A narcissist will always return to an ex-lover to ensure that his narcissistic supply still pines for him and that she never moves on from the pain he has caused her. Referred to as the hoover (or, as I like to call it, The Hoovering, because, to me, it smacks of a scary movie!), this return is very deliberate and typically won’t occur until the narcissist has been gone just slightly longer than the time before. By timing these reappearances perfectly, the narcissist conditions his victim to not only expect him to come back but also to expect him to come back at a much later date, thus giving him more play time in the interim. All of this is part of the narcissist’s control/validate tactic which, in turn, is all a part of the process of managing down our expectations of the relationship so that we expect less and less and he gets away with more. It’s such a subtle conditioning that victims often don’t even know it’s happening…like a horror show coming soon whether you like it or not.
As you know, a hoover usually follows a silent treatment (which is really a break-up in disguise, by the way) and comes long after the victim has been completely devastated by the silence. The narcissist may hoover in several different ways and for various reasons, with each hoovering event staged according to that pathological relationship agenda that all narcissists live by.
For example, a narcissist may 1) come back full-on by simply showing up and expecting to pick up right where he left off without a single repercussion, OR 2) not quite ready to return but still wanting you to prepare for the possibility, he’ll begin hoovering with a sporadic text or an email or he’ll ring your phone (hanging up before you answer) from either his number or one he knows you’ll recognize and associate with him. With the second type of hoover, any attempts on your part to return the text, call, or email will likely go unanswered because the intention here is not to actually communicate with you but rather to warm you upto the situation…to get you feeling anxious, confused, and maybe even quietly excited about his possible return.
Whichever tactic he uses, the narcissist’s intention is to keep your mind spinning with “what-if’s” so that you never even get a chance to move on. Again, as part of his agenda, this manipulative behavior lays the groundwork for the next discard which, of course, will come faster (after his return) and with far more crippling intensity than all the discards before it. This agenda – which all victims of narcissist abuse are familiar with – is described in great detail in my book When Love Is a Lie. Nothing a narcissist ever does is random and that’s a fact.
For my narcissist ex, changing cell numbers before a return (and arming himself with a ridiculous excuse as to why he did it) became his preferred tactic for erasing his tracks. This tactic caused me a great deal of anxiety and sleepless nights and I even created a name it – The Cell Phone Game. It took many years to figure it out but I finally concluded that the timing of each number change and subsequent hoover was directly related to the condition of his relationships and the direction that he felt he had to run. Of course he never admitted to this, but I am confident to this day that my theory was spot-on. For 13-years, if he wanted to return, new numbers were not only part of the hoover with me but also a way to disappear from someone else. Like any good narcissist, he knew exactly how to do it and I’m sure you’ll find that it sounds familiar.
Anywhere from 2-weeks to 3-months after a deafening silence, the hoovering would begin. If my ex intended to return full-on, he’d simply text out-of-the-blue from his new cell number, asking to meet me for a drink (and, sadly, those were the only times he’d ever take me out). If he was just testing the waters and not quite ready for me to have his new number, he’d hoover by giving my phone just a single ring from odd numbers around town belonging to businesses and payphones – numbers that no one in the world except me would ever recognize on a Caller ID. In essence, he’d be counting on me to recall those numbers as the random numbers he used to call me from when we were together and he had no phone at all! And he was right… I always recognized them and felt instant anxiety. Again, nothing a narcissist does is ever random. Everything is a strategy. With my ex, I’m sure that the odd locations from where he’d call me when he had no phone (while we were together) became a way to set the the stage for future hoovering when he didn’t want me to know his new number. And I’m sure that his nonchalant disinterest in taking me out during the good times had much to do with his planning for future hoovers where just a single text (out-of-the-blue) requesting a “date” was all that was needed to grab my attention. Sound far-fetched...or does it sound familiar?
If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this: a narcissist only hoovers and/or returns to ensure that you never move on from the pain he has caused you. No matter what he tells you, this is the only reason. A narcissist’s intention, after all, is to always keep you in the queue, ready and waiting alongside all the others (and there are always others). Hoovers are stuffed with lies and future-fakery and downright bullshit. It’s a sick game of cat and mouse that will steal years from your life if you allow it. At some point we have to simply say “That’s enough” and refuse to be there when the narcissist returns.
No Contact is the key to escaping The Hoovering and the narcissist’s life-long plan for you. It’s also the only opportunity you’ll ever have for breaking the codependency to hope that the narcissist counts on you to cling to while he’s gone. Remember, the narcissist is never worried about what you’re doing while he’s gone or that you’ve found a better love because he’s conditioned you to wait for him…to wait for the hoover.
It’s time to ignore the subtle signs of hoovering and get on with your life. No one has a right to manipulate our emotions and it should never be acceptable to any of us. By enabling the narcissist’s behaviors, we set ourselves up to fail each and every time and we deserve better. Say “no more” and mean it! Remain committed to No Contact and to creating your happiness. I, for one, know you can do it!