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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  • Daryan Josche MacDonnell

    November 6, 2017 at 10:09 am Reply

    Change him/he In your document because f’ing woman do this too! I’m dealing with this now and my heart goes out to anyone that has or had to ever deal with this shit, man or woman

    • Zari Ballard

      November 12, 2017 at 10:57 pm Reply

      Hi Daryan,

      You obviously didn’t read this article that I wrote specifically for the guys. This blog is based on my experience with a boyfriend so therefore I’m going to write it the way I see it. In the aforementioned article I actually apologize for this because I truly sympathize with the guys. Female narcs have their counterpart beat hands down in the evil department and I get this. So, I am sorry for the him/her dynamic but that is only due to the fact that it’s my experience that I write about and not because I don’t see women as a narcissistic culprit.


  • Dana

    October 7, 2017 at 10:08 pm Reply

    Hi, i have recently split form my Narc husband and im reading all the comments about ‘no contact’ but wondering how do people with kids maintain some kind of ‘friendship’ or amicability with an ex for the sake of family?
    Would love peoples advice that have been through this 🙂

    • Zari Ballard

      October 9, 2017 at 6:58 pm Reply

      Hi Dana,

      Obviously when you have children with a narc, there are visitation issues and going full no contact is not realistic. Having said that, you can do many things to bring down the engagement to a dull war. You can 1) limit all phone calls to ten minutes tops, even if you have to watch the clock and hang up. There is nothing the narc has to say to you about the kids that has to taken longer than ten minutes, 2) refuse to engage unless it is about the kids and the kids only and ONLY if the conversation is necessary. You would have to be the judge of what you consider important or not, 3) choose to communicate using the ourfamilywizard app which narcs hate but I think it’s awesome. The courts can help you set it up or you can do it yourself and if the narcs acts up while using it, the documentation holds up in court, 4) no matter what, do not show emotion when interacting. DETACHMENT AND INDIFFERENCE is key to keeping your sanity. Even while face to face, keep ten minutes your limit, and 5) do not talk bad about the narc in front of the kids even if you KNOW they talk smack about you. Kids will, as they grow, who was talking bad and who wasn’t and this is a fact. You will automatically appear as the better, more stable parent in the eyes of the kids and everyone else.

      Finally, if the kids are teenagers or older, they can take care of themselves and the interaction. I know it’s difficult but it is possible. I have four articles on co-parenting on this website so search for it in the archives in the right sidebar for more tips.


    • Lcherie

      October 15, 2017 at 5:56 pm Reply

      Unfortunately you can never stay friends with a narcissist. You can’t go no contact but you can gray rock them. And unfortunately you won’t be able to co parent with them.

  • Tam

    September 27, 2017 at 1:16 pm Reply

    My mother is a narcissist.
    I married my high school boyfriend.
    I, 17 and he was 18 years old when we started dating in 1981
    My life has been a three ring circus on wheels ever since. I have been running to him and from him my entire life.
    My sister and best friend are the only remaining friends I managed to nurture and keep through this whole ordeal after decades of abuse, lies and shame.

    I waited until both my girls were graduated, married, etc….
    And after years of counseling and therapy….
    2012 @ 48yrs old, over 30 years of an abusive marriage……
    I could no longer tolerate my husband’s abusive mouth any more and started the departure process once again only this time I filed for DIVORCE!!! Of course I am still paying for this!!!!!!!

    I have been on a roller coaster ride that landed on top of a mountain in midst of a snow storm ever since!!!!
    Not only did he seek and destroy my journals Iv’e kept since 12 years of age….Which just about put me over the edge!!!!!

    He also made up that I had an affair!!!!! Turned everybody against me. This included his family. He aimed for our adult children too!!!! We spent 5 years fighting over something that NEVER happened!!!! SOOOOO FRUSTRATING!!!!
    This took everyone’s eyes off of him!!!! Worked perfectly!!!!! Everything always does for this DANDELION!!!!!!

    2014 the divorce became final. However, it is still not OVER!!!!!
    He wore me down and out!!! I could barley function!!! Lost my job after nearly 20 yrs of employment! I opted to leave my home and moved out of state. Unsure of my emotional self….I returned to my ex and more of his promises. Thinking I was finally going to get that prize @ the bottom of this cracker Jack box!! NOPE!!!!! Lost 2 more years of my life instead!!!! And more of me, pride and self respect!!!!

    Moved out again in April 2017 @ 53 years old. I feel I have only myself to blame for holding onto something that wasn’t. I am the most forgiving person, blanketed his issues/secrets for decades, forgave and forgave him and many others….
    But finding it very difficult to forgive myself for wasting my youth and life on someone who did not deserve me and my gift of unconditional love, til death do us part!!!!!

    I am trying to move forward now. I have a new job, home and a rescue dog, who really has rescued me
    I am avoiding contact with my destructive, manipulating, lying, cruel EX!!!!
    I am finding new friends, trying to reprogram myself, focusing on work, exercise and health.
    Taking care of ME!!! For the very first time ever !!!!

