A Narcissist Always Returns (The Hoovering)

why-narcissists-returnA 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 a hoover (or, as I call it, The Hoovering, because it smacks of a scary movie), this return is 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.

Click to Book!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 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.

Whatever 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 and with far more crippling intensity than all the ones before. 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.


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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. I even created a name for this tactic – The Cell Phone Game – and it caused me a good deal of anxiety. It took many years but I finally concluded that the timing of each number change/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 a hoover but a way to disappear from someone else. Like any good narcissist, he knew exactly how to do it and I’m sure you will find it familiar.

READ  Co-Parenting With a Narcissist (& the Agony of Defeat)

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 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 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….

I appreciate your comments!

  1. Hi Zari,

    I think my particular jerk qualifies as a sociopath as well as a narcissist. His game is to find someone who is financially vulnerable and then drop hints that he likes to “help” people. The guy is well off.

    I knew on the very first date that he was a no-go for me. Not my type at all, but I was (I emphasize “was”) friends with his ex-wife, who was with him for over 40 years, and still is for all practical purposes. Because of that friendship, I didn’t trust my instincts; I couldn’t imagine her staying with him if he was as bombastic as he came across to me. Silly me!

    My question is two-fold. Unfortunately, I work for this guy so until I find another job, I cannot institute the no-contact strategy. I can do most of my work from home, though. My plan, if I have to see him in person, is to remain detached no matter what he says to me. As you know, he can and will say whatever it takes to keep me as part of his supply. In fact, he has already attempted to reel me back in by using “I will help you” statements. It was as if he had put a morphine drip in me. But I noticed my reaction (thank you, meditation practice!!). Do you have any other suggestions for this type of situation?

    Also, this man will soon be 71, and he is not aging gracefully. He is fat, and he drinks too much. How does this impact his ability to replenish his supply? One can only hope he will be frustrated in his hunting.

    Thank you for an illuminating site, Zari. My experience hasn’t been nearly as devastating as yours was, but I do have that really creepy feeling of having wallowed in slime that will be difficult to let go.


    • Hi Judy,

      Oh slime is slime…doesn’t matter how long we wallow in it or with whom…the pain is the same. You have it down, girl. Detachment and indifference is key to your work survival although I do hope you someday soon become free of that. I would also limit, as best that you can, the LENGTH of time you have to speak when you do. There isn’t really anything that can’t be said or explained in ten minutes, right? Start the stopwatch on the approach. Basically, if this is the way that you have to play it, you will have to train HIM to do it your way. Accept no favors, financially or otherwise. If you can, don’t even allow the conversation to go that far.

      As for the age, I would say, sure, a narc who doesn’t age gracefully will naturally struggle with replenishment – that is, UNLESS HE HAS THE CASH. Sad but true. Hopefully he continues to get fatter and fatter and drunker and drunker to lesson his chances even WITH money. LOL

      You’re on the right path…keep your eye on the prize and just don’t give in. He isn’t worth a second of your time!!!

      Zari xo

  2. I Love You Zari. You dont know how much your experiences mean to me. I know it sounds weird but you simply cant share these dynamics with anyone!!! You simply cant explain the intensity and the crazyness plus you really can´t explain to anyone that these people actually are REALLY THAT fucked up to do there actions on purpose. And they want to isolate their victims. It is simply unbelievable but they would stop their behaviour when the public could spot them. One thing i learned is : THEY KNOW what they are doing. But they simply dont give a shit I am a man. My Girlfriend claimed to be bi-polar. Fell in love with here. It took me 6 month to get her in a relationship. She always played her games with me. pulled me close to push me away a second later. Planned a big Wedding to tell me 5 min. later we should breakup contact. Meanwhile i gave up everything for her…but she just used my feelings against me.

