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.

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….

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  1. Hi :-)
    I know he was seeing her casually for about 3 months beforehand. And he only left because I asked him if he was seeing someone else! 4 times I asked before he admitted it!! And I know he’s already cheating and back on the swinging sites. Strangely it makes me feel better…so it WASN’T just me!
    My girls are old enough to know and want nothing to do with him but its hard seeing them that way about their dad.
    We don’t want or need him at all. But I hate seeing him get what he wants all the time too xx

    • No, you and your girls do not need him – good for you! Look, I agree about wanting to not let him get away with it again. I am actually struggling with a little of that myself right now – out of the blue. But the truth of the matter is that they don’t get away with anything really. Every narcissist is destined to repeat their miserable life over and over and over – like some horror version of that movie “Groundhog Day”. It only seems like they are getting what they want but, seriously, what do they want???? And who cares anyway????

      And as far as the “dad” thing, it’s simply a shame…one of those sad things that is going to happen with these guys no matter what we do or who we are or how wonderful the children are or how much they love their dad. If you’re girls are strong as their Mom, I’m sure they will do just fine.:)

  2. Hi, my ex narc left 8 months ago after 17 years and 3 children. Hasn’t been seen or heard from in 5 months…just after he got married!! To someone my children know nothing about. He even kept the wedding a secret.
    is he done with us for good or is he likely to return at some point?

    • Wow…I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. 17 years is a along time. Will he be back? At some point, he might and I’m sure he’ll use the children as an excuse to hoover his way back in (never mind the fact that he’s abandoned them as well). You have to be prepared for that but at the same time I want you to move on with your life. He’s an asshole and a horrible father – do not let him or your own imagination (and relationship amnesia) convince you differently. I suspect that he had been seeing this person he is now married to for quite a while and obviously at the same time that he was with you. He will cheat on her as well – of that you can be sure. In fact, he will cheat on everyone because he can love no one. Narcissists are not and never will or can be hardwired to feel love, empathy, or remorse. They are, however, hardwired to Lie. I know it is hard because of the children and how I would explain it to them would depend on their ages and maturity level. Teenagers “get” it and perhaps some children even slightly younger. Since the children of narcissists are also mentally abused as well and the narcissistic parent will never ever change, we can’t sugar coat the facts/reality. They must know that they are NOT at fault in any way and neither is mommy.

      Again, will he return? Yes, it’s likely. And when he does, I hope enough time has passed so that you and the children are, in fact, done with him for good. Bless all of you!


  3. Does hoovering count when they try to make sure you don’t know its them? Mine left me for another source of supply one year ago and we have not talked since. He did all the things with her that he would not do with me such as going on vacation and not being stingy. However, he called on a private number 2 months ago two days before his birthday while he was on holiday with her and just held the phone silently for 20 seconds until I hung up. I only found out it was him when I called my network provider to reveal the caller ID…it really scared me because he’s such a private guy and too proud to do stuff like this. I only found out because I have a contact at O2 (he doesn’t know) and in usual circumstances, you cannot reveal an unknown number. Are blocked silent calls common for Narcs? What is the agenda? x

    • Hi Livia,

      Yes, that is hoovering alright. Mine would call from pay phone numbers and then hang up, knowing I would look up the location of that payphone and put two and two together. If he’d been gone a really long time, he’d make sure to call from payphone numbers that he’d know I’d recognize from the last silent treatment. A day or so before a birthday…yes, that’s textbook narcissistic hoovering. He’s trying to keep you in the game…ensuring that you never move on from the pain he has caused you. And I can guarantee you: he is NOT a private and/or proud guy. He is manipulative and evil but not, in any sense of the word, private or proud. You are giving him human qualities when he is not human at all. My ex, I am sure, is doing the vacation thing and dinner date thing – all the things he didn’t do with me – as well. It’s an act that is clearly streamlined to hook whoever the newest victim might be. Do not be fooled and to do respond. It’s all part of the pathological agenda and it never ever ends until you stop it.

      Stay strong!


  4. Do they ever stop hoovering? Mine did until recently – I think he finally realized I had figured him out. Now he wants nothing to do with me. Is he really gone?

    • Typically, they stay away just a little bit longer than the time before and it all depends on how many times he’s been able to leave and come back. If he’s really unsure of how you feel (whether you REALLY have him figured out), he may hoover again down the road. If he knows FOR SURE that you’re on to him, then he may disappear for good. It took mine 13 years before he finally went for good and he’d known that I knew his scam for at least a few years. But I kept taking him back and so he thought “What the hell!”


