Don’t get sucked in! How to handle narcissistic hoovering tactics
1: Social Media
Vacuum cleaners, aka ‘Hoovers’, suck up dust and debris. The term hoovering is used to describe a common tactic the narcissist uses after the discard phase, usually in multiple attempts to ‘suck’ you back into the relationship. These attempts often involve fresh love bombing' campaigns, pleas for forgiveness, and promises to change. But underneath it, it's the same old narc who hasn't changed at all. To the narc, you’re nothing more than dust and debris that needs to be hovered up and spat back out again when they're done abusing you a second (or more!) time around.
So, firstly, going to briefly cover social media… so basically, that’s any contact you might have on your phone, tablet, laptop or desktop. This is one of the reasons why it’s so critical to sever all contact with the narc as soon as the discard happens - and I mean ALL contact if you possibly can (it’s not always possible if you have children together, business interests or joint property for example, and in this case you’re forced to go ‘low contact’). But if you can go NO Contact, do it because if you don’t, you’re leaving the door wide open for the narc to come slithering back in. And they will. You might think this is a preposterous idea when they’ve treated you like dirt – treated you like someone they hated, tried to destroy you, ruin you financially, left you emotionally bruised and battered… but none of this matters to a narcissist. What they’ve done – no matter how reprehensible – is of no consequence to them. Remember, they don’t think like most people. Normal logic just isn’t part of their make-up, so let’s have a look at this whole hoovering tactic and see how it usually shows up post-discard – and what you can do to protect yourself from further abuse.
Text messages (FB, Phone, any Social Media) The narc will send you sweet messages, saying things like ‘I know things got rough towards the end, but I want you to know how much you really mean to me. I just felt I had to tell you that.’ This can have a huge emotional punch if you are still in love with the narc – or at least, the idea of who he/she was. You’ll immediately be transported back to those golden days when everything was fabulous… the very act of remembering it brings the longing for it into powerful focus and it can be very difficult to ignore or delete the message.
But here’s my advice: Delete the message. Block sender. Do it before you have a chance to change your mind. This is a manipulation tactic. Nothing more. They don’t care about you. They didn’t back then, they proved that in spades, and they don’t now. All they are after is narcissistic supply. Don’t give it to them. If you’re struggling with this, immediately switch the picture in your head from the golden days, to the reality of what went on during the devaluing stage. Recall with crystal clarity how the narc made you feel during that time, and really feel into it. Then fast forward to the discard stage… and recall that in all its painful detail too. Remember how you really FELT.
Now ask yourself, do you want to go through that again? Because as sure as DAY IS DAY and NIGHT is NIGHT, you WILL have to go through that again, and worse, if you allow the Narc back into your life. So hit the delete. Block the sender. Do this across all your social media so they can’t send you any messages - at all!
Another type of tactic your ex might use is that they completely overlooks the reality of what they did to you, sending you a text along the lines of ‘Hey you, long time! What’s going on? What are you up to these days?’ You might wonder if they intended to send this to you or sent it by mistake. Surely they can’t have sent you this innocuous message after all they did to you? You might be enraged and think ‘What the hell? Is he/she serious? I’m going to give him/her a piece of my mind…’ and you start typing up your reply. My advice here is: Don’t! If you do, you’re immediately giving them fuel, and that’s what they want and need from you. Don’t give them the satisfaction.
But that’s not all. If you do reply, you’ve opened up the dialogue channel and given them a golden opportunity to spout forth all kinds of new bullshit specifically designed to ensnare you. Remember they know all your weak spots, and they'll aim to push all your emotional buttons to feel sorry for them. This is Hoovering 101. They might take the ‘Oh come on, it wasn’t THAT bad! Every couple has ups and downs in their relationships. Can’t we put this behind us and start again?’ angle, and you just might fall for it, because you so want that golden period back again.
Or they'll take the humble road…
– they'll tell you they've been seeing a therapist and they understand themselves so much better now, and know where they went wrong…they've changed, and they really want to give it another go.
- or they've been desolate – or even suicidal - since you guys broke up,
- they're heartbroken and would give anything – anything, to turn back the clock and have you in their arms again…
All of these are designed to hit your emotional buttons, and it would be very easy for you to think ‘Maybe they deserve a second chance’ – but trust me, they do NOT.
Here’s another common hoovering ploy: they'll fake a life-threatening illness – they've got cancer, or think they're having a heart-attack, or pretend that one of their family is having a medical crisis. All of these are just ploys designed to make you abandon what you are doing and rush to their side!
And another one is, they'll take you on a nostalgia trip about how great day X, or time Y was… usually accompanied by a romantic picture of the two of you, or a link to ‘your song’. All designed to push your emotional buttons. They know how. Your job is to know exactly what they're up to and let it fall off you like water off a duck’s back. Basically, a narcissist will tell every lie known to humankind and try every tactic in the book – just to suck you back in.
Those are just a very few examples, and I’ve heard all of them from clients and group members – but the crux of it is, no matter what they say, you can’t believe a single word of it because they are pathological liars. They're only doing this to suck you back in and start the cycle of abuse all over again. Anything they say or do post-discard is nothing more than manipulation tactics. Please don’t fall for it!
Even if they send you a message ‘by mistake’ - know that it was no mistake. It’s just another ploy. So my advice here is again – you’ve guessed it – delete the message, do not respond.
