It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Getting sucked back in–all about Hoovering

“Hoovering” is British slang for vacuuming, and the word is based on the name of the Hoover brand of vacuum cleaner. What do vacuum cleaners do? They suck stuff up, they suck stuff in…and when your narcissist starts trying to suck you back into contact or communication, when your narcissist tries to pull you closer as you are trying to separate or set boundaries, it’s called “hoovering.”

I’ve read quite a bit on hoovering, some of it very enlightening. But I had an ignoring NM, a mother who was very clear that she didn’t want me and who ignored me to the greatest extent possible. In fact, once I was an adult and out of her house, she sometimes ignored me for years at a time! And yet, I have been hoovered, both in the classic sense and in the peculiar way ignoring NMs seem to have, a way few of my resources acknowledge.

I get letters from people asking me what is up with an emotionally abusive narcissist who has suddenly become unaccountably nice. This, of course, is the classic form of hoovering: sensing that you are pulling away or that you are no longer as tightly bound to her as before, the narcissist begins a campaign to win you back. What they do is offer you what they know you want: attention, validation, love. They also offer you fake guilt and pseudo-remorse: either they are sorry for being such a bad mother or they play the “pathetic” card so that you feel guilty for wanting to distance yourself from them. The “pathetic” card can come in a wide variety of forms, from sickness (real or feigned) to “poor me, nobody loves me, everybody leaves me,” to guilt-trips (“oh, how much I have sacrificed for you…”) to outright pleading for your attention.

Narcissists are shameless in getting what they want, but one writer on the subject cautions against jumping to the conclusion that the Narcissist’s promises of better future treatment are conscious lies. According to Out of the Fog, “Many abusers and personality-disordered people really are sincere and really are trying when they also are hoovering. People who are hoovering you may not be consciously trying to manipulate you or deceive you. They may sincerely be trying, even hoping, to make it “better this time”. They may not be consciously lying when they make promises of change and put them into practice. They may be so convincing because they are so convinced, at least right now.”

But that doesn’t mean you have to swallow it hook, line, and sinker. And their sincerity-of-the-moment is really immaterial. Yes, she may mean it right now…but the minute it becomes inconvenient, is she going to keep her word? The minute a better offer comes along, will she ditch you again? Whatever it is she has to say, remember that the past is prologue: her history is your greatest guide to her future behaviour.

When you go No Contact or Low Contact, when you set boundaries or simply refuse some demand of your narcissist’s…outrageous or otherwise…hoovering is one reaction your NM may employ.

What is behind hoovering?
Loss of control. Narcissists think only of themselves and getting their own needs met. If your needs get in the way of meeting their own, you lose. And in any situation in which you don’t lose, then she resents your having prevailed over her…no matter how legitimate your “win” (they see everything in competitive terms). You see, losing control of a situation or a person is very threatening to a Narcissist because only if they are in control can they feel assured that their needs will be met. So the minute you take control out of your NM’s hands by going NC, LC, or laying down boundaries she cannot control, she feels threatened and she has to take some kind of action.

Classic hoovering, as discussed above, involves her trying to bring you back into the fold, to relinquish control and give it back to her. The tools she will use, if you successfully resist, can be extensive. She will appeal to your sentimentality or try to find you at a weak moment and exploit it. She will not only attempt to guilt trip or lure you back into her web herself, she will employ other people: parents, siblings, ex-boyfriends, family friends, grandparents and other extended family members, even your own best friend. “I am so worried about Sarah…I don’t know what has come over her, but she has stopped speaking to me and it is just breaking my heart. I sent her the most beautiful cashmere sweater for her birthday and it came back “undeliverable” from the Post Office. I am beside myself, I don’t know what to do. I am so worried, and you know my heart and my blood pressure just can’t take this…” What normal, compassionate person who doesn’t know they are being conned and manipulated won’t feel sorry for her and offer to intercede?