    When i threatend her to breakup contact, then she finally got into a relationship. I let her live with me, paid everything. i lived her whole life….Zari, i simply cant explain this….i still cant get into my head, that all of this REALLY happened. You know what it feels like to hear things like : “had a dream last night. dreamt our whole contact: Every single situation , word, message, all of it. and came to the result that you are a manipulative Person (hillarious) and we have to breakup contact immediately, right after we had a great weekend, out of the blue…The Essence of that WAS THE FIRST Six month , EVERY SINGLE DAY!!! I heard the greatest BULLSHIT EVER!!!! Sentences that insult the intelligence of an casual Grown up. But i thought she was Bi Polar so i thought it was an expression of the disease. Before we even got together, i felt soo empty, so mentally exhausted, I should have been happy, finally at the end, finally in a relationship, but after half of a year, i felt like a mentally zombie, because all energy was soaked away, and there was always that feeling, that something was wrong, without touching it…..After 2 years of a terroristic relationship. Never had free time, even when she was with friends and on her way home and waited for the bus, she always had to call!!!!!!!!!, using pressure like, she was scared alone and stuff. She never left my apartment because she said she was too scared, living at her grandmas. When she dumped me after we lived like family, after i gave my whole life for her…she left me over night, cheated with a girl , lied , mixed up the stories and was simply unable to say anything clearly. ALL THAT BULLSHIT!!!!! ALL THAT HALF SENTENCES ALL THAT BLA BLA: SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS YOU FUCKIN NOTHING!!! Youre a ridicolous waste of life. then she gave me the silent treatment. started to grow hopes with really destroying them. When she told me that she had sex with other persons, she smiled…..she really stood up to even check her dress, like a princess before she responded to the question if she cheated again: “yes, no, this is not the answer and than smiled and nodded…….thats when i first got the idea of narcissm and i cant tell you what it feels like, to read the whole ….thing just in the internet… I NEVER KNEW THE RULES !!!!! YOU KNOW HOW SIMPLE IT IS IF YOU DO????? IT IS SO EMBERASSING!!!!!!! Getting tricked by a kid. To our all Protection: You really cant imagine that someone really can be like that. Being a Parasite.Thats rapes your soul and tells you after that, that you raped his soul….

    • Max wrote…When she told me that she had sex with other persons, she smiled…..she really stood up to even check her dress, like a princess before she responded to the question if she cheated again: “yes, no, this is not the answer and than smiled and nodded……. So typical and so awful!!!! I get it!!!

      Hi Max,

      I love you too, my friend:) As far as I’m concerned, recovery is a team effort and we all have to stick together. No one “gets it” unless they’ve lived it. As you describe…the dynamic of the relationship is so BIZARRE, so PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE sometimes, that we can’t possible share our feelings with someone who has no clue about how these people work. There’s nothing normally dysfunctional about it! We can’t wrap our head around the fact that what we IMAGINE they’re doing and thinking is really TRUE so we hang out hoping that we’re wrong. We WANT to be wrong! We’d give anything to be wrong, right??! haha!

      Stay strong and I’m here top support you…have no worries about that. You are in great company!

      Zari xoxo

  3. I met a horrific narc on pof 12/15. My first clue that he was abnormal was 3 weeks later, on Christmas. He called me and I mentioned I was having difficulty finding a restaurant that was open. Although I was just minutes from his area, he didn’t invite me over, even for a drink. Later that night, he called to say he cooked a 18 lb turkey for himself and two roommates!

    In several months of dating, he never once let me inside his home, even when I had to drive him home once! Although he does own it (I checked). We had to use motels! No, he is not married (I checked). I believe he doesn’t bring unimportant dates like me to his precious home since he’s a player and to avoid being hunted down by wronged women.

    He asked to be “exclusive boyfriend and girlfriend” early on, yet when I physically confirmed he lied to me about cheating with a friend (she admitted it), he claimed he didn’t realize we were a couple! (Then why lie?). He had a million excuses and all the right words, but no actions (such as inviting me to his house when we fought about it). When I had to put my sweet cat to sleep after 20 years, having mentioned her several times, his text said, “Sorry about your DOG dying”!

    He gave me nothing for any holiday, ignored New Year’s Eve (saying he had to work on a friend’s car), Valentine’s day (after I told him it’s my favorite holiday), and forgot my birthday by calling a day late and doing nothing for it anyway. Although he is a mechanic, and he noticed I had an ongoing car problem, he never offered to fix it. After I paid another mechanic to fix the simple issue, he said “You could have paid me the $300 and I would have done it”! This after all the times I paid for nice restaurants or hotels! He isn’t poor, has a good job and owns a $2,000,000 house (I verified it). Good riddance to these uncaring, cold excuses for humans. They will use you, your money, your emotion, and never be there for YOU. Never!

    • Hi Kris,

      That’s a horrible story and I hope you are staying way far away from such a predatory creep. What a complete loser and it doesn’t even matter WHAT he is or isn’t – he needn’t be YOUR “boyfriend” in any way.