So that takes care of messages / social media, but the narc doesn’t stop there. They can and will arrange to ‘bump’ into you if you’re still living in the same area, or they’ll get their ‘Flying Monkeys’ involved to coerce you back.
So let's look at those now.
- How to handle narcissistic hoovering tactics in person
It’s very probable that if you’re still living in the same area as your ex, they're going to find ways to accidentally ‘bump’ into you. They'll know all your favourite hangouts, your work location, schedule, and pretty much everything about your usual movements. So to a degree, you’re stuck because you may not want to move job, house, or stop using your fave hangouts, but I know people who have done ALL of these things to cut contact with a persistent narc, and you may have to. If your ex keeps turning up and threatens you or you fear for your safety, report it to the police, and get a restraining order if that’s what it takes. People who have been dealing with narcissists have to do this quite frequently.
But those are last resorts, so let’s have a look at what you can do if your ex turns up at your usual hangouts before it gets to those stages, because not ALL narc situations lead to your having to take such radical action.
So tip No 1 is plan ahead and play the scene…
It will help you immensely is if you plan ahead… so sit down, think about all the possible places you might run into your ex –and when I say ‘ex, that doesn’t just mean ex-partner – this applies to any narc you have gone ‘No contact’ with. So, think about where they might turn up, even totally implausible places, and imagine the scene in your head. See yourself carrying out these different scenarios I’m going to talk about in a minute.
Also, imagine the scenario where you run into your ex-partner, and he’s with his or her shiny new supply. Picture that too so that you’ll be ready for it, it won’t send you into a tailspin, and you can evade them as quickly as possible.
Tip No 2: Write out a few ‘instant escape’ phrases
Next, write out a few ‘instant’ phrases that you can say in any given situation, and practice them so that they sound real and comfortable coming out of your mouth. Forewarned is forearmed as they say, and this is one of the best mental preps you can possibly do to cover yourself in the event that you do run into your nasty ex.
Tip No 3: Be alert and ready for action
When you’re out and about, scan your surroundings, but always be decisive and focused on where you are going. If you have trusted friends (who are NOT friends with the narc, this is absolutely critical), get them to keep their eyes out for you too. Once inside the venue – coffee shop, restaurant or whatever, sit where you can see the door... if the narc enters, avert your eyes. Arrange to swap seats with one of your friends so that your back will now be facing the narc’s direction.
If your ex approaches with a big smile and ‘Hi, how’s it going?’, say politely or blandy ‘great’ or ‘ok’ and look back to your friend or friends. Have them well prepped about your ex, so they can be sure to pick up the conversation quickly so that you are drawn straight back into their conversation and this excludes the narc. They will generally get the message as they're unlikely to want to stand there looking like a fool. This is not comfortable for the narc. Remember, they need to be the centre of attention and denying them this makes them shrivel inside.
If you’re dining alone, exercise the same caution by facing the door. Try to sit in a very open area surrounded by other diners. This gives the narc less chance to start harassing you or smooth-talking you if there are a lot of ears around you. Again, keep your answers bland and divert your attention to your food. You could say ‘Sorry I can’t talk – I’ve got to be out of here soon’. Again, if you start eating and ignoring your ex, they are unlikely to stand there sticking out like a sore thumb.
If your ex sits down – and they might, keep calm and keep eating. They'll probably talk, but if you’re busy eating, YOU can’t say anything and the ‘chewing time’ will also buy you time to think of a measured response. Responses need to be bland, bland, bland… Oscar-winningly grey-rockingly bland! Say as little as possible. Let them talk… respond with the odd ‘Hmmm’…. Or ‘Yeah….’ Mono syllables all the way. RESIST the urge to engage in conversation. Don’t answer any direct questions. Don’t think that you’ve got to be polite. You don’t owe this person ANYTHING! Finish your meal, pay and get out. Dash off to an imaginary appointment.
Some other suggestions I’ve heard from researching around Youtube myself, and they’re all sensible and workable, are:
Wear headphones… even if you’re not listening to anything.
Keep your eye out for them and pretend you didn’t see them if you do… if they call you, you wouldn’t hear them if you had NO music playing, but they won’t know that.
Keep moving… keep going where you were going and don’t get side-tracked by their attempts to stop you… don’t be reactive, just be in a hurry and keep moving. – If you’ve practiced a few phrases already as I’ve suggested, they should spring to mind pretty quickly and you just say them, and keep going.
If they do come up in front of you,
Keep your body turned away from them – hips and feet away from them – this body language shuts them out without you having to say anything – and of course, as I’ve said, trot out your escape phrase!
If you’re stopped dead in front of them and feel trapped, have your escape line at the ready – say ‘Wow…’ look at your watch and suddenly remember you have an appointment – say a breezy ‘hey! I’m late for an appointment! gotta go’ and get out of there fast.
The key is to be as un-reactive to THEM as possible… you’re the one in control and it’s vital for you to remember this. Your reaction is what the narc is craving, and you don’t have to give it to them. Remember you don’t owe them anything. They’ve taken enough already and vow that they are not going to take anything more from you.
I hope you find these tips helpful. In the early days after going no contact, you need to arm yourself with as many tools as possible to get you through the potential run-ins, and these really will help.
If you’re struggling to recover from narcissistic abuse and are considering therapy, then let’s talk! Book an appointment with me here.