So, Christmas and Hanukkah are over and the New Year is upon us. How many of you got hoovered?
Hoovering has one major objective: to allow the N to feel like s/he is in control of the relationship. If you have been successfully NC or LC over a period of weeks or longer prior to the holidays, unless your N is a malignant ignoring N, s/he is going to feel that you have taken control of the relationship, something she finds threatening. The malignant ignoring N will have put you out of mind so unless there is a compelling reason to put on the perfect family charade, you will likely be spared any contact. The rest of us are not so lucky.
By now, if your Ns were going to hoover you, it has begun. Most likely you received unanticipated gifts, cards, letters, even phone calls or texts. You may have inadvertently invited such contact by naïvely assuming that she would not take the Christmas card you sent as a sign that all is forgiven and the lines of communication are now fully open again. You may have maintained and defended your NC boundaries but your Ns believe their image is at stake so they have decided to take back control of the relationship by luring your back into
their lair the fold.
You may have received just the gift you wanted/needed from them or they may have sent you the same old junk you usually get—Dollar Store and garage sale finds or things they would like for themselves. You may have received something you cannot afford for yourself like a new laptop or tablet or iPhone, or something you simply do not want: a course in Tae Kwon Do or a cruise to a deserted island. Or it could be gifts for your children but nothing for you, or gifts you could never afford for your kids like a battery operated child’s car or a bouncy castle or something outrageously expensive, gifts designed to hoover your kids because kids are easier to manipulate than wary adults and your Ns expect you will come right along with the children.
This is not likely to stop. You may get letters in which they cry about being lonely over the holidays, how they miss their grandbabies, how they miss you. They will paint a dismal picture of the sad lives they have now that you are no longer in it. They will tug at your heartstrings and make you feel guilty for turning your back on this sad, pathetic old woman… Or you may get the letter that rips the flesh off your back as it seeks to excoriate you for your refusal to give them their due. The letter may be blatant and bold or it may be sneaky and passive aggressive, but it feels to you, as you read it, like the attack that it is. Either way, you may get missives from your Ns that are designed to make you feel bad for not allowing your Ns to have their way with you.
If you got blindsided by this kind of crap this year, it was because you didn’t have a plan. The reason you lacked a plan may have been because you didn’t think you needed one—it never occurred to you that your feeling sorry for your N (a fatal weakness they will exploit) might backfire on you. You may have been left scrambling, trying to figure out what to do or how to handle it, on the spur of the moment. Depending on the method your N used to intrude on your holiday cheer, you may have been hurt, outraged or even frightened by their incursion into your peace.
Some Ns will hint at their intentions beforehand by sending messages in advance: invitations to Christmas dinner, hints that you should invite them for a holiday-oriented gathering, even blatantly telling you when they will be showing up at your house—uninvited—to deliver gifts. Other Ns will just send a card with no foreshadowing and pop up at your door uninvited, expecting to be asked in and entertained. Some will send packages with no return addresses—even fake return addresses. Others will send gifts and messages via a third party who is invited—or who is at least not persona non grata—to your home.
Any way you slice it, narcissism takes on a whole new dimension of insensitivity and disrespect during any kind of special occasion, from christenings to funerals, and most especially cultural celebrations. Your Ns friends may think nothing of her not having you over for Sunday dinners, but they most definitely will have something to say if your N’s holiday plans do not include you and your family. Your N doesn’t care about your feelings (if she did, she wouldn’t be an N) but she most certainly cares about her image. When her friends are waxing lyrical about their grandchildren, painting pictures of lavish holiday feasts attended by three or more generations of family, your N is sitting there thinking that you are the reason she is looking bad among her peers. Unless she is an ignoring N, in which case she has told everyone what a bitch you are and she is refusing to pander to you so she has cut you off this season—and how lucky her friends are not to have such difficult and uncaring children—she is going to be feeling that she has to do something so she isn’t left out of the Great and Gracious Grannies Club.
You first need to understand that this is mostly about power. If you have the power to keep her away from you and/or her grandchildren, then in her eyes, you have too much. It means you have the power to make her look bad in front of her frenemies and the rest of the family. It means, to her, that you are in control of her, not the other way around. And this does not set well with any N. Up to the holiday season she can fool herself into thinking she is controlling the silence or she has been able to make it work for her by telling her friends how sad her life is, how lonely she is, all because of you being a bitch.