    My therapist once said…. Even princes Dianna could not marry a prince, move to a castle….. and live happily ever after!!!!
    Think about that…….!!!!

    If I had it to do all over again…..I would choose the single mom’s club that I feared and avoided at all costs!!!!!
    The old lady club, I joined recently….. has no retirement, no health coverage and NOBODY!!!
    All those people I feed at my table, cards I gave to their kids, family I visited in hospitals, friends I served beer to in my back yard,….are no where to be found today!!!!!

    I do not need a nurse!!!! I do not need a purse!!!! HE DOES!!!!!!

    I will not allow myself to be a victim of his foolishness!!!!
    I will become a victor!!!!! EVEN If it kills me!!! Ha! Ha!

    I still have my children! My sister! My BF!
    My smile! My sense of humor!

    I have a roof over my head. Food to eat. A job to sustain it.
    God has been good to me. I am very blessed!!!!!

    • Zari Ballard

      October 9, 2017 at 6:44 pm Reply

      Tam wrote… I do not need a nurse!!!! I do not need a purse!!!! HE DOES!!!!!! I will not allow myself to be a victim of his foolishness!!!! I will become a victor!!!!! EVEN If it kills me!!! Ha! Ha! I still have my children! My sister! My BF! My smile! My sense of humor! I have a roof over my head. Food to eat. A job to sustain it. God has been good to me. I am very blessed!!!!! YES YOU ARE!

      Good for you….wishing you nothing but the best, my friend:)

  • James Peoples

    September 26, 2017 at 3:37 pm Reply

    I’m in an awful place. I’ve been living with my narc for 3 years. We are both gay men. We aren’t in a relationship, we just started off as two friends who became roommates. I met him the day I moved to a big city and he literally took me under his wings right away. I went from knowing nobody and having nothing to a popular and brilliant guy. He treated me like I was an amazing friend and I went for it. I wanted for nothing. Now, there were the occassional verbal jabs here and there but I never read too much into them at first. Then once I moved in with him things just went insane! I’ve endured things and have done things that I never imagined I would allow to happen or do. He violated every part of me and for some reason I felt like I was better off in the situation than out of it. All the while he’s dating anyone and everyone and I’m just isolated at the house day in and day out cleaning and cooking. He cut me off from my friends(or rather they ran away) because of the way he is. Now I’m in shambles as he found out I called a DV hotline and he immediately put me out for “being ungrateful.” It feels like life itself ended.

    • Zari Ballard

      October 27, 2017 at 10:10 pm Reply

      Hi James,

      I am so sorry you are hurting, my friend! I hope you are okay…please understand that it’s a very tricky situation and I find that in same sex partnerships or relationships, the cruelty is amazing. We do feel as if being without this person somehow makes us more anxious than being with them and this is a big reason why we stay. The key is to shift this thinking and to be confident in the truth that you know. You WILL survive this. Please consider booking some talk time with me…I have spoken with many gay men who are suffering and we can get through this:) I want to help you.

      Zari xo

  • Tempie

    September 13, 2017 at 3:52 pm Reply

    I had a narc in my life who started at my best friend and me. It was clear he was testing the waters with us because when he was with her, he’d talk about me but when I was with him, he’d talk about her. Triangulation. The devalue phase was interesting because it was so subtle. It’d come off as teasing until it got annoyingly repetitive. He’d tell us guys he thought we should date but admitted he only teased me about guys he knew I wouldn’t date (probably for his own validation). He actually said he didn’t want me to be with those guys. It became pretty clear that women were objects to be triangulated for the sake of trying to make me (and them) jealous. Triangulation bothered me the most but it was his most frequent abuse. I used to chalk it up to having a really low self-esteem and needing a lot of reassurance (which is true in part, but not for normal reasons). The discard was shaky. I have a tendency to leave before someone else does so I left a couple times which seemed to rock the boat. This last time I left, it was after he asked for “space.” Mind you, we were “just friends” and most friends don’t ask for space. He started talking about how he tried to treat me like one of the guys but couldn’t and how I was too difficult to be friends with. If I asked why the need for space, he’d give me word salad and circular reasoning. I’ve blocked him on every form of communication but I ran into him this past week (he didn’t make eye contact) with a new girl. Another girl I know confirmed this sighting today because she ran into him the same day at the same store. It seems like my discard was kind of incomplete and when I confronted him about wanting to get out of his life, he said he hoped we’d be “friend’s” again someday. I think that might mean hoovering is in my future. It’s been one month today since I walked away this latest round and figured out he was a narc for sure and I puked from the stress it caused me. I like to think myself a pretty strong person and I don’t tend to make changes when a guy tells me to which I think saved me some pride in the end. Still, how long does it take for hoovering to kick in? If the first time hoovering occurred it was instant, the second time it was a few weeks, what am I looking at now? Was showing up at that store a form of hoovering or could it really be coincidence? It’s not like he could’ve known I’d be there, right?

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