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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  • 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.


  • Yvette 1

    March 21, 2017 at 5:32 am Reply

    Hi again Zari. Apologies for the long comment. I haven’t been able to go no contact. I did it for 23 days and that is as far as I could get. So, I had a phone conversation with him and I am confused. In the last 18 months that we were “together” (it was an 8 year thing that “broke up” just before Christmas) he was actually quite attentive and helpful, the most that he has ever been. He was (and is) seeing a girl (among others) whom he had met the previous October and his explaintion then, and now, is that he went off with her coz they have heated conversations sometimes but they don’t argue like we always did and she doesn’t say negative things about him, which I do often coz his behaviour was never acceptable to me so I said something. So, he was saying that I was too negative then and he says the same thing now. He says that he is my friend, otherwise he wouldn’t be contacting me (he contacts me coz I contact him, it’s never just out of the blue) but I’m confused because he actually tells me that he is seeing this girl. Now, he ALWAYS, for the whole 8 years, said that he didn’t want a girlfriend and when I asked him why he refers to himself as “seeing” someone (but he never said that about me) he says that he only sees her every 2 weeks so she is not in his pocket (we saw each other every day with a number of months silent treatment of course). He has always been open about his other girls and of course him saying this (about “seeing” someobe) adds to my rejection. And he is saying that he isn’t sleeping with anyone else either, which adds to the rejection too. But I am also confused coz he seems to be a lot more mellow now. He seems to be more caring and actually considerate (a little bit) of others. Now I KNOW FOR A FACT that he is a Narcicist so is this real, and he really has rejected me, or is he just playing with my emotions again to make me feel like crap? I am also confused as to why he would still want me in his life, since I am so negative. He works so hard to “train” me .. he spends hours going over how he needs me to behave and that makes me feel like he cares. Is he a nicer guy now? Has he mellowed with age? I just don’t know. I don’t even know if he is hoovering coz I am the one who contacts him. I obviously still have co-dependency to hope and I am finding it very hard to convince myself that NC is a good idea. I miss his personality. Many men are very stupid to me and I am finding it hard to let anyone else in or be intellectually stimulated by anyone else  (and what the hell is sex? Forget even any sexual attraction to anyone else). I can’t even be around men coz I feel that they are judging me as bad. I miss not having someone to talk to every day and so I reach out to him, even though I know what he is. Am I just not seeing reality here or has he actually found some kind of happiness with her (I suspect that she has narcissistic tendencies too) or is he just trying to triangulate? I have to say that he rings me when I send texts saying that I am not there for him anymore. He very rarely returns texts. How do I convince myself that my life will actually be happy without him and go no contact? I just don’t believe that it will. It all feels so hopeless. I just can’t seem to see the woods for the trees =(

  • Merve Ozdemir

    March 18, 2017 at 1:45 am Reply

    Amazing amazing amazing posts! Thank you! :)) I’ve been subjectted to 2 narcissistic abusive relationships (probably because I’m a giver) and I didn’t even notice. I was in so much pain but because of gaslight, always thought it was something I did. Eventually, I googled things my bf did to me and came across to abuse articles. Then I had my wake up call and since then I was free of abusive relationships 🙂 Because I am a giver doesn’t mean I am stupid.
    Funny thing is, my first abuser came back years later and I told him off. I said: “I don’t want to talk to you or see you. And the last time we spoke you felt the same about me (discarding phase). So this is great, I wish you a happy day.” And he was shocked. After that I was completely sure he wouldn’t come back because his ego was hurt, but a few days ago “The Hoovering” began. I didn’t understand what was happening, why was he back but no thanks to you it all makes sense. After reading this I guess I will just stop thinking about it and keep ignoring him, won’t let him back in my head. I moved on. He is not a part of my present or future.
    So THANK YOU!!! 🙂 I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I figured out what was happening.

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