Don’t expect your friends and family members to be on your side when they help your NM’s hoovering efforts. They already think ill of you for treating your poor mother so badly, they aren’t likely to listen to your side of the story with any real empathy…they are already in her camp and have been turned by her into flying monkeys. You might want to resist the urge to defend or explain yourself because you can be guaranteed that your NM will hear every detail when the flying monkey reports back to her. This, of course, just gives your NM the information she needs to refine her campaign to bring you back under her control.

Ignoring NMs will leave you alone until they want something from you. You may think you are NC, but the silence exists only because it serves her purposes for the moment. When I was 14 I went to visit my father for the summer. As the summer drew to a close, we didn’t even know where NM was…she had taken off on a road trip with her boyfriend and I had not heard from her for several months. On the weekend before school started she sent a telegram saying I should enrol from my father’s house.

For the next year I barely heard from her. Then, nearing the end of the summer, she showed up at the door late in the evening and asked if I would come for a ride with her in the car. To my surprise, we got into the backseat and when I looked at the driver, I saw it was my old singing teacher, whom I had adored…but hadn’t seen in five or more years. We drove around for a couple of hours while my NM and her flying monkey, the singing teacher, worked on me. Every ploy was used on me from “a girl belongs with her mother” to “I’ve missed you so much” to even telling me she loved me (first and last time I ever heard the words from her) and eventually I was worn down. I went back to her house and it was just about the worst mistake in my life. Not only did it alienate my father and stepmother…who had always been there when I needed them, unlike my mother…the idyllic mother-daughter relationship I had expected never materialized. In fact, no relationship materialized at all. She put me on a cot in the kitchen instead of giving me a bedroom, expected me to keep the house clean, and pretty much ignored me except to take my pay checks and raid my closet. I was only 15 years old and she and her flying monkey, the singing teacher, hoovered me back into being her household servant, source of income (child support plus my pay checks), and general scapegoat.

She didn’t ignore me, however, when I tried to set some boundaries. To keep her hands off my pay, I tried cashing my checks at the bank but she thwarted me by saying she would rescind permission for my work permit and I would lose my job: since the job kept me out of the house and away from her, I didn't want that. I worked in the summer while at my grandparents and to keep her hands off my earnings, my grandmother took me shopping the weekend before my mother was due to pick me up. NM demanded the receipts so she could return the clothes, but grandmother told her they had already been burned. My few allies and I had to think up ways to get around NM’s predations because setting a limit enraged her. “How dare you?” was her stock phrase.

But when she thought it would work for her, she was not above melodrama. When I tried to argue against her taking my pay checks my senior year of high school, she literally put her hands over her heart and said to me, with a sad, pathetic look on her face “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is /To have a thankless child!” (From King Lear, Shakespeare.) Whaaa? Until that moment I had always considered that I was entitled, like all children, to a roof and food and clothing and medical care—now she was implying that I owed her gratitude and payback??

But she was an ignoring NM who had long-ago convinced herself that I was the source of all of her problems, so the moments of subtle manipulation and gentle persuasion were infrequent. Mostly, her form of hoovering was intimidation and bombast. She would do her best to scare me into compliance by threatening me and even hitting me. A long-time friend of mine has recently begun setting boundaries with her mother the most recent response was for one of her sisters to take on Flying Monkey status, insult my friend and question her mental health…as if saying “no,” at the age of 49, to one of her mother’s hare-brained schemes means she is mentally ill—a scheme, I might add, that the FM sister doesn’t want to take part in, but who quite implacably insists my friend must!

This, then, is the other aspect of hoovering: browbeating, demanding, insulting, threatening, bullying, intimidating, shaming, and/or manipulating you to get you back into your assigned place in the family structure so that the Narcissist has his/her needs met, regardless of how others feel or are affected.

