A Narcissist Always Returns (the Hoovering)

narcissist-returnsA narcissist will always return to a ex-lover to ensure that his narcissistic supply still pines for him and that she never moves on from the pain he has caused. This return – or hoovering – will happen whenever the narcissist chooses and typically not until he’s been gone just slightly longer than the time before. This way, 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 (or at a time just a tad longer than time before), thus giving him more play time in the interim. Again, this is all part of the narcissist’s control/validate tactic which, in turn, is all a part of the process of managing down your expectations of the relationship so that you expect less and less and he gets away with more. It’s such a subtle conditioning that a victim won’t even know it’s happening

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The hoover usually follows a silent treatment (which is really a break-up in disguise) 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 he lives by. This is an agenda that I am all to familiar with and one that I describe in detail in my book When Love Is a Lie.


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The narcissist may 1) come back full-on by just showing up and expecting to pick up right where he left off (without a single repercussion), thus laying the groundwork for the next discard (which comes quicker and will be more crippling than all the ones before), or 2) not quite finished playing where he’s at (but still wanting to prepare for a possible return to you), 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 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-up the situation…to get you feeling anxious, confused, and maybe even quietly excited about his possible return. Whatever tactic he uses, the intention is to keep your mind spinning with “what-if’s” so that you never get a chance to move on from the pain he has caused you. Nothing a narcissist ever does is random and that’s a fact.

For my ex, changing cell phone numbers became the preferred method of choice for erasing his tracks after a discard and he always had a ridiculous excuse for having done it when he returned. I eventually created a name for this tactic – The Cell Phone Game. Over the years, I determined that his number changes happened at very specific times – either right after creating some staged chaos and immediately before he vanished (discard)  OR right before he came back – and that each instance depended solely upon how the situation fared with the woman/person on the other end or with me (depending on which direction he was running). This, of course, was a complete assumption on my part (because he’d never admit to anything) but I am, to this day confident that my assumption was spot-on.

narcissist-free-zari-ballardAnywhere from two weeks to three months after complete silence (during which time I’d be absolutely inconsolable), my ex would begin to hoover. If his intention was to come back 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 in no particular rush to leave his current situation 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 would get an instant knot in my stomach. Again, nothing a narcissist does is ever random. Everything is a strategy. With my ex, even the 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 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. Pretty amazing.

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If you remember nothing from this article, at least remember my earlier statement that 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 that he ever comes back. A narcissist’s intention, above all else, is to always keep you in queue, ready and waiting alongside all the others (and there are always others) and he will ramp up the future-faking to get you to believe his bullshit.  It’s a sick game of cat and mouse that will steal years from your life if you allow it. For this reason alone, no contact must be enforced in order to succeed in your recovery. No Contact is the key to escaping the narcissist’s plan for you and the only opportunity you’ll ever have for breaking the codependency to hope that he counts on you to cling to while he is 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 act a certain way. He’s counting on it based on how he’s seen you react either to his leaving or to his returning.

It’s time to ignore the signs of hoovering. Even if you notice subtle signs of the narcissist’s return, ignore them and go on with your life. No one has a right to come and go in your life and manipulate your emotions. Moreover, since the narcissist’s every move can be predicted, we already know for a fact that the narcissist’s plan is always to make the next discard even more painful than the one before. Why would this ever be acceptable to any of us? It’s bad enough that the narcissist is setting us up for a letdown..we don’t need to be doing it to ourselves by enabling his behaviors. Say “no more” and mean it!

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