Constantly Getting Sucked Back Into A Toxic Relationship? You're Being 'Hoovered'

A known fact about vacuum cleaners: they come in a variety of names like Kirby, Dyson, and Hoover. However, there's a term floating 'round these parts associated with the popular vacuum name "hoover." It turns out, this is also known as a way to suck someone back into an unhealthy relationship. Common with relationship abuse, "hoovering" is when an abuser returns to a relationship in order to gain assets like sex, money, or affirmations. The irony of the term is that, unlike a vacuum, which cleans a mess up, it destroys both the relationship and the partner's mental health, creating more of a mess. 

Hoovering is commonly associated with partners exhibiting signs of narcissistic personality disorder. When someone has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), they pump themselves up to a fantasized version of themselves to avoid insecurity; thus, those experiencing NPD may also struggle with destructive emotional patterns. Because of this, the abuser resorts to attention-seeking methods like repeatedly contacting their victim or insistently telling them how much they've changed. Still, people without NPD can hoover too, especially when self-entitled or experiencing relationship crossroads.

Understanding the term hoovering and its psychology has led researchers to offer better aid and solutions to victims. The more research is conducted on hoovering, the more easily recognizable signs become. These signs are valuable tools we can use to protect ourselves and others if we encounter narcissistic abuse. So, what are these signs and how exactly do we address them?

Constant contact

At its core, hoovering is emotional and psychological manipulation, especially when it manifests as care or concern. Abusers do this by constantly initiating contact. This contact materializes in multiple forms — DMs, phone calls, texts, emails — and passes for casual check-ins. Gaslighting is also commonly associated with this method because it can make the contact seem innocent and harmless: here's how to tell if you're being gaslighted. USA Today defines gaslighting as "the act or practice of grossly misleading someone, especially for one's own advantage." Gaslighted messages often steer the conversation back to the abuser, not the victim, and are linked to messages involving exaggerated crises (therefore needing the victim's help). These messages don't even have to be linear and can be sent through unsuspecting friends who are unaware of the narcissistic behavior and abuse at hand.

Abusers may also resort to a form of contact called smearing or smear campaigning. According to Choosing Therapy, smearing is "spreading lies or making false accusations about a person's behavior" and specifically happens when the abuser messages you or others about how they are the ones that were victimized. On the other hand, a smear campaign isn't as direct or face-to-face as smearing itself. It instead creates a cycle of gossip within a group or community and "sucks other people into the narcissist's drama." This is an attention grab for abusers so they can gain empathy from others.

They overshare that they care

Another sign of hoovering is when "I love you" is repeatedly stressed, specifically in the wake of a breakup. When experiencing this form of hoovering, MedicineNet says you should "consider it to be a twisted strategy of trying to reel you in and remind you of good old times." This is especially true in narcissists who lack the emotional depth needed to convey true feelings of empathy toward their partner. Hoovering can also be spotted in moments where the abuser strenuously promises change and is overly apologetic. "In this Hoover, the narcissistic or sociopathic individual appears to have turned a whole new corner. They now 'repent' their sins and everything they've done to you," Shahida Arabi told Psych Central. If you comment on their apology and they get defensive, this may be an indicator that they are on the defense, their intentions laced with a personal agenda.

All in all, hoovering is a dangerous method used by abusers to lure their victims back into toxic relationships. By noticing red flags like excessive contact, smearing, or claiming change, we can recognize patterns of abuse and report them to loved ones and professionals who may be able to help. Whatever the case, don't hesitate to seek help. Experts recommend that anyone victimized by hoovering of any kind can benefit from therapy. From there, you can receive vital boundary-setting alternatives and ways to stay grounded in your reality, and not of your abuser's.