In a nutshell, hoovering is all about keeping the Nsupply resources close at hand and under control. In times when the N has a particular need for his or her cup to be filled, like around holidays or special occasions, expect additional demands. If your NM is especially fixated on how she looks to others, for example, she may want to put on the “happy, devoted family” act for observers during these times. Charlie’s mother was a good example of this: after we walked out on the family Christmas dinner six months before we were married due to his mother’s outrageous, insulting behaviour, she ignored us for the next 11 months: no birthday greetings, no acknowledgement of our wedding, nothing. And then, just before Thanksgiving she called to invite us as if we had not just spent the last 11 months ignoring each other. It simply would not do to have us boycott Thanksgiving dinner…what would she tell her friends?? She was sweet and cheery and chirpy on the phone, as if she had not called Charlie those awful names, as if I had not stood up to her and backed her down, as if we had not gotten up and walked out the door in the middle of the meal. She hoovered us back into the fold with gaslighting: we all pretended the altercation at the previous family dinner simply didn’t happen and went on as if it hadn’t.

Regardless of your N’s sincerity, regardless of your N’s method of hoovering, all hoovering attempts have this in common: they are for the wellbeing of the Narcissist and not you. The better you are at enforcing your boundaries, the more desperate—and creative—the hoovering may become. I have heard of an NM sending or giving back decades old momentoes: your bronzed baby shoes, baby pics, graduation portrait, wedding pictures; I have heard of them having a family member call to say the NM has been diagnosed with cancer (when it’s not true); I have heard of the NM going to the ER with a simple headache, then insisting that the ER staff call one kid to tell of the NM’s presence there; I have heard of NMs booking holidays, cruises, hotels and including the adult child who wants to be NC “But you have to come with us to Timbuktu, Phyllis! The tickets are non-refundable and I already paid for yours!” I have heard of them boycotting weddings and christenings, and crashing weddings and funerals they were not invited to. Then there are NMs who show up at daughter’s weddings dressed in white and hogging all the attention to themselves…anything, just anything to get your attention and to get you to talk to them so they can suck you back in.

The good news is, after a year or so, they tend to get bored with trying to batter down your defences and go elsewhere for their Nsupply. The bad news is that, periodically, they will sneak up on you and try again. And whether they use sneak attack gifts and cards and declarations of love or whether they use the “How dare you turn your back on me, you little bitch!” approach, it all comes from the same place: they are angling to force you back into the role they created in the family for you, the role in which you did your NM’s bidding, gave her the Nsupply she wanted and ignored your own needs in the process.

Don’t fall for it.

For more information about hoovering, I recommend you check the following sites:
http://www.luke173ministries.org/629759
http://outofthefog.net/CommonBehaviors/Hoovering.html

13 comments:

  1. Thanks for this Violet. I had recently become familiar with hovering, and just two days ago, NM tried this on me. It was validating to read these behaviors and see how completely they matched up with what she said to me.

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  2. They are all the same. My father was an ignoring NF. After many years of marriage (I'm embarrassed to tell how many years she has stayed with him), he has finally taken all the life and sanity from my mother so now guess what. Tag, I'm it. Now all of the sudden after a lifetime of emotional abuse, I'm the GC.

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  3. I'm NC for over a year now. I went NC before my wedding, as you can imagine how much NM wanted it to be about her.
    I was not going to let that happen.
    There was no turning back, I want a new life and she is not going to change.
    She has tried to be in touch with my husband to say, She loves me. Classic hovering. She has never said that a day in her life, but wants to pretend to MY husband, that she feels this.
    We just ignored her emails and changed or blocked all our contact data.

    If I let her in, she will just ruin my marriage and my sanity.

    I am so glad I am away from her.

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  4. It is really baffling to me how similar they all are! Fortunately I'd done a lot of reading and was prepared for NM's first hoovers. It was word for word what so many other people have described! My NM takes turns being ignoring or enmeshing, and her hoover attempts have been both nasty and "nice." Which is hilarious because I'm supposed to get all teary at her sentimental emails when last month she tried to turn my husband against me! Duh. Sometimes they're both, like sending clothes for the kids and then asking if I returned them. It's like she's trying every tool in the toolbox but the screwdriver to turn a screw.

