Hoovering Is The New Toxic Relationship Tactic You Need To Recognize ASAP

It takes a lot of strength to leave a toxic relationship. Even when you realize that you're in a toxic relationship, it can take months or even years to find the ability to leave, and, in a lot of cases, you don't get too far before your ex comes looking for you again. That's because a lot of toxic relationships involve a narcissistic partner and trying to outrun a narcissist is never easy. They will stoop to any and all levels to get you back because without you they have no one to control, belittle, and disrespect. The attempts a toxic partner will make to keep you in their life are called hoovering because, like a hoover vacuum, they want to suck you back in so they can continue to suck you emotionally and mentally dry.

"Hoovering is a tactic used by individuals with narcissist, borderline, anti-social, or histrionic personality disorder," couples' therapist Antonia Di Leo, LMFT, tells Mind Body Green. "It is generally abusive in nature and done in order to lure the attention of their victim. If an unsuspecting individual cannot see the partner's motives, they may be taken in by their words or promises."

If you genuinely love someone, it can be difficult to let them go. We don't choose who we fall in love with and sometimes that person just happens to be toxic. But if you can identify hoovering tactics while you're in the relationship, as well as when you leave it, you can at least be one step ahead of your (ex)partner, and that's how you begin getting away for good.


Toxic people love to use gaslighting as a way to psychologically manipulate their partner (or anyone else in their life, for that matter), by forcing them to doubt themselves and question what's real and what's not. Gaslighting is a way to change the narrative of something that happened, so the person being gaslighted is confused and begins to think their memory of a certain event is unreliable. You may find yourself wondering, "Is that how it really happened? Am I misremembering things?" Eventually, you'll start to wonder if you're losing your mind — exactly what your partner wants.  

The term gaslighting actually comes from the 1938 play, "Gas Light" in which a husband keeps dimming the lights in the house — that were powered by gas — then denying he did so as a means to drive his wife crazy. If one is pushed to the point where they believe they're insane, they're easier to control and become more reliant on their partner, making them less likely to leave. 

Love bombing

Oh, the love bombing technique. From the onset, love bombing can look like your partner just really wants to shower you with gifts to win you over or make your day, but it's actually quite a sinister move.

When you're being love bombed, the gifts are extravagant and the gestures are grand. You can feel equally overwhelmed and like you're living in a fairytale, as you're convinced that your partner must really love you. If they didn't, then why would they drop a few grand on a necklace from Tiffany and Co? But what these gifts really represent is a form of manipulation. With so much money being spent on gifts and so many over-the-top declarations of love, you can start to feel like you owe your partner something and that's what they want you to feel. It's harder to speak up, challenge someone when they're wrong, or leave them if you've been trapped into thinking you're indebted to them in some way.


When hoovering comes in the form of guilt-tripping, it can show up in different ways. Your partner can guilt-trip you into staying by claiming they'll end up alone if you leave them (which would actually be a good thing for them), how no one will ever love you like they do, or in some extreme cases, they'll fake an illness or create an emergency that isn't real to make you feel too guilty to leave them, either just for an afternoon or forever. If you're constantly feeling guilty because of what your partner says and does, similar to feeling indebted, it can be near-impossible to break away. You feel like you have no choice but to stay and be there for them in any way you can. 

But the thing with feeling guilty all the time is that it's a sign of a toxic relationship. A healthy partner is going to support you and make you feel safe, not come up with situations or excuses that are going to make you feel bad about yourself and your ability to be a good partner to them.

Threatening self-harm

Because making you feel guilty is the name of the game when there's hoovering involved, the most terrible way to do that is to threaten self-harm or even suicide. But because a narcissist has no bounds as to how far they'll reach or how low they'll go to keep control of the situation and keep you in their web of lies, they don't see a cry for help as a vicious and terrifying thing to do.

No one should have to receive a message that their partner is going to hurt themselves if they don't respond in the next few minutes, just like no one should be bound to a person and a relationship out of fear that their partner will commit suicide if they leave. In implanting the seed of fear, it's just another way to exert their control. Whether your partner is aware of it or not, using fear in such a way is a tactic torn from the pages of "The Prince" by Niccolò Machiavelli in which he suggested fear was a better way to keep people in line as opposed to love. This is also why the term Machiavellian is pretty much synonymous with narcissism and psychopathic, also known as the dark triad.

Claiming they've changed

Can people change? Well, that's debatable. Real change comes from self-awareness, an understanding of why they behave the way they do and having a goal to remedy the parts of themselves that they feel should be changed. However, that also requires empathy and compassion for others, something that narcissists and other extremely toxic people lack. In fact, research has found that narcissists know they're narcissists, but do they want to or are they able to change? Probably not.

So, while your partner might swear up and down that they've changed forever and they'll never be that person who hurt you or drove you away, the reality is that they haven't changed. To them, these are just words that stand on soon-to-be broken promises. Fun fact: People who use hoovering in a relationship or to get their partner back after the end of a relationship, aren't capable of change.

Using triangulation

When push comes to shove, a narcissist might turn to triangulation to keep their control intact. With triangulation, the toxic partner brings in a third party under the guise that they're there to diffuse the situation. While you may be aware of your partner's narcissistic traits, the third party may not, so you're both being played and pitted against each other. This form of manipulation not only has the narcissist at the helm of the boat, so to speak, but when you and the other person involved end up in conflict, you both inadvertently let them (the narcissist) off the hook, making them appear to be the good person in the whole mess they've created.

What's important to realize is that hoovering isn't uncommon, and you can be in a relationship with someone for years before seeing the reality of the situation. When you do, it's up to you to get out of there, ideally with the help of a therapist, and stay away. Naturally, this will lead to your partner using hoovering tactics to get you back, but once you've identified these as toxic, you need to stand strong and run in the other direction. These types of people don't change, no matter what they say, and what they call love is actually just them instilling fear.