There’s a phenomenon we’ve all experienced at least one time called Synchronicity. It’s when you think of someone you haven’t thought about in years and then run into them a few hours later. Synchronicity always reminds me of another phenomenon that I call, Coincidental Hoovering. This phenomenon, more often than not, happens to the former partners, and relatives of narcissists. It’s when you finally start feeling some relief and peace in your life and make a giant Stover move like finally deleting your ex’s telephone number, or an even bigger Stover move, and change your number, and then out of the blue, you receive some kind of communication or an unexpected visit from your narcissist.
This never fails! I see it time, and time again. In fact, whenever a client tells me that they’re finally feeling better, and decided to get rid of that old box of mementos in their garage, or they’ve mustered the strength to block their ex from their mobile phone and email, I always get a little concerned.
I worry because due to the phenomenon of Coincidental Hoovering, they’re now almost certainly destined to receive some form of correspondence from their narcissist. And even though they’ve made great progress, they’re still so susceptible to being sucked back (hoovered) into the relationship, that they’ve worked so hard to forget.
Hoovers are hard to resist, especially when you finally get to hear all the things you’ve wanted to hear. But hoovers aren’t a compliment by any stretch of the imagination. You may feel a momentary sense of vindication, and confirmation to learn that your replacement target wasn’t better than you like the narcissist had made it seem on social media, but the true motivations behind the hoover aren’t what they appear to be on the surface.
The narcissist may really miss you, but not for the reasons you would want them to. They may miss what you gave them –free room and board, adulation, companionship, sex, or whatever their needs are. They may hoover you because they need a third party (you) to triangulate and manipulate their new victim with. They may just be filling their reserve tanks in preparation for periods of famine, or infidelity, and are surveying the availability of potential resources. Or, they may be in need of a quick ego boost and are looking to siphon some supply wherever they can get it the fastest, and with the least amount of effort.
It’s so easy to look for the positive in people, and wonder if maybe he/she isn’t a narcissist after all? Maybe you were wrong about them? Maybe the time apart has made him/her realize just how much they really appreciate you?
When in doubt, consider this –even though the apologies and sweet talk can be so convincing, and appear as if they’ve really changed, and truly mean what they’re saying– change for a non-narcissistic person doesn’t come easy. It is a very long, and slow process for anyone to truly change core parts of their personality. If it’s even possible for a narcissist to change, it would take years. And after years, the change may not even be very significant, or lasting. For you to realistically assess if there has been any real, and lasting change, you would need to spend at least 5 years, maybe 10 years, with many periods of relapse.
When we receive hoover messages, we instantly begin engaging in loophole-type thinking. We avoid the negative, and override the little voices in our heads, and get lost in the hope, and potential of things. After all, who wants to focus on the negative, and worry about all the doomsday what if questions, when it’s so much more enjoyable to stay in the moment and bask in the happy, positive thoughts?
But, failing to see the red flags, and the potential for serious harm is how we got here in the first place. If we neglect to read between the lines of these hoover messages or fail to remind ourselves of all the reasons we made the decision to implement no contact in the first place, we are setting ourselves up for even worse treatment the second time around. Post hoover relationships always begin with a brief honeymoon period where everything is Amaaaazing, and then they are followed by an even worse, and more rapid devalue period than the first go round.
The 11 Most Common Hoovering Tactics
1. The Cowardly Hoover
If you can count how many times your ex-narcissist said he/she was sorry on one hand, then you might want to prepare yourself for this tactic. This tactic is used by cowardly narcissists. The narcissist recruits a third party (usually one of their relatives) to send you a message, to get a temperature on you. The message will appear like it’s coming from the sender who is reaching out because they miss you, and just want to know how you’re doing, but it’s actually a fact-finding, temperature gauging mission the narcissist has sent them on to determine whether the coast is clear and if you’re open to contact abuse.
2. The Backhanded Hoover
The backhanded Hoover is a seemingly short, and sweet text that feigns caring, or yearning. Although, it’s a disguised insult because it’s really just a lazy text that takes all of two seconds of effort. Usually, these texts are three words or less –“I miss you.” “How are you?” “Thinking of you…”– And they’re sent with the intent to lure you back, but this time into the role of side supply.
3. The Proclamation
The proclamation is an excessively long text, or email, where the narcissist recites a litany of I’m sorry’s, and declares to have had an epiphany, and changed. The narcissist readily admits to his/her wrongdoings and misdeeds and apologizes profusely for hurting you. What’s missing from this proclamation is any real evidence of change. It’s just a lot of pretty hyperbole.