She has no concept of a relationship in which someone is not in control, so no matter what your real reason for NC or LC, she perceives it as you thinking you are in control of her and she cannot countenance that. Some Ns will pick a fight in order to come out in control (they do not doubt their own power) but others—my guess is most of them—simply ignore your boundaries and do what they want. And if you refuse their invitations despite their manipulations, then they will barge in on you and your events without invitation, even if they have been specifically told to stay away. They will do whatever they can to wrest what they perceive as control of the relationship from you.
So what can you do? You can have a plan. If you have a fair idea of the kinds of things they will do, you can have a plan as to how to handle it. Just make sure that your image in the family is not more important to you than the peace you get from keeping her out of your special occasions because this is one of those “You can’t have your cake and eat it too,” situations. Personally, I look at it this way: she is already assassinating my character behind my back over absolutely nothing so I might as well do something to deserve it.
What kind of plan? Well, what is your N likely to do? Here are a few scenarios:
1. Sends cards/letters to your children
Get a PO Box several months before the holidays and put in a mail forwarding notice with the post office. Have all mail forwarded to the PO Box. Intercept and determine what to do with the letters/cards. If they contain money or gift cards, decide whether to give them to the children or donate them to charity.
2. Sends packages to your house
A. Invest in a custom-made stamp that says “Moved, left no forwarding address". Stamp the packages (and any mail addressed to you or your partner) and sent them back.
B. Give the contents of the packages to a women’s shelter or other charity
C. Put the packages in the bin
3. Shows up at your house uninvited
A. If you answer the door and are surprised by her, close the door. Do not answer again until you are sure she is gone
B. Tell her to leave and not to come back. If she refuses, call the police.
4. Calls on the phone
A. Don’t answer
B. Block her
C. Tell her to not call again
Narcissists can be very creative and they can come up with all kinds of things that you hadn’t thought of so you have to have a “go-to” response. Mine is basically this: avoid contact. That means do everything you need to do to avoid contact: hang up the phone, close the door, walk the other way. It means never to invite them in, accept an invitation, respond in any way other than to say “leave me alone.”
We talk a lot about setting and enforcing boundaries with our Ns but this is a time that we must set boundaries with ourselves. The N is ruthless and heartless. They will do anything, literally anything, to get what they want and sometimes they only want it because you are withholding it. (That is when you finally capitulate to their heartbroken begging for a chance to see your children and when you give in they spend the time criticising our housekeeping by doing your housework or playing cards with each other and pretty much ignoring you kids.) You need to set boundaries with yourself now, boundaries that say that even if NM really IS heartbroken about not seeing your kids, it is too late. She had her warnings and she refused to respect your boundaries and now it is over and you will no longer allow her to hoover you back into a one-sided, self-serving relationship that gives you stress and anxiety and nothing in compensation for it.
You see, regardless of what your N thinks, the power ultimately rests with you and it always has. She cannot take it away from you, although you can give it to her. Whatever disguise she chooses to use—heartbroken grandma, outraged mother, pitiful old lady, cold, aloof superior—the struggle is really about control—control over you. She will put any face on it that she thinks will work to get you to relinquish control to her and you have to keep your eye on the truth so as not to be distracted by her theatrics, empty promises and meaningless gestures.
Why does she want control of you (even ignoring Ns want this control)? NSupply. If she has control of you, she has control of the NSupply she gets from you and through you. All of her antics, including all forms of hoovering, come down to this one thing: NSupply and control of its sources.
So, the best way to handle hoovering, especially around the holidays when it invariably ramps up, is to not respond and block all avenues of access to you and your family. For some very persistent Ns, it may take a Cease and Desist letter from a lawyer, even a restraining order from the court. But if you are serious about your peace as they about their NSupply, you won’t hesitate.
Set some boundaries for yourself. Start now so that by the time the holidays roll around next year you will be experienced and practiced at protecting yourself and your home and family, you will have heard all of her excuses and stories and complaints and you no longer feel a tug at your heartstrings when she rolls out one of her tear-jerking tales designed to soften your resolve. You are the one in control of your life and she cannot take control without your cooperation. The hoovering is all about her and her image and her NSupply and not in the least about you or your feelings or well-being. Remember that and don’t fall for her tricks. If you successfully resist long enough she will go elsewhere, to those whose resistance is less formidable. Then, and only then, can you have some peace.