Hoovering: The various ploys and lame excuses your abuser will use after you’ve gone No Contact, to try to suck you back in and get you to respond to her. Think of what happens if you get too close to a Black Hole, which is pretty much what a narcissist is. The sucking power is tremendous, and you will disappear inside, trapped in oblivion, forever going around and around, with no escape. Ever.
Hoovering will occur most frequently during your first year of No Contact. If you continue to ignore it, it will lessen and probably stop for a while as your abuser moves on to other victims and gets her needs met elsewhere. However, expect periodic contact for ten years or longer, especially whenever your abuser loses one of her other victims. Hoovering is usually calculated to appeal to your sentimentality and timed to catch you at a weak moment, when you may be feeling vulnerable or nostalgic. It is a manipulation meant to toy with your emotions, in an effort to get you to respond or to get some kind of reaction out of you. Whatever your reaction is, whether positive or negative, it will tell your abuser that you still care. And if you still care, in a narcissist’s mind, there’s still hope. So the key is NOT to react or respond. Just leave whatever line your abuser throws at you dangling out there, ignored and twisting in the wind. Hoovering often conveys a sense of urgency and pressure, to get you to call your abuser back before you have a chance to think. If your abuser leaves a message that Auntie Ida is in the hospital and it’s very important that you call him back so he can tell you what’s going on, do NOT fall for it. You can get the same information by calling the hospital or Auntie Ida yourself, or by calling her husband or kids directly. Let them know you heard the news, you’re thinking of them and praying for them, and see if there’s anything you can do for them. Show them how nice you are, and make your abusers look crazy for badmouthing you. Do not allow your abuser to think he is your only source of information about, and your only connection to, the rest of your family. You don’t need him to be a go-between. Do not respond to any impression of urgency with anything but a long delay. Nothing in your abuser’s life requires your immediate attention. Take the time to think about it and figure out what’s really going on and how you might want to handle it in a way that’s best for YOU, which probably means not getting involved at all.
Hoovering takes on many disguises. You can expect contact at the following times or under the following circumstances:
*Before Or During The Holidays: Expect calls, e-mails, surprise visits, or cards and gifts for you and your children, possibly sent along with other people. A favorite ploy is to leave an unasked-for and unwelcome package on your doorstep, and then harass you with calls and e-mails demanding that you call your estranged abuser back to let her know if you got it. Especially on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, if you really want to enjoy a nice, peaceful holiday with your loved ones, make sure you lock the door, take your phone off the hook, plug in the electric fence, pull up the drawbridge, and throw the crocodiles in the moat. A word to the wise.
*Big Occasions: Expect birthday cards for you and your children, invitations to your abuser’s anniversary, wedding, retirement, or birthday party, and calls “informing” you of other relatives’ weddings, births of babies, etc., just like nothing ever happened and you’ve had a wonderful relationship all along. I always thought it was insane that someone who was not speaking to you would invite you to their party, but I have had this happen in my own family. I suspect it’s rooted in envy- a thinly disguised attempt to show off, among other things, how happy they’ve been and what a wonderful life they have without you. One jealous aunt and uncle were angry at my birth-parents and had not spoken to them for two years, but they invited them to their thirtieth anniversary party anyway. Over my protests, my equally insane parents bought a nice gift and actually went to the party- where my aunt and uncle continued not speaking to them and ignored them all night. At that point, I gave up. They all deserved each other, anyway.
*Illnesses Or Deaths: Expect a call or e-mail whenever anybody who has ever had any contact with you or your abuser gets sick or dies, including some distant tenth cousin you haven’t seen since you were a child and don’t even remember. You can also expect your abuser to have a few medical “emergencies” of her own- which, for some reason, require contacting you. After disowning his son, my estranged father-in-law managed to interrupt our Christmas dinner and upset my husband every year by going to the Emergency Room for “chest pains”- which always turned out to be either indigestion or fabrication- and then having one of his friends call us requesting that we leave our children and a houseful of guests to meet them at the hospital- until I finally started taking the phone off the hook on Christmas morning. This only happened on Christmas Day. The rest of the year he was fine, and lived a healthy, active life until the age of ninety-three. Another abuser who disowned her daughter then proceeded to stare at the wall and refuse to speak, until her Silent Partner husband called the disowned daughter- instead of just calling 911. Another went to the Emergency Room with a headache, and insisted that her estranged child be called and notified- even though she was not admitted and was sent home that same afternoon with a couple of aspirin. Be ready for some high drama, and be determined to stand firm.
