Narcissistic often use "hoovering" tactics to stay in contact


**This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a client who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

“GM, just checking on you,” the text read.

Things ended between my client and her ex months ago, but he still pops up in her life from time to time. He’ll text her out of the blue, or call her to say “hello,” or, like today, send her a friend request on Facebook.

She knows it’s not coincidental that he only contacts her when he’s feeling lonely or wants something from her. But her ego still tries to convince her that maybe, just maybe, he’s realized he made a mistake and wants her back.

This is called hoovering. And it’s one of the most toxic things a narcissist can do to their former partner.

What is hoovering?

Hoovering is a manipulation tactic used by narcissists to suck a former partner back into a toxic relationship. The term comes from the famous vacuum cleaner brand, which is known for its powerful suction.

In the context of relationships, hoovering is when an ex reaches out to their former partner in a seemingly innocent way but with the ulterior motive of manipulation.

The goal is to reel you back in so they can continue to string you along, manipulate, or control you.

Hoovering, like gaslighting, is a type of emotional abuse. Gaslighting is when someone tries to make you question your reality or memory to gain power over you.

It’s a way for someone to keep you from disengaging. And hoovering is just one tactic an abuser will use to keep you in their web.

“The hoover maneuver is an attempt to see if a prior target of abuse can be conned into another cycle of abuse, resulting in the abusive person reclaiming a sense of power and control by causing pain (emotional and sometimes physical) to a target.” — Andrea Schneider, LCSW

The Three D’s of Hoovering

There are several different hoovering tactics that narcissists like to employ to ensnare their prey, but for the sake of this discussion, we will focus on three. These tactics are called the “Three D’s,” and they are: Demanding, Deceiving, and Diverting.

If you can identify these tactics early on, you’ll be much more likely to break free from the cycle of abuse and start rebuilding your life.

“The survivor of emotional abuse often mistakes the “hoover” as an attempt by the abuser to reconcile, apologize, or reengage in a romantic relationship (Thomas, 2016). Unfortunately, the hoover is merely a hook to ensnare prior objects of affection/business/friendship/romance into providing the abuser with the ubiquitously sought after fodder to bolster their fragile ego and precariously balanced, externally validated frail state of functioning.” — Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW


An ex who hoovers by demanding your attention expects you to drop everything and respond whenever they reach out.

They might call or text you constantly, show up unannounced, or make demands on your time and energy. They might even try to control who you talk to and what you do.

This type of hoovering is often used to keep tabs on you and see what you’re doing. It’s also a way to control you and limit your independence.


An ex who uses deception pretends to be something they’re not. They might say they’ve changed, they’re sorry for what they did, or they miss you.

They might lavish you with flowers or gifts. Some will perform acts of service, all in an attempt to win you back.

But make no mistake, this is a ploy to get you to lower your guard and let them back into your life. Once they’re in, they’ll fall back into the patterns of behavior that caused you to break up with them in the first place.

“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.” — Steven Lampley, former police officer


Sometimes they will try to divert your attention and distract you from the fact that they’re hoovering. They might bring up old memories, say something inflammatory, or do something to shock you.

They might even try to turn the tables and accuse you of hoovering them. This is called projection, and it’s a way for them to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

The goal is to keep you off balance and distracted, so you don’t realize what they’re up to.

What to do if you’re being hovered

If you find yourself on the receiving end of hoovering, it’s essential to be firm and set boundaries. Don’t engage, don’t respond to their texts or calls, and don’t entertain their games.

The best way to deal with hoovering is to ignore it completely. This will send the message that you’re not interested in getting back together and that you’re not going to tolerate their manipulative behavior.

Hoovering is not a sign that they’ve changed. They’re just trying to see if the door is still cracked so that they can weasel their way back in.

Don’t let them. Block their number. Unfriend them on social. Don’t respond to their emails or texts. Please do whatever you can to cut them out of your life completely.

No contact is the only tried and true way to break free from a toxic relationship.

“No Contact protects the survivor from further psychological harm and exposure to further tactics by the abuser such as the silent treatment, projection, gaslighting, pathological lying, and smear campaigns.” — Andrea Schneider, MSW, LCSW

**If your ex is stalking or harassing you and you feel like you’re in danger, please seek legal counsel or contact the police.**

Have you ever been hoovered by an ex? What did they do? How did you respond? We want to hear from you, so please share your stories and experiences in the comments.

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Intimacy & Relationship coach, writer, and creator of The Sensuality Project. I specialize in Relationship-ing (it's a verb).

Los Angeles County, CA

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