    The nice thing is that hoovering loses its power very quickly the longer you ignore it. And if you're ever tempted to respond, wait a week or two and see how you feel. (At this point I only need an hour if anything.) A lot of N power is based on the pressure you feel to respond immediately (since they trained you to serve them without hesitation). Giving myself time to think before responding (if I do) is the best N-related advice I ever got!

    And you are spot-on with the flying monkeys. I learned the hard way how "close" my FOO really is—close to NM, not me. I am still working through the emotions of losing my entire FOO. Helped, of course, by the knowledge that you can't lose what you never had. I'm glad that I got away and got my kids away from the clan of bullies I now realize they are. Worth the pain IMHO as difficult and unexpected as it is.

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    1. Yeah. Hoovering. Spent a lifetime being thrown away by disdainful neglectful ignoring mother, then hoovered back into being enmeshed, then thrown away when I tried to reassert boundaries. They really are all the same. My mother tried to hoover me as recently as two years ago, with a tiny gesture. But at the same time (they love to do and undo simultaneously) she never signs a card with the word "love" anymore. So the bitchslap is always still there, no matter what the gesture. Freaks, they are. They don't want you there unless you're a mirror for them, or they can use you for something (ideas, whatever), or you can groom their self-image; but they hate it when they start to realize that, guess what? you can walk away and SURVIVE!

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    2. Yup. The push and pull of hoovering is so classic: and too often, just as you think you are free, you hear this giant sucking sound...

      Too often we are fooled into thinking that we have finally somehow gained that love and esteem we so badly want, only to find the hook buried in the bait: she wanted something. I am grateful the cosmos chose to take my NM early...her own arrogance did her in, thinking she knew more than her doctors and not taking her meds correctly or in the right quantities after a quintuple bypass...and I have been blessedly free of her predations for 15 years.

      But we cannot underestimate the depths of the perfidy these people will engage in...after two years of completely ignoring me and my children, suddenly NM started coming around and bringing gifts. She would compliment me on things (very out of character) and act sweetly...even my GCBro came to visit. It took years for the penny to drop: they were spying on me, trying to come up with enough evidence (real or fabricated) to have me declared an unfit mother so she could take my children and give them to her childless brother to adopt.

      When she couldn't get enough evidence to support a claim, she manufactured it and induced my brother and another uncle to commit perjury. When they hoover, there is always an ulterior motive...and you are always on the losing end.

      Funny about your mother not signing cards with "love" anymore...that is such a childish gesture. When I was about 9 years old, I was very angry with my mother about something and I decided to "punish" her by not kissing her goodnight. I got ready for bed and went to bed without the nighttime ritual of saying goodnight and kissing her on the cheek. She never noticed...I was crushed that it meant so little to her that she never even noticed, so it backfired on me. But I was only NINE...this is how nine-year-olds behave...like children. Your NM is behaving just like I did when I was nine...childishly.

      What we need to do is learn to love ourselves without their input. To become dependent upon our own self esteem, our own approval, our own feeling good about ourselves, about what we have done. I know that I was always cautioned against feeling good about my accomplishments lest I get a "big head" but looking back I realize that in truth, she was making me dependent upon her approval, which was virtually nonexistent. It stunted my ability to touch bases within myself, to develop an internal sense of good/bad, right/wrong by which I could live: it made me dependent, which put HER in control. To have control of my own life, I had develop, internalize, right/wrong and good/bad so I could look inward for approval and guidance, something that cut her out and took control away from her...and rendered her hoovering, in later years, ineffective. You cannot successfully hoover someone who doesn't give a shit if you approve or not!

      But, before you can effectively resist hoovering, you have to be able to recognize it and believe me, it was a LONG time before I could see what she was doing. Hopefully, this entry will help people recognize it a lot quicker than I did!