      Stay free and happy, my sister!


  4. I’ve been “on and off” with my N for a year now, and it’s been nothing but pure mental hell. I can’t even tell you the amount of times he has broken up with me, of course giving me the silent treatment following, only to come back to me begging forgiveness and promising he’ll change”, that he truly wants to have a family with me and my 3 yr old daughter. It’s all a lie! Lies, lies, and more lies. He will even lie about the dumbest, most minor things. Absolutely anything and everything he can get away with. What’s worse is I work with him. He has destroyed me amongst our coworkers, who once used to be some of my closest friends. I can’t tell you how many people warned me about him, told me to leave. Eventually they get tired of seeing you in mental anguish and hearing about all the the bullshit he’s put you through that they stop being your friend. They can’t take it anymore, and either can you. But you can’t stop going Back! it only gets worse. Today I cracked and I’m so upset with myself honestly. I lasted 1 whole week without texting him. Just 1. I was driving to work and I couldn’t help but have this sick feeling in my gut that he was going to text me right before I went into work. Sure enough, he did, same thing as always “I really feel we need to talk…blah blah blah”. The whole time I’m at work he’s blowing up my phone with texts. I get off work and ask him what he would like to talk about, only for him to say he doesn’t want to talk anymore as it will probably escalate into fighting and to “have a good night”. All night he pleaded for me to give him a chance and when I finally try talking to him, nope. I can almost picture the smirk on his face as I write about it. Mental mind games. I vowed to myself after tonight that I will not tolerate this behavior anymore. Oh if I could only tell you the terrible things he has done to me, the amount of times he’s kicked me out of his house bc I didn’t say the “right thing”. Yet, I’m the one that is foolish enough to keep coming back.Its all part of my codependency and probably due to my childhood. Anyways, I’m trying to heal. I truly want to be free of him. Enough is enough. He is blocked from my phone and will remained blocked. I’m grateful to have sites like this that iI can lean on for support.

  5. A bit ashamed of how long I allowed this man to occupy my mind and heart. This site has truly opened my eyes. All the signs were there and I ignored them. It finally has a name. Narcissist. All makes sense now. I feel empowered to be done with it. Encouraging to know I am not alone. I wish strength and happiness to you all

  6. I’ve been dealing with my N on and off for 4 years now. I met him at a bar. I was with a few friends, he had just gotten off work and was alone. He flirted with me and was sweet, I was fresh out of a terrible relationship and got sucked in immediately. That same night a friend told me to stay away, that he had a girlfriend and it was serious. I listened, keeping him at arm’s length most of the summer but with much persistence on his end, by the end of that summer I had become the other girl. This lasted for months, on and off. Him vanishing, me trying to keep my distance. I allowed the game to go on until one night at a bar I heard rumors about him planning to marry said girlfriend. I went off the deep end telling a few people what was going on, how we’d been together a few nights before, and just full on melt down. Of course it got back to him, but I didn’t care. I was hurt, I was angry, I told him to leave me alone and never speak to me again. He obliged, but it was easy for him as just a few days later he was leaving for the military and would be without a phone. The day he got his phone back, of course my phone pinged.

    For awhile I was strong. It had been months and while he did have some control over me before that it was nothing compared to what it later would become. I was borderline annoyed when he started talking to me and he sensed it. It caused him to check the waters every so often, but not come full force. A few months later when he returned home the girlfriend dumped him, and unfortunately for him I had someone by then as well. He backed off completely, tail between his legs. Every so often though he’d check up, only via text, but he always let me know he was still there.

    Eventually my relationship began falling apart. My guy was a workaholic and not giving me any attention, and my N was checking on me daily. I felt wanted. I ended it with my boyfriend and even though my N was still serving started a long distance relationship with him thinking our time had finally come. He was amazing while away. Sweet, kind, caring. I felt so good about us and where we were headed. He had me looking at rings, talked about family, he had me hook line and sinker.