4. The Flip
The flip is a tactic where the narcissist flips the hoover back on you. Again, much like the cowardly hoover tactic, this tactic is usually executed by the more cowardly, prideful variety of narcissists. Remember too much pride is just a cover for the need to always be right. This hoover is all about securing an ego boost and surveying the amount of control they still have over you. “Did you call me?” “Was that you I saw parked in front of my house?”
5. The False Concern
The false concern is a tactic where the narcissist fakes concern for your well-being while appearing like the nice guy/gal. This tactic is used by narcissists, who are trying to disguise their real motives for contacting you beneath an aura of concern and caring. “Hey, are you okay?” “I heard you weren’t doing well, do you need anything?” “I know you don’t want to talk to me, so I won’t bother you anymore.”
6. The Purposely-Accidental Text
The purposely-accidental Hoover is intended to create a sense of urgency to sucker you into responding. It is a tactic many narcissists use to manipulate you, by appealing to your innate quality of compassion, by creating a sense of urgency. This type of text is sent to you on purpose but is camouflaged to appear to be sent to you by mistake, so you’ll feel a sense of obligation, and urgency to respond, and let the narcissist know to re-send the message to the intended recipient. “Mom’s flight has been changed, she wanted me to tell you to pick her up at 7:00 pm instead of 9:00 pm tonight.” “Hey, I’m hung up at work and I won’t be able to go over to your house and feed your dog. Sorry!”
7. The Sentimental Tug
This hoover tactic is meant to trick you into reminiscing about the past and becoming nostalgic, by reminding you of the sentimental moments the two of you shared. It may be littered with kissy face emojis, and xoxo’s, or it could be an inside joke only you would understand. “Hi, I just finished watching our favorite movie, and couldn’t help thinking of you.” “I was cleaning out my desk drawer, and found that card you gave me for my birthday.”
8. The Crisis
This tactic of needing to inform you about some real, or fabricated crisis, is a desperate tactic used to elicit and exploit your sympathy, and concern. Narcissists love to play the role of victim and get people to feel sorry for them. “My best friend was just diagnosed with cancer.” “I just got out of the hospital.” “Something horrible (fill in the blank_____) just happened, and I’m having a really difficult time right now.”
9. The Excuse To Contact Object
Many narcissists will purposely leave something of theirs at your house, and conveniently forget to pick it up, as arranged, so they will have an excuse to contact you at some future date. Or, they will fail to return something of yours, and hold onto it as an excuse to contact you months later, with the offer to return the recently discovered item. “Hi, I found your hair tie, would you like me to drop it by?” “I still have your gym water bottle, would you like to come get it?” “I think I left my sauce pan at your house. Can you look for it and let me know?”
1o. The Abuse Amnesia Text
The narcissist sends you a text conveniently pretending to forget that they abused you, cheated on you, smeared you, and replaced you before you even had time to change your Facebook relationship status. The narcissist acts as if none of that ever happened. There is no apology, no acknowledgment, no discussion, no accountability. If he/she can forget it happened, so should you.
11. The Bait and Ghost
This cruel tactic is used to assess how much control, and influence the narcissist still has over you. Or, it could be used to find out if you’re still a potential source of supply that he/she may draw from at some future point. The narcissist will send you a text to bait you into a conversation, and as soon as you respond, the narcissist will go silent and ghost you.
If someone treated you like crap, discarded you, replaced you as if you never existed, or all of the above, and all it takes for them to wiggle their way back into your life is a cowardly hoover, apologetic email, or a purposely-accidental text, the real question you have to ask yourself before you tap send is, “By replying, what message am I sending them?”
And for those of you who have written me messages expressing how you feel worthless, and doubly rejected because your ex-narcissists hasn’t hoovered you, and you’ve read that ALL narcissists hoover. This is simply not true. All narcissists don’t hoover. But don’t think you’re in the clear just yet, because you haven’t received a hoover. Many people don’t receive hoovers until five, ten, or more years have passed. There are many reasons why your ex hasn’t hoovered you, and none of them have anything to do with your worth. The most important thing to keep in mind is, if they aren’t contacting you, you’re much better off.
Bree Bonchay, LCSW, is a psychotherapist with over 18 years of experience working in the field of mental health and trauma recovery. She specializes in helping people recover from toxic relationships and shares her insights about Narcissistic Personality Disorder and psychopathy in her blog FreeFromToxic. Her articles have been featured in major online magazines and she has appeared on radio as a guest expert. She is also a dedicated advocate, educator, and facilitates survivor support groups and workshops.
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Copyright © 2016 Bree Bonchay. All Rights Reserved.