Hoovers & Hoovering - A Hoover is a metaphor taken from the popular brand of vacuum cleaners, to describe how an abuse victim trying to assert their own rights by leaving or limiting contact in a dysfunctional relationship, gets “sucked back in” when the perpetrator temporarily exhibits improved or desirable behavior.

Here We Go Again

Many Nons have experienced the phenomenon we call Hoovering, which is a metaphor derived from the popular (and effective) brand of vacuum cleaners. And just as dust gets caught up in the vacuum cleaner, many Nons get sucked back in to the status quo when they attempt to escape an abusive situation.

It is most likely to happen when:

  • There has just been an emotional outburst, episode of violence or other extreme period of abuse; at the point where the perpetrator realizes the victim is likely to leave, retaliate or seek help from others.
  • The victim starts to pull away from the relationship, leave the relationship or establish firmer boundaries within the relationship.
  • The abuser internally feels unworthy and fears the loss of the relationship.

The abuser may shower their victim with gifts, compliments, promises, demonstrations of love and acts of affection in order to win back the victim’s trust or faith, and therefore maintain the status quo.

Hoovering is one of the key components of an Abusive Cycle. It is the tactic which ensures many abusers do not have to live alone. It can also act as the ‘plus’ side when the victim calculates the emotional balance sheet, manipulating them into sustaining the abusive relationship.

Like a tango, it takes two: the person doing the hoovering and the person being sucked in.

How it Feels

Hoovering feels good -and that’s the point! When you are being hoovered, your warm-and-fuzzy buttons are all getting pushed, your feelings are getting validated, your needs are being met, your wildest dreams are coming true, your opinions matter, you are the most important person in the world to that certain person.

It often feels like vindication. You might find yourself thinking “Finally! The message is getting through! I’m not crazy after all! Now THAT is what I’m talking about! They really DO love me!” But watch out...

When you are starving for any emotional food, just about any kind of personal validation tastes wonderful. However, just because it tastes good, doesn’t mean it’s actually healthy or nourishing.

Manipulative abusers are often adept at giving their victims enough of what they want to keep them where they want them. Even slave owners know that they have to feed them enough to keep them healthy and productive.

How do I know if a hoover is “real”?

It can be a struggle to work out whether a hoover really is a hoover, because it initially looks like it could be a sincere attempt at change by the personality-disordered person whom they care about. And as Nons, that’s what we want!

The mistake in that logic is that it assumes that it can’t be both. 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.

You are going to have to be like the adult in a parent-child relationship, who listens to their child’s black-and-white promises and says “Hmm, we’ll wait and see”.

If you’re not sure if you’re being hoovered you should wait and see. Take the long-term view. A person’s character is like an average of their behaviors over their lifetime. People can and do make positive changes in their lives sometimes, deciding to change their behavior for the better. Wait a year and see.

If you feel you can’t wait a year, it could be your relationship balance sheet is deeply in the red, which is an alarm bell worth listening to.

How to Cope

If somebody who has been treating you abusively starts to treat you well, there’s no harm in letting them knock themselves out and give yourself a break, just be careful not to take the bait to erode your boundaries, settle for less than you deserve, stop doing things that are healthy for you or stop exercising your own independence.

What NOT to do

  • Don’t change any of your boundaries or allow them to be broken during a hoover.
  • Don’t relax or give up on any consequences of previous poor decisions for the abuser.
  • Don’t stop any healthy activities or relationships you may be engaged in elsewhere.
  • Don’t assume the hoover will last forever.
  • Don’t use a hoover to bargain for a better life. You are setting up the abuser to break a promise and setting yourself up for a disappointment.

What TO do

  • Remember that mood swings are a normal part of a number of personality disorders and that what goes up must come down.
  • Accept that highs and lows are a part of everyone’s emotional life and that, for a personality-disordered person, those may be more intense and lead to swings in behavior.
  • Maintain all your healthy lifestyle habits and relationships with others.
  • Take the long-term view. Wait a year if it is safe to do so.
  • Get yourself off the roller coaster. Position yourself so that your safety and happiness isn’t dependent on a personality-disordered person’s mood.
  • If the hoovering was preceded by acts of violence towards you, a child, or a pet, get advice from a Domestic Violence service immediately.