      • Thanks, Zari. He’s come and gone so many times the past 2 years, but this is the longest we haven’t had contact. He’s gone completely silent. I should feel blessed, but I keep wondering if it’s finally done.

        • Hi Emily,

          I suppose we always wonder if they’ll be back and it’s hard, I know. But let me say two things: 1. a narcissist always stays away just a tad longer than the time before with each disappearance or silent treatment. It’s part of the strategy of the narcissistic agenda. In doing this, he gets to extend the next disappearance in advance and each time will get longer and longer. You never know when he’ll just stop returning – and that’s part of his plan as well…and 2) an N only returns to make sure you never move on from the pain he has caused. And that is the only reason.

          Please stay strong!


    • I am going to pray that he is. Once they really know that you’re on to them, the higher the chance that they won’t be back.

  5. Mine narc almost got me then I woke up in like 1 week and half. I am not upset just waiting for payback. I was sincere to mend our friendship and bygons be bygons but N had other messed up plans to hit me in the Heart and stomach, where I stopped eating for 9 days Almost forgot who I was. Then slowly my real self was coming back to the surface. Thank God for Google and all the info. Now, just waiting for N to return. Listen to your gut!! Listen very carefully. gut not Heart, but gut.

    • So true – if we listened to our hearts, we’d never escape. It’s so easy to lose our true self with these people. They want to mirror our goodness and at the same time steal it away. Soul killers. Our intuition is always right – we only need to trust in it (even if it hurts). Stay strong and thanks for writing!


  6. Hi,
    l just separated from my ex of 14 years. He told me he loved me, held me, even suggested we go to a communications expert when l felt he was not listening to me. He tried saying l couldn’t listen..
    We went boating, camping, hikes, exploring, and he also took me to the gym. A few girls looked at him and l think he may have liked that. He used to jog 3 miles from where my girlfriend lived, so l told him he was probably f**king her. He said he wasn’t but l feel he was.
    l still have all the special love notes he left all over the house for me tucked in my books… He bought me antique books, and two about mushrooms. l really wanted them, he signed them with love forever. He always told me he loved me, but thats a trick right? He’s such a liar.
    He’s Bi-polar and takes his meds gets sleep. He tries very hard to stay level. He got sick and couldn’t work awhile and l had to pay the mortgage myself. He had the “N” signs. He built a talking stick from a carved eagle made from yellow cedar for me special. Then built a custom box for it inset with abalone. l know Narcissists can fool people doing all this. l know…. l looked up his symptoms and determined he is a borderline personality. l saw your site and now he is a “N”. He went to a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, and seeing a Therapist. They all say he is not a Narcissist. He is cleaver. He has them all fooled. So, my question. What do you think?

    • Hi Dawn,

      I shouldn’t diagnose but let’s just say that narcissists have been fooling educated and experienced psychologists forever so who’s to say that it’s any different in your situation. Bi-polar? I’m not so sure but taking the meds (or does he?) sure makes it look like he’s trying, doesn’t it? Not. As for all of the gifts and extra special care your N has taken, that’s what they do if they have the money and motivation to do it. In doing this, an N knows that you will always question your own uncertainty. There’s a reason why you started looking for answers online and came to my site: because you’re gut feeling is right. Our intuition is never wrong. Trust yourself and don’t fall further into his bullshit. Good luck to you always!


    • Hi Dawn,

      Zari is sooo right on this. The ex who may be an N, will cloud your judgement by doing some good, followed by dumping s**t, then doing a little more good, followed by more s**t, followed by…see a pattern? It’s to keep you off balance and confused. Think of it this way…if you were on a barren desert and you hadn’t had water for several days, when a passerby gives you water even if infested with cholera, and ecoli bacteria; it’s gonna taste like the best damn water you ever tasted even though its bad for you…The relationship you had with this person was toxic and barren…it bore bad fruit with each illusion of love…destroy it at its root, by knowing thyself and getting stronger…strengthen your intuition, don’t be afraid to be alone sometimes, its a gift for you to know you…throw away those things he gave you, it means nothing in the end except to cling to an illusion…the fun begins when you use your wisdom to find someone truly deserving of you….

