A Narcissist Always Returns (The Hoovering)



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.

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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 up to the situation…to get you feeling anxious, confused, and maybe even quietly excited about his possible return.

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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?

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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!

Stay strong and I’m here to support you….

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  • Linda

    May 28, 2017 at 2:24 pm Reply

    Hi Zari and all you readers out there!

    I posted a long comment on this very same post some months ago describing my relationship with a narc. Now my life is wayyyy better since I’ve gone no contact with the man, and this comment is rather a message of support to all the readers than a question in itself.

    In short: I had a nightmarish (and fortunately short) relationship last year with a man who behaved like a narc. He lived in a different country and there was distance. The guy kept disappearing and giving me silent treatment, then hoovering me back just to disappear again. It was ridiculous: he kept changing his mind 24/7 and I foolishly let him do it. At some point we called it quits and I blocked him on all social media and on the phone.

    Going No Contact was absolutely the best choice for me. It was hard in the beginning, but very rewarding in the long run. I felt like I could finally breathe again. Now the guy has somehow found my professional fb page (I have a job where maintaining a public page is a must) and sent me a message months after I blocked him everywhere. He’s wishing to have contact with me again.

    Now, let’s take a closer look at this. When the guy asks me “How are you doing?” after months of no contact, he’s actually not interested in me and my life. (For the record, he never was.) Instead, he wants to say these three things:
    1. “No matter how hard you ignore me, I’ll always find a way to contact you and pop up in your life without your consent. I’m watching you. You can’t escape from me.”
    2. “I’ll do anything to win you over again and get your attention. I’ll even stalk you and send you desperate messages, because that’s just how fragile I am.”
    3. “I’ll do my best to make you seem like an evil bitch who heartlessly cut me off and quit all contact without any warning.” Like Gotye in his song Somebody That I Used To Know, you know?

    Guess what? I’ll never EVER answer. There’s a small voice in the back of my head saying I should respond since I don’t wanna hurt his feelings. But he never cared about my feelings, so why should I care about his? He’ll be on his knees begging for attention while I go on with my life happier than ever.

    Also, I’ve met somebody new. Someone emotionally stable who treats me for the most valuable human being and not for a piece of trash. I’m telling you: after getting rid of a narc nothing, just NOTHING feels as good as cuddling with your new love knowing that you can trust them and lean on them. It’s euphoric.

    Why did the narc tease me for so long? Because I LET HIM. I could see it was going nowhere, but had so much feelings for him that I put my own wellbeing aside. I had no dignity. Now I know this: the narc will never give up on you unless you cut them off. They’ll treat you like a doormat because YOU LET THEM. Narcs don’t change. Trust me, to move on forward you need to fix your attitude: you need to acknowledge that you are worthy of unconditional love and caring and that the narc can never ever provide you those things. You deserve it ALL, not just a part-time relationship with a part-time lover who can commit to you only part-time. There’s plenty of fish in the sea and there’s someone out there who can give you their everything. Once you meet them, your encounters with the narc(s) will just be a distant nightmare from the past.

    My advise to everyone struggling with a narc is: go No Contact NOW. Immediately. I know that their attention feels flattering – I’ve been there myself and it feels ecstatic when they tell you how much they like you and want to be with you and all that. But there’s always a cold shower to follow afterwards. I hate to say it, but the narc(s) don’t love you. They contact you because they need their fix: your attention. It’s like dealing with a junkie. Cutting someone off is painful at first, but trust me, time heals all wounds. And remember: you’re never alone. There’s plenty of Narcs in the world and thus plenty of people who went through the same struggle as you.

    Once again: thank you Zari for the wonderful blog. It has given me so much hope and helped me get rid of my narc. All the best to you Zari and readers, have a nice summer and STAY STRONG!!! Much love, Linda

  • J.P.

    April 28, 2017 at 4:18 am Reply

    I think you mean “hovering”? As in a hovercraft? HOOvering is only a word in Britain, and it means “to vacuum.”

    • Zari Ballard

      May 3, 2017 at 11:23 pm Reply

      I never heard of any word that was exclusive to Britain, J.P. And I know what I mean or I wouldn’t write it. In fact, everyone here knows what HOOVERING means and, yes, it is HOOVERING, not hovering. And, yes, it refers to the vacuum meaning WE GET SUCKED BACK IN TO THE MADNESS.

  • Sebastian

    April 10, 2017 at 4:24 pm Reply

    Hi! Fantastic post. I have quite a dilemma. My ex has led me on (hovering) for about two months, and when I called her out on her bullshit, she exploded, and now is trying to make me look like the bad guy. I really don’t care about what she thinks of me, but the problem is that I go to school with her. We both go to a very, very, very tiny high school, with less than 100 students for 9-12th grades. I run into her ALL the time, and although I have been very clear about my desire to part ways, she says things around me to harp on my insecurities to make me feel bad. She says some really cruel stuff. I want her totally out of my life, and every time I see or hear her at school, I regress a little bit. It’s very hard to move on when she’s torturing me through passive-aggression.

    • Zari Ballard

      April 25, 2017 at 2:56 pm Reply

      Hi Sebastian,

      So sorry that you have to deal with her everyday! There’s not much you can do except continue to ignore it. With these types of people, being silent during the smear campaign is the best defense. The fact that she’s yapping her mouth off and you’re just going about your business not responding or acknowledging automatically puts you in a better light. Here’s a wish that high school goes by really fast so that you can get away from this nightmare.


  • Dori

    April 6, 2017 at 3:34 am Reply

    I am still unsure if he is a narcissist or a love avoider. He definitely did the quick fast romance, his pattern is every 4 months…he gets bored, quiet, disinterested and usually cheats or goes on line for escape….and lies, but he is very good with his money and successful. This last time, I got into his dating site and saw how he BS women and mirrors what they say in their profiles as to attract them….some women buy into it, others see it. I confronted him about the site, showed him screen shots and told him, NOW I know your game and you can’t BS me anymore. Best not to ever believe them.

    • Zari Ballard

      April 9, 2017 at 6:20 pm Reply

      Hi Dori,

      You don’t say if you consider this guy to be your boyfriend or not so it’s hard for me to tell. I would say that a guy who love bombs, grows bored after 4 months, mirrors online dating profiles in order to hook up, and lies all the time is to be avoided no matter what he is. And there are, btw, plenty of narcissists and sociopaths who have money and success…this makes them a “high level” narc, that’s all. Run the other way…at the very least, why even bother with a love avoider? Life is way too short and the behaviors you describe are the ones that never change.


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