This is a common scenario to be caught in from people who know a little bit about toxic personalities – enough to know that “narcissist” is the term to describe their abusive ex – but not quite enough to overcome the confusing and contradictory ways they behave.
A common mistake ex partners of narcissists make after (rightly) breaking off with them, is re-engaging with them, taking their apparent “pleadings” to heart, and giving them another chance. But then after a very short while, it becomes obvious that nothing has really changed and they’re just as toxic as before. Still abusing, still gas-lighting, still triangulating, still pushing buttons. No real humility or contrition – it becomes obvious it was all an act.
It can leave victims hurt and confused all over again. Why did they act so nice for a while, only to go back to exactly the way they were before again? Why did they even bother? Why do narcissists act this way?
That’s what we’re going to clarify in this article, explaining why narcissists often engage in this “hoovering” process to draw people back in, only to quickly fall right back into the same old abusive behaviors that led you to break up with them in the first place.
Once you understand how narcissists operate, this behavior is actually very predicable. Once we drop the naivety and get streewise to how broken these people really are, and what drives them, it’s a lot easier to drop them cold and move on.
Why Has Nothing Changed With The Narcissist?
One core reason for why the narcissist hasn’t really changed at all despite their front act they put on, is because they don’t see people as people, but as sources of “narcissistic supply“.
This means, you’re seen not as a real, separate human being, but only for how you can serve them by propping up their false and broken sense of self, with some kind of reinforcement, sometimes known as “supply”.
This supply can take many forms, such as:
- Being feared
- Control or power over others.
- Constantly being validated and affirmed in their twisted worldview 100% of the time.
- Sexual attention.
- A sense of special-ness, uniqueness and perfection.
- A sense of being the best/number 1/top dog in some field or environment
- A sense of being the smart, enlightened one, while everyone around them is a stupid, inferior servant.
- Constant silly-ness and back and forth humor, jokes, memes, and being fed constant entertainment, as long as they’re the center of attention.
- A back and forth implicit arrangement where you’ll always agree on stuff and never disagree or challenge any of his obvious character deficits.
Narcissists are literally addicts in this sense; they need topping up with constant new supply, or else they start falling into depletion, which is when the more fragile ones can appear depressed, low, moody and start attacking and provoking others as a secondary backup to inflate themselves.
So here is the bottom line on why the narc ex “wooed” and seduced you into giving them another chance:
- They’re re-idealizing their old source of supply they got from you. There was something about it that they liked, and they want to see if they can get it again.
- Their current source of supply from the people around them at the moment is low, or has gone. Perhaps someone else has seen through their BS and discarded them as well, so now they’re addicts again in need of a fix.
- A combination of the above two factors.
And the reason they turned abusive again is because:
- Nothing has really changed on a core level with them (because it can’t). Their approach wasn’t sincere or genuine.
- You setting perfectly healthy boundaries, or refusing to “prop” up their narcissistic self this time, likely stopped feeding them the “supply” they needed, and irritated them into their obnoxious behavior again
- With some narcissists, there is likely an aspect of getting a “kick” out of duping and deceiving people into giving them another chance, only to break this trust all over again (more of a psychopathic trait, but crosses over into malignant narcissism as well).
“The narcissist drank all your “milkshake” and then moved onto someone else to drink their “milkshake”. But after a while they remember what your “milkshake” was like and they want to come back and try it again”
How The “Hoovering” Process Typically Plays Out With Narcissists
Once you really understand how narcissists operate as “supply” addicts, their behavior actually becomes very predictable, and your confusion around them lifts.
Narcissism is so predictable that it’s like a formula or algorithm. Here’s the same process you’ll see playing out over and over with people that give them another chance:
Step #1 – You break off with the narcissist, which was the healthy and right thing to do (hint – if you had enforced, and diligently stuck to, a strict no contact rule with them, then none of the following nonsense would have played out. When you get rid of them, it needs to be for good). If you still allow them though, they may still be sniffing around, trying to recontact and rekindle with you by phone/email/social media (block them permanently to prevent this).