    • Hi-
      Learn your adversary-he is NOT anyones friend. I am guilty of not seeking emotional help for over 2 years-but, I’ve accumulated articles to the stars about narcissistic “people”. (hah!)
      I’m also on the “Exposer” which outlines the activities you should be doing-you’ve got WORK to do!!! If he calls while you work-HANG UP. (and it gives you a THRILL for being bold enough to do that)

    • Hi Kim,

      Sure they do, because cheating and having relationships that aren’t conducive to their current relationship is the only thing a narcissist knows how to do. But remember…a narcissist only returns again and again to keep his ex-victims (not “ex-loved ones” because there is no love on the N’s end) from ever moving on from the pain he/she has caused. And that is the only reason.



  7. I was with an individual with narc traits for one year and 2wks. In the beginning it was too good to be true, but I was too blind to see it for what it was worth at the time. Then two wks after our anniversary, I found out that the relationship was a lie, he had multiple partners, he stole from me stating he needed money for intentions other than what he had said. He borrowed money from me of which he hasn’t paid back, found out that he operates under a list of aliases, is in major debt starting with owing $60k in child support. I spoke to one of the women he cheated on me with. We confronted him, but she decided to keep him. As I write, he is in jail serving a 90 day sentence for default on child support payments. I have since served him with a small claims court document regarding the funds he owes. He signed a contract and has not followed thru on it. I had visited the prison he was at to negotiate the contract. All he did was give he silent treatment, put down the phone, and refused the visit. What am I to do? I will initiate NC. I haven’t been back in 1mth, and the girl who took him back no longer speaks to me- which is great! I just want my funds and live my life…I hope he does not hoover…I want to tell him off, but negative supply is still supply….I want to starve the sources of supply.

    • Bea wrote: “I want to tell him off, but negative supply is still supply….I want to starve the sources of supply.” I love that! In my book somewhere I wrote something like “Since they literally feed and live off the supply, the only way to kill these &&!!@ is to starve them”. It is so true. And yes, yes, yes…negative supply is still supply. It makes no difference to a narcissist. In fact, an N is happiest when getting a negative reaction because that means someone is suffering on his behalf. Good advice, Bea!


      • Thank Zari,

        Guess what. Lo and behold, remember the song “the cat came back the very next day; the cat came back I thought he was a goner…”, well its been replaced with N. He received the small claims papers and now wants to make arrangements. He has given his phone number and advised that he will follow up the “new” arrangements with an email. This was all sent by text.

        What did I do? Nothing. I have not called or text back. I am waiting for the email with the “new” arrangements. If it seems reasonable I’ll approve and if it doesn’t I’ll decline, but I ain’t calling him, meeting with him, nothing! In fact, hell if I am not happy with it I’ll just proceed with the garnishment of both his pay and bank accounts. What? Because he has decided to break his silent treatment due to a court order, he expects me to call him right away? Hell naw! I’ll just wait and see. I have better respect for me since all of this, I know that I am strong and have the power. He can keep pretending that he can control me.

        • Bea wrote,”What? Because he has decided to break his silent treatment due to a court order, he expects me to call him right away? Hell naw!

          You go, girl! I love it. You are on the right path…I’m your cheerleader!


      • Dear Zari
        I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your amazing book. I found all explanations and answers there ! I left my N husband after 8 years of marriage. I suppose it is loss of time to describe what he did to me especially after i have left… no boundaries story of all kinds… yes, i found courage and yes, OMG it is difficult, because i am left literally with nothing finantially and pieces of me as personality… I was diagnosied with post traumatic shock/stress. I know, I must look for work , but at the same time I cant concetrate or think for the moment about integrating myself into the working team. I have been slaving for free for six year for my N …I wonder about the recovery process and intigrating myself again into work seems almost impossible. This constant feeling of shame (not guilt, but shame) even when i look at myself in the mirror. All his insults are in my head and it starts over and over… Thank you for your work, it is really priceless for me especially knowing that I am not alone…

        • Hi Oxana,

          Thank you for reading my book – I appreciate you! And hey, didn’t anybody tell you??? Cutting ties with an asshole narcissist means that all the bullshit insults and demoralizing memories – ALL OF IT – goes with him forever. None of the horribleness that he ever subjected you to can survive without the narcissist feeding into it. It has absolutely no power without him. So, everything that you feel…all the residual negativity of “shame”…it’s gone. It truly exists only in your imagination and has no bearing on your new life. Go forth with pride that YOU LEFT HIM. It is OVER, girl, and in that you have so much to be proud of. I am super proud of you and I’ll never tell you differently. Take some time to heal if you can afford to for a bit and get to know yourself again – the real you (not his twisted version). But when that time is up, get out there and be fucking happy – you deserve it – and no one need ever be the wiser about anything that happened.