    He came home and things were okay, but then they got bad. The rumors started that he was cheating (he adamantly denied), his drinking was out of control, he couldn’t hold down work, he’d be just plain mean for no reason. He’d push me away, he’d pull me back, he’d tell me his friends didn’t like me. We’ve been doing this for months, only now has the silent treatment started. Yes, there were times where he’d want “space”. There was still talking though. A call, a text, something at least once a day. The full on silent treatment was introduced a few weeks ago and it is driving me mad. I’ve been fighting it. Calling from other phones, emailing, but I know that it’s in my best interest to stop. I know he’s getting off on my desperation, and that is what it is. I just genuinely feel like I can’t breathe. I crave his attention, and even though I know he’s so damn toxic I’m sitting here anxiously awaiting his return and hoping he really isn’t as done as he seems. That this is just his newest game.

  7. I discovered that the man I was dating could be or is a Narcissist. Our relationship has been on and off for 4 years. Our relationship was a constant roller coaster. He would get upset over the slightest thing I did break it off and then returns. I am emotionally exhausted and drained. Will he return will he stay away forever. I am struggling with trying to get him out of my mind all of these shoulda woulda coulda done differently. He has been silent for 2 months now. He said he could not date me because i support and attend bodybuilding contest that my son participates in, and because I spend to much time with my family. There are so many reasons that i can’t believe. He has been silent for a little over two months. I hope it stays that way. I look back now and I am ashamed at how I have let this man take over my life.

    • Hi Tat,

      Don’t be ashamed…we’ve all done it. There is so much to say about this and if you read through my website you will find all the answers. Also, please consider speaking with me because there is so much we deal with together one-on-one to get you through it. Will he return? Probably but you need to find a way to move on as if he won’t return. We waste our life waiting and they count on that…it’s as if the relationship never ends but believe me, a silent treatment is just a break-up in disguise!

      There are many survivors here and I’m here if you need me…

      Zari xo

      • Been married to narc for 20 years. Had two boys together but he never connected with either of them. Very selfish, everything was about him, would put me and children at risk rather than drive us, would never come to family occasions or boys football or sporting events, in early years would discard quite often when wanting to go out with his friends for weekends etc. His over-indulgent mother phones at least 5 times a day to tell him how much she loves him and how wonderful he is (seriously!) I left quite a few times over the years but was always hoovered back as loved him and felt sorry for him and also believed his lies. This time have left and gone no contact with him for 6 weeks. Blocked phone, texts, emails, fb. There are too many details to go into over the years but I am absolutely positive he is a narcissist. The last two weeks he has come to my home uninvited. The first time he jumped into the back seat of my car when I was driving. I very forcefully told him to get out and went straight inside without any further conversation and refused to answer door. On Saturday night he rang the doorbell continuously and then when we thought he had gone we heard the back gate open and heard him trying to get in through the back door. Thankfully I keep it locked constantly now but it was still upsetting, my son and I hiding in the dark upstairs listening to that. Eventually he left. Just now my phone rang but no caller ID. I answered it as was expecting a call from the hospital about my son. I heard his voice begging “Please don’t hang up” but I hung up without speaking. It has upset me though as feel on edge all the time – every time my phone rings or a car goes past my stomach lurches and I feel so anxious and sick. Why does he keep doing this because, from experience, I know he can’t change so why won’t he just go away?

        • Debbie wrote… It has upset me though as feel on edge all the time – every time my phone rings or a car goes past my stomach lurches and I feel so anxious and sick. This is why he won’t go away. He knows that as long as he does what he’s doing, the chances that you will feel anxious and sick are fairly high.

          Hi Debbie,

          Now, having said the above, you are STILL doing the right thing, girl because no matter how persistent they do seem, the truth is that they really aren’t that motivated at the core. He will stop. Mine was exactly like that and eventually the time between energetic hoovers got longer and longer. Mine would stand at the door and knock and knock without stopping, without breaks, and when that didn’t work, he would go around the building and toss rocks up at my third-floor window and yell my name over and over. I would take my clothes off and get in the shower with the water on full blast for an hour or more until I knew he was gone. It’s hard and yes it made me so anxious. THAT IS THE INTENTION. Even if you pick up the phone and hang up as soon as you hear his voice, IMAGINE HIM ON THE OTHER END WITH A SMIRK ON HIS FACE. He’s not as stressed as he appears.

          Please consider booking some talk time with me if you can because this, right now, is the most fragile time for you even though you are being so strong. We can brainstorm some strategies so that you continue to be free and strong. I have so much to say about this. My articles will help you as well because I do cover all of this.

          Think about talking to me…please stay strong! You are doing the right thing!

          Zari xo