*Some Idiotic Nonsense They JUST HAVE TO Ask You Or Tell You About: It could be “Do you remember Jill who used to live next door to us? I ran into her and she wanted to say Hi to you, so I’m just letting you know. I need to know if it’s okay to give her your number.” It could also be “My boss is buying a house and he needs the name of the lawyer you used when you bought your house, so let me know.” How about, “We’re having the Smiths over for dinner Saturday night and I need your broccoli casserole recipe. I know you don’t want to talk to me, but it will only take you a minute to call me back.” Or, “Aunt Trish is coming for a visit and I’d like to show her the pictures from your 6th grade graduation (or your kid’s pictures) so can you send them to me? I’ll get them back to you as soon as I can.” Another favorite ploy: “Mom wants to know if you still have Grandma’s necklace that she gave you twenty years ago. If you’re not using it anymore, she’d like it back.” If you don’t reply- and I wouldn’t if I were you- then you can expect several more testy calls or e-mails, getting progressively more insistent that you call or e-mail back, just for a second. Ignore, ignore, ignore, and if they show up at your door, call the police.
Be prepared for The Sneak Attack- contact when you least expect it and through a source you least expect. Some examples of the Sneak Attack include:
*Expect to be contacted through third parties. Your abuser will often enlist a friend or relative to approach you for her, and deliver news that she is ailing, depressed, getting old, sorry for all that’s happened, or whatever else she can think of to make you feel guilty and relent. The best response is to cut this right off at the pass, by informing the “ambassador” that he is not to convey any messages to you from your abuser or tell you anything about her. As soon as he starts talking about her, hold your hand up, palm facing him, and say, “Stop right there! I don’t want to hear anything about my mother, so let’s change the subject.” If he persists, enforce your boundary and end the conversation. When you do this, you are actually doing the Silent Partner a big favor. If he feels caught in the middle of your disagreement, now he can go back to the abuser and truthfully tell her that you refuse to listen to anything he says about her, and there’s nothing more he can do about it. This will get him off the hot seat and force your abuser to cross him off her list as a go-between.
*Expect your abuser to circumvent you and go behind your back to contact your spouse and children, in an attempt to maintain a relationship with them that doesn’t include you. Your abuser might also try contacting your friends and neighbors to express her “concern” for you, pump them for information, and to try to influence YOUR friends to take HER side. Ask your friends and loved ones to use the Hand-Up-Stop-Right-There Technique described above. They could also throw in that they’re not going to talk about you behind your back, when you’re not there to defend yourself. I witnessed one of my friends being brought to tears by her relentless, demanding, and abusive mother. Later on, the mother pigeonholed me to inform me that her daughter wasn’t herself lately because she was going through menopause and that’s why she was so emotional. She relayed the same personal, embarrassing information to my husband and sons. Annoyed that this conniving psycho was trying to take what we had seen her do with our own eyes and twist it into my friend being emotionally unstable and overreacting, I stopped her cold and told her not to talk to me about her daughter when she wasn’t there to defend herself. I said I’d only listen if she’d say it in front of my friend. Her reaction was quite amusing. She got all huffy and defensive, because I “was accusing her of gossiping about her daughter, whom she LOVED SO MUCH!” But that was exactly what she was doing. Isn’t talking negatively about somebody behind their back when they’re not there to defend themselves GOSSIP?
*My personal favorite: This one is so much fun I devoted a whole chapter in my next book to it. Somewhere along the line, expect to get a package of decades-old junk, like cards you gave your mother when you were five (why on earth would she be giving them back to you?), drawings you made when you were in grammar school, old photographs, and maybe even a home movie or two. This is a mind game meant to mess with your head. Throw them out, keep them, enjoy them, whatever, but DO NOT respond. When your estranged abusers decide it’s time to reel you in again, they will often bait the hook with some mementoes from the Dark Ages. These packages typically contain a variety of mostly worthless items that can be anywhere from five to forty years old, most of it crumbling, stained, and falling apart. Even if it was nice at one time, it will be reduced to sometimes unrecognizable garbage after spending three or four decades carelessly stored in a damp attic or basement. You can bet there will never be anything of actual value, like a piece of jewelry or a family heirloom- because THOSE they keep for themselves, or give to your sibling, the Golden Child. This wacky ploy seems to be fairly common. Just another sad and disturbing chapter in the epic saga of abusers who will do ANYTHING to maintain a connection, no matter how creepy or insane, EXCEPT to just apologize and knock off the abuse. Breaking the Bonds of Adult Child Abuse: A Biblical Textbook on Abusive Narcissistic Families, How They Operate, and How to Deal with Them Narcissistic Predicaments: A Biblical Guide to Navigating the Schemes, Snares, and No-Win Situations Unique to Abusive Families