Crime states that over 1.4 million people become victims of stalking annually in the United States. An estimated two-thirds of stalkers are either a current or previous romantic partner. Coupled with stalking are harassing calls, cyber-bullying, and criminal threats. Taking steps to protect oneself from a malignant narcissist who has resorted to lawless behavior necessitates exploring legal options, including a civil lawsuit for emotional distress.
The emotional, psychological, physical, financial, and social devastation incurred from narcissistic abuse is extensive. In the aftermath, treatment for acute and complex trauma and co-current illnesses such as dissociative disorders, mood disorders, and addictions may be necessary.
After having liberated oneself from harrowing abuse, dealing with hoovering is an unfortunate development. If at all possible, make the first discard your last. Stay focused on restoring and growing so that you are never again reduced to supply. When the narcissist strikes again make sure you are ready. Be as impervious to their manipulation as they are impervious to reason. You owe that to yourself.