By Darlene Lancer, JD, MFT
If a Narcissist Won’t Let Go
Breakups with narcissists don’t always end the relationship. Many won’t let you go, even when it’s they who leave the relationship, and even when they’re with a new partner. They won’t accept “no.” They hoover in an attempt to rekindle the relationship or stay friends after a breakup or divorce. A research study showed that narcissists and psychopaths tend to stay friends with their ex for selfish reasons. They try to stay in your life or seduce and convince you to return.
The term for this behavior is hoovering, derived from the famous Hoover vacuum, because when you’re finally free of the abusive relationship, they can suck you back in. But be prepared for a bait-and-switch maneuver. Being expert manipulators, narcissists know your vulnerabilities and may appeal to your emotions with cries for help, romantic gestures, messages, or cards or gifts on significant dates or anniversaries. They attempt to seduce you with financial support, feigned compassion, pleading, jealousy, sex, loving words, or promises to reform—virtually whatever it takes to win you. They may send veiled messages via social media posts, arrange “fortuitous” encounters at your local haunts, or employ “flying monkeys”—friends and family—to do bidding on their behalf. When that doesn’t work, they use threats, guilt and shame to wear you down.
If you still love or have affection for your ex and are hopeful the relationship could improve, you’re vulnerable to being sucked back in. Victims of violence return frequently, only to be abused again. Don’t be fooled. If you remain strong, they may show their true colors and go on the attack.
Why Narcissists Hoover
Narcissists who are motivated by power are game players, and this is just another power-play. Thus, hoovering is entirely predictable, because to narcissists relationships are transactional. They lack empathy and the ability to see you as a separate human being. Rather than wanting a relationship for sentimental reasons, they’re out for themselves, looking for access to resources, such as sex, money, information, status, or love. Their impetus is pragmatic and their own dependency.
They need their “narcissistic supply.” Their fragile ego needs constant reassurance and attention to avoid feeling their inner emptiness – like a vampire that sucks its victims’ blood, and they need many. Male narcissists in particular may flit from one woman to another for validation and/or sex.
Additionally, if it wasn’t their decision to leave, cannot tolerate rejection. Due to their underlying shame and insecurity, they find it humiliating. Rather than accept you “quit,” they go on the offense and “fire” you. Similarly, they often spread lies assassinating your character and turning family and friends against you to elevate themselves in others’ eyes
Once they’re left, in order to regain their self-esteem and power, they may attempt to win you back. Just knowing you think about them or will talk to them soothes their wounded ego. If you go back, as soon as they feel secure, they’ll put you down or breakup to reverse the narrative.
What to Do
Hoovering can be very damaging. Narcissists confuse you with lies and distortions to gaslight you for their own ends. It perpetuates the abuse that you’ve endured. Because of the prior relationship dynamic, you may easily be persuaded by false promises, gestures, fear, or threats if you don’t go along, or you may succumb to shame and blame because you’ve been made to feel so unworthy and lucky to have your ex back in your life. Your vulnerability is enhanced through trauma-bonding, which makes it very hard to leave an abuser.
The best way to deal with hovering is to ignore it. No contact both protects you and helps you recover from a breakup. That includes not looking at photos or social media accounts of your ex. A narcissist may escalate hoovering, then lose interest after a while, only to reappear a year or more later when they’re in need. If you have to communicate, for example, you have business matters or children in common, become a “gray rock.” This removes any incentive for a narcissist to pursue you romantically. Preferably, communicate only in writing. Stay on point, be brief and impersonal, and do not laugh or smile at their jokes or attempts to flirt and cajole you.
Beware of idealizing your ex or romanticizing the relationship. Arm your psyche against falling for fake expressions of love, seduction, or lies about you and the relationship. Remember your unhappiness and any abuse you suffered. Resist any attempt to distort the past. Write a story about what really happened and why you were unhappy.
It’s important to tease out truth from lies so that you learn to trust yourself again and not question your own perceptions. Get professional help to restore your self-trust and heal PTSD and wounds from the relationship and those triggered from your childhood. Write your feelings about the narcissist’s behavior and associate them to family members and memories from your past. If you can make a connection, then when you miss your ex, shift your mind to feelings from your childhood.
Remember that narcissism is a personality disorder. A narcissist will not change for you and certainly not without years of focused therapy. You need to put yourself first and Raise Your Self-esteem.
Get the Breakup Recovery seminar and Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People if you’re still undecided or have to communicate with our ex.
© Darlene Lancer 2020
This article was originally published here, and is reprinted with the author’s kind permission.
Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s the author Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies and six ebooks, including: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits, Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People and Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness, also available on Amazon. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 30 years and coaches internationally. She’s a sought after speaker in media and at professional conferences. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, www.whatiscodependency.com, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.”