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    3. My mother IS a child. She's always been one. It's patently obvious. Everything she does comes from a childish place. She impersonates a grown up but isn't one. Yet that's exactly the dump she projects onto me, whenever I call her on her bullshit. Everything she KNOWS to be true about herself she shame-dumps onto me. Or at least did, until I stepped away from the dump site. Now she tries, but misses.

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  5. After 1 1/2 yrs of NC, NM has started hoovering. I'm not sure why now, but I do know she is using my mentally ill GC bro to do her dirty work for her, which means I may have to go LC with him. It is extremely hurtful to have someone tell me that the person that abused me is right and I'm wrong.

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  6. Thank you for this blog - it describes my husband's family to a T. Both of his parents were/are narcissists (they divorced after 25 years together). Thankfully his father is gone from this earth. Just waiting for NM to kick off, too, although we've managed to keep her at a very safe distance for years now. The holidays are coming up and she used FM sister to try to get to see us. I've laid the ground rules already.

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  7. My mother was physically and emotionally abusive. She managed to convince me I was crazy (and honestly, until a few months ago, I still questioned that. Early medical file confirmed I was remembering things correctly.) She cheated on my dad. She stole from all of us. Made my brother and me lie to my dad. Told me she hated children, never wanted them. She abandoned us, and ran off with a coworker from McDonald's. Made up stories about having cancer.
    Still, I hoped she would change. Then...my paternal grandfather was in a life-threatening accident. She threw a fit that my dad asked me to keep her out of his ICU room, because her presence could cause him to become stress and they hadn't gotten him fully stable yet. Shortly after that, I got engaged, then found out I was pregnant. We changed our wedding date to be closer. A few days before, I called to put a bill in my name--and that is when I learned she stole my identity.
    Of course, she denied it. Blamed her landlord, then her 2nd husband. Told me that I was just trying to be mean. Then, she told me that if she wasn't allowed at my wedding, then I had to pay the photographer. This photographer was a friend and had volunteered to do my wedding. I was upset, and relented.
    At my pre-ceremony shoot, the photographer conned me into having pictures with my dad and step-mom, after I had told the narcissist not to come. Dad came to make sure I was going to be okay, and that she didn't show up to start stuff. Of course, the photographer turned around and told the N all about it. At the ceremony, she kept trying to barge in on me while I tried to settle my morning sickness. She wouldn't smile in pictures. Her 3rd husband insulted me to my husband's face. She threw away cake and made a scene about it. Then, she refused to give me my pictures, because SHE had paid for them, and how DARE I get pictures with my dad and "new" mom. Her husband called me a little b*tch. I began to cramp (I had suffered a chemical pregnancy before, so I was super paranoid), and crying. My dad tried to pay the photographer and I begged him to send me my pictures, but he refused to cooperate. Finally, my brother got them for me from the N, but she had deleted half of the pictures. I don't have any pictures of just me and my dad from that day, though, luckily, she didn't get to delete the one of me and my grandfather.
    The next day, I made a police report about the stolen identity, though it never went anywhere. And, I made the decision to cut off contact with her, for the sake of my child. She tried to send me stuff through my brother at first. Then, she quieted down, with one incident of my brother claiming she had a brain tumor. It'll be 3 years in 2 weeks. Around Christmas, she tried calling me. I ignored it, though I felt that familiar pain of hoping she would change. And, she called me on my birthday. As my brother moved up there and has been ignoring my dad and all of us, I wish I knew why she suddenly took an interest in me again. Originally, I suspected it was because my brother told her my soldier husband might be gone training for a while, but who can tell with a crazy person?

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  8. This post really helps. It is a huge relief to find validation in realizing my Mom is suffering from a personality disorder.

    I went NC almost 3 years ago after showing up to yet another family gathering where I was ignored other than for requests for me to do things for people. I detached with an email where I plainly and neutrally stated that I was taking a break from the family for a while and I didn't know how long it would be.