          Stay strong, know that you are never ever alone, and I’ll here if you need me!

          Zari xo

  8. Oh yes, he came back as usual. Used his sweet words tactic and I am always sweet as can be when he’s like this. He has various tactics to try to get to me. Mostly is the sympathy act. Like he’s life his bad and he poor because of family costs. Oh so sad. Right ! I know him too well. By day three he was back to his hateful ways and I gave him the silent treatment. Now is plan is to just smile and say how are you like this disappearing act is so painful for me. I so tuned into his actions that I wonder if I’m have NPD myself. It’s as much a game for me now, now that I’m over the pain if his actual lost. You know, I thought I lost him one to another ” supply”, but he returns. I’m sure his supply bank is full. Which I’m a bit thankful for the relief !!
    I for one believe in karma. People like him gets it in the end. Is he suffering ? No. Not the way I want him to. But people with this do suffer. Suffer from what, I’m not sure. Is it a product of his upbringing ? I think it’s more the the earth revolves around him. It’s his way or no way. I think we both feel we are the ones in control.
    But I’m good with waiting it out now. One day this will all end. When he sees I’m not playing his bullshit anymore. I knew long ago the situation I got into. Knowing he was NPD was just by accident. I didnt know what that even was till I started reading. When I found out how muniplitive he was, I recorded voice mails and kept emails. Can’t be too sure with him being a co worker.

    • ” In his twisted mind, having to grovel a little is worth it because he already knows – and is planning – how to make his next disappearance more painful for you than the one before. Every move is calculated.”
      This statement could not be any more true!! They are all alike. He doesn’t seem to get that I’m on to it. The more I shut it down, the more he tries.

      • Yes, Clarie, it’s all a game to the narcissist – except he plays by a different set of rules than the rest of us. I would look straight into his eyes and say “I’m on to you” and, depending on his mood, he’d either stomp out or completely ignore me. Either way, he just kept comin’. Thanks for visiting my website!


    • Hi Clarie,

      Do they get “theirs” in the end? I don’t know. I’d like to think so, though. Seems like they slide through life on a skateboard but you got to think that being an empty frigging shell can’t feel too damn good. Now, having the narcissist as a co-worker, that’s some scary stuff and making an exit or ending the relationship is 100 times harder. Be careful about inadvertently playing the game because he’ll know it and it will never ever end. Remember, they like all this drama – it’s what they live for – and just when you think you’ve got one up on them, they do one better on you.


      • I do believe in karma and that these guys (or girls) get what is coming to them one day. I just found out my ex N lost his job that he’s had for awhile, AND the new supply he discarded me for is starting to kick him to the curb. As for the job he has been getting away with taking too much time off for years so it doesn’t surprise me they finally let him go. I’m sure that’s not the story he tells everyone else, though. It sure seems like his life is falling apart, so yes I do think anyone who does wrong eventually has it come back on them.

  9. How perfect your site is. N are all the same. Exactly. One day I shall print this so he can read it. But probably not necessary. It’s like he’s already read it. The silent treatment. What a guy huh ? And yes. He always comes back. But now I don’t answer the phone till he’s crazy with calling. It’s actually getting pretty funny. Keep writing as I’m learning alot more ! Amazing how pathetic they are. As if they know we can’t live wo them. All around bad people. That’s all they are.

    • Hi Clarie,

      Yes, they are all the same and it certainly does appear that the relationship agenda rule book has been around long before we ever caught on. But the game is still vicious and try hard not to be an active participant in his bullshit. Although I know it feels pretty good to see them crawl, the truth is that they are not really feeling what you think they’re feeling when they’re acting crazy with calling. He simply has you figured out as well and knows how he first has to act to get your attention after the silent treatment that he initiated. In his twisted mind, having to grovel a little is worth it because he already knows – and is planning – how to make his next disappearance more painful for you than the one before. Every move is calculated. Bad seeds….yes, they certainly are. I promise to keep writing if you promise to keep reading:)