5 Signs You’re In The Hoovering Stage
About a year ago
I went no contact with most of my family. My therapist spent 6 months attempting to convince me this was the right choice, but I was hesitant. It was scary and hurtful at first, but eventually, I was able to enforce these boundaries with compassion, love, and kindness for both myself and my toxic family. I remained in therapy and I completed all the therapy things — reparenting, journaling, etc. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the hoovering stage.
I felt like I had temporarily gone insane, for lack of a better explanation. The hoovering stage in my situation was wrought with Facebook posts, guilt-laden emails, and text messages at all hours of the early morning. When I remained firm on my boundaries, it shifted to emails with detailed and number lists of all my wrongdoings.
I believed it had died down. I didn’t respond and I didn’t take the bait. Eventually, it stopped for a few months and I took a big breath of fresh air. Believing that perhaps, it was finally over. It wasn’t. Instead, my kid brother started contacting me, out of the blue.
My toxic family knew that he would be able to establish trust with me and he did. He’s young and I know that someday, he’ll have to face the music in our family situation too. It played my emotions. I fell for it. Only later to regret this decision as his loving, accepting nature started to turn towards attacking me with the lies he had been told about things I had said or done.
I wish I had known more about hoovering after cutting off toxic family members. Perhaps if I had, it could have saved me a lot of heartache and turmoil.
Most of what you can find on the internet about hoovering claims that it happens with narcissists only, but all toxic people will engage in this behavior in some way. Hoovering refers to the Hoover vacuum cleaner. In short, it is the stage in which an emotionally abusive person will attempt to suck you back into their orbit once you have left the situation.
I’ll add here that all narcissists are toxic but not all toxic people are narcissists. Toxic people include manipulators, emotionally neglectful folks, people who abandon, simple emotionally immature people, or anyone else that causes harm in any way. This can include lovers, spouses, friends, coworkers, bosses, inlaws, grandparents, or parents.
There are 5 stages of hoovering.
These types of people will use anything they can to garner your attention in this stage. Often, this comes in the form of an apology. If it isn’t an apology, it is sure to be something that will be crafted to play on your emotions. There are no off-limit topics here. Toxic people will use any and all information they have to force a reaction from you.
During this stage, the main goal is to make you believe that they have changed. They may say things like “I can see I was wrong”, “I’ve really changed”, “I’ve been seeing a therapist”, or “But I love and miss you so much”. It’s the hook of hoovering.
As you begin to point out that this person's behavior has not changed or highlight inconsistencies, you are discarded again. Typically this presents as anger in the form of finger-pointing. If you point out a lie, they respond by berating you. This stage may include bursts of attacks in any form from text messages, to repetitive calls, to social media posts.
This stage is similar to the hook because the main goal is still to evoke an emotional response from you with the end goal of sucking you back in. Toxic people count on what they know as your forgiveness in this stage.
When you fail to react the way a toxic person wants you to they create chaos and confusion. Often, this comes in the form of gossiping, twisting your words, or telling blatant lies about something you said or did.
It’s important to protect yourself here and only communicate via text (if possible). This way you have the insurance for yourself if you need it.
In this stage, a toxic person will deploy an outside individual to operate on their behalf. This is especially common if the no-contact boundaries include family.
The rescuer’s purpose is to convince you that you should “forgive and forget”. The toxic person will convince the rescuer using an emotional hook and with gossip and lies from the previous stage.
The Guilt Card
When you are still unconvinced and unwilling to change your boundaries, a toxic person will change the narrative to guilt. It may sound like “Someday you’ll regret this” or “I hope you’re happy with your choices when I die”.
As I was going through this stage, I felt as if everything I had worked so hard for was being sabotaged. Sometimes I was angry at my family and other times, I was angry at myself. Other times, the sadness and the grief were so overwhelming I struggled to function. Sometimes I questioned everything about myself, a symptom of gaslighting (another thing that all toxic people do).
It felt hopeless. I searched the internet for guidance on no contact with family members and the hoovering stage. All I kept coming up with was narcissistic or domestic violence abuse victims. The information was general but couldn’t be applied in my situation.
I wish I had known about the hoovering stage in navigating no-contact boundaries with family members. It is difficult to navigate the hoovering stage no matter what situation you are in, but no one is quite prepared for their family to tell blatant lies, gossip, twist the truth, and then employ other beloved members to double down on these falsehoods. Few people can be prepared for the guilt card when phrases like “What if your mother dies in a car crash today. Then how stupid would you feel?”.
No-contact boundaries and the hoovering stage are harder to navigate when it comes from the very core group of people who should love you the most in the world. If you’re at a place of no contact or considering it, check out my how-to guide here. It includes modern, social media and smartphone techniques, too.
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