    I wanted to hear something like "we understand, call us when you're ready to reconnect." Instead, I heard nothing. No response, no acknowledgement at all. But 3 months later when Mothers day came around and I didn't contact my Mom, I got a highly abusive text from my Dad accusing me of being cruel and informing me that I was "pushing it."

    Then that Christmas I got word through my aunt that my Mom was being rushed to the emergency room with "heart issues." First of all, now I know that she was being suckered into being a flying monkey, so thanks for that term! With the help of some friends I managed to stay out of it, only sending "keep me posted" to my aunt. The next day I heard back and it was nothing. The doctor came up with some excuse about it being related to a cold, but I knew that it was a big drama intended to "hoover" me back in.

    Basically I'm being held up as having the power of life and death over my Mom. So how about that? Nobody better cross me, huh!

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  9. I've been NC for about half a year and am so thankful for all of the blogs and youtube videos on this topic to prepare me for the hoovering and flying monkeys, otherwise surely I would have been sucked back into the cylce by now! The last hoovering incident was two weeks ago on my birthday - after not taking a phone call from my narcissistic mother I got a lovely email that was comprised of about 90% ranting (with many spelling mistakes und unfinished sentences, likely typed during one of her infamous rages) and finishing off by informing me that she is 'contemplating suicide' because I am being so cruel to her. I'm dreading tomorrow as it is Christmas Eve, which has always been about making her happy and everybody making sure her christmas is absolutely perfect. My stepfather and I learned how to dance the dance, but my poor grandmother in law didn't know that christmas in our house is about one person only, and it isn't Jesus. She became the receiver of a narcissistic rage two years in a row, now she prefers to spend the holidays alone. It was classic mom, starting a fight over something trivial and making an 83 year old lady cry on christmas, as HER day was destroyed by the AUDACITY of an old lady who asked if she could feed her pet (......huh? The 'reasons' for the tantrums rarely make sense). I'm sure she will pull some kind of stunt and if I could, I would just skip christmas this year. To make things worse my other (catholic) grandmother who has cancer and most likely less than a year to live has been recruited as a flying monkey, so the guilting will be intense.

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  10. Today was my first real hoover experience since going NC about 8 months ago. The recruiting of flying monkeys, smear-campaigning and nasty emails continued up until the 6th month, when I received an email on my birthday from her saying she wanted to kill herself because I am so 'cruel' to her. After that nothing....and it was a huge relief! Today that ended though, I received a letter in the mail from her.

    The issue is- I moved to a new apartment a while ago (mainly because the one I was living in before belonged to her and she kicked me out in one of her Rages shortly before I went NC, resulting in my homelessness for two months). I went to great pains to ensure that she would NOT find out where I live now, not even letting family members that I still have contact with know out of fear they could be manipulated by her and spill the beans.

    So now the letter has arrived. In my mailbox. At my new apartment. And I am freaking the F out because no one knew where I live, I put in a lot of effort to make sure of that- and I have no idea how she found out! She even typed my name and address on a computer and glued it to the front of the letter instead of hand signing it, to ensure I would not recognise her handwriting before opening it. The entirety of the letter is telling me about the various vacations she's had in the past months and vacations she is planning for the future, pretending like NOTHING happened (not asking how I'm doing either, I might add). She finishes her letter saying she hopes I like my new place and that it seems to be a nice neighbourhood...

    I really don't know how to handle this situation, I thought it was over and I was finally free when I 'went into hiding' but here she is, coming after me and writing creepy things like 'nice neighbourhood!' and it scares the hell out of me.

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I don't publish rudeness, so please keep your comments respectful, not only to me, but to those who comment as well. We are not all at the same point in our recovery.

Not clear on what constitutes "rudeness"? You can read this blog post for clarification: http://narcissistschild.blogspot.com/2015/07/real-life-exchange-with-narcissist.html#comment-form