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Hoovering: When a toxic ex tries to pull you back into their life

Image Credits: UnsplashImage Credits: Unsplash
  • Hoovering is a manipulative tactic used by toxic ex-partners to regain control and pull victims back into abusive relationships.
  • Recognizing signs like love bombing, feigning crises, and gaslighting can help you protect yourself from hoovering.
  • Prioritizing self-care, limiting contact, and seeking professional support are crucial steps in breaking free from the cycle of abuse.

In the complex world of relationships, breaking free from a toxic ex can be one of the most challenging experiences. Just when you think you’ve moved on, they might employ a manipulative tactic known as "hoovering" to pull you back into their life. Named after the Hoover vacuum cleaner, this term aptly describes the way a toxic ex tries to "suck" you back into the cycle of emotional abuse and manipulation.

Hoovering is a form of emotional abuse where the abuser uses various tactics to regain control over their victim. This behavior is often seen in individuals with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) or other personality disorders. According to Nicole Arzt, LMFT, hoovering involves actions like love bombing, feigning crises, stalking, or smear campaigns to monopolize the victim’s time, energy, and attention.

Signs of Hoovering

Recognizing the signs of hoovering is crucial for protecting yourself from falling back into a toxic relationship. Here are some common tactics used by hooverers:

Love Bombing: Showering you with excessive affection, gifts, and promises to change.

Feigning Crises: Creating or exaggerating emergencies to elicit your sympathy and attention.

Stalking: Keeping tabs on your activities through social media or mutual friends.

Smear Campaigns: Spreading false information to damage your reputation and isolate you from your support network.

Gaslighting: Manipulating you into doubting your own perceptions and memories.

Why Do Narcissists Hoover?

Narcissists hoover for several reasons, primarily to regain control and maintain their sense of power. They fear losing their source of narcissistic supply, which includes the attention, admiration, and emotional responses they get from their victims. As highlighted in a study by Mogilski and Welling (2017), individuals with darker personality traits, such as narcissism and psychopathy, often stay friends with their exes for pragmatic reasons like sex, access to resources, and control.

The Psychological Impact of Hoovering

The effects of hoovering can be devastating. Victims often experience confusion, self-doubt, and a resurgence of trauma. The roller coaster of emotions—from the highs of love bombing to the lows of manipulation—can leave you feeling vulnerable and manipulated. Dr. Susan Albers notes that hoovering can escalate to more severe forms of abuse, including threats and violence, if the abuser feels their control slipping.

How to Respond to Hoovering

Dealing with hoovering requires a strategic approach to protect your mental and emotional well-being. Here are some steps you can take:

Identify Patterns: Recognize the recurring behaviors that signal hoovering attempts.

Prioritize Self-Care: Engage in activities that boost your self-esteem and mental health.

Limit Contact: Block the hooverer on social media, email, and other communication channels.

Avoid Engagement: Respond neutrally if you must interact, and avoid getting drawn into arguments or emotional exchanges.

Seek Support: Work with a therapist to process your experiences and develop coping strategies.

Legal Action: If you feel threatened, contact local law enforcement to explore protective measures.

Breaking Free from the Cycle

Breaking free from a toxic relationship and the hoovering tactics of a narcissistic ex is not easy, but it is possible. Anchor yourself in the reality of the abuse and remind yourself why you left. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family who can help you stay grounded. Remember, your well-being is paramount, and you deserve to live free from manipulation and control.

Hoovering is a manipulative tactic that toxic ex-partners use to regain control and pull you back into a cycle of abuse. By recognizing the signs and understanding how to respond, you can protect your mental and emotional health. Prioritize self-care, limit contact, and seek professional support to break free from the toxic cycle and reclaim your life.

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