Step #2 – The “hoovering” starts – if you let them, they’ll try and “woo” and seduce you with promises that they’re sorry and it will be different if you take them back and give them another chance.
Here are some common “cards” they’ll play to try and get you to let them back in:
- They’ll contact you again out the blue on social media or by text, email or some other means. This is why no contact is important to stop them doing this.
- They’ll go back to the seemingly innocent, sweet, caring image if this is what they initially reeled you in with.
- They may issue seemingly heartfelt apologies about how sorry they are about how they hurt you.
- There will be promises that the cheating, gas-lighting, projection, lying etc. won’t happen again.
- If you had been trying to get them to go to therapy because of their toxic behavior, they’ll promise to get help if you take them back.
- Any other changes in their behavior that you wanted them to make first time but they never did, they’ll latch onto these and promise to do them now, or claim they are “growing/changing/evolving/self aware” now when they haven’t changed at all.
- The general message they’ll try to hoover you back in with is “I’ll be the person you always wanted me to be”. Or “this time” I’ll be different, “this time” I can change, “this time” you can fix me (very common one that lures people back in). “Just one more chance” please.
Step #3 – “Honeymoon” period – If you’re naive enough about their motives, you’ll give them another chance and take them back. There may be a short honeymoon period where they keep this act up that they got you back with. They may seem to be acting especially nice – in fact super nice, super sweet, super empathic, extra caring. But it never usually lasts long – usually days or a few weeks at the most. Also, if you’re honest with yourself, did this forced “niceness” even feel right? In my experience, whenever a narcissist/sociopath is forcing this nice act, it’s always felt a little “sickly” or “icky” or wrong – that’s your intuition telling you it’s all fake and not sincere.
Step #4 – The Mask comes off again – It never takes too long for the mask to slip and the narcissist to start behaving obnoxiously and abusively again. All the toxic behavior will sooner or later start to re-surface again, and you’ll realize nothing has really changed. Oftentimes, it’ll be when you decide to set healthy boundaries that you decided you would do this time, and/or confront them on something again.
- Something hurtful or abusive that they promised they’d never do again, they’ll blatantly and unapologetically do it again, often suddenly and abruptly catching you by surprise with the timing of it.
- The fake “humility” they put on for you dissolves, and all of a sudden it’s back to zero humility, no ownership, no contrition, no apologies, nothing is ever their fault again, as before. It’s always your fault again.
- If they promised to go the therapy as a condition for you taking them back, that’ll fizzle out. They’ll just stop going, or make excuses for not going, or obnoxiously declare that therapy or the therapist is “stupid” and refuse to go.
- The blatant cheating, triangulation, flirting with other people in person or on social media, will start up again. They’ll do it right in front of you, just as they did before. No apologies, nothing has changed.
- The gas-lighting will be back in full force whenever you confront them on any of this – always denying, always projecting, always re-framing it so it’s your fault for “being sensitive”, “overreacting” etc. You start getting pulled back into that inverted “upside-down”, sick reality they pulled you into before.
- Anything else they know you found hurtful or abusive or irritating, they’ll start doing it all over again.
In other words, any behaviors the narcissist put on to get you back now get swiftly dropped and they go back to the same old, obnoxious, abusive patterns as before.
All narcissists act the same when “hoovering” – essential viewing
If you’ve found this article searching for this general topic online, I’d recommend watching the above video – it’s the perfect template of how ALL narcissists will act when given a second chance – they force a “nice” act for a short while, and then it drops when they can’t sustain it any longer. None of it is authentic or sincere.
Watching the video, you’ll probably find yourself smiling – “yep, that’s what they did with me when I took them back as well”. Narcissistic behavior is so predictable, it’s like an algorithm. They talk the same, act the same, and react the same, all over the world. Drop them cold and move on.
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Can Narcissists Ever Really Change?
This whole issue of why you took them back, plus why they behaved the way they did, can be resolved by answering the question of whether full blown narcissists can ever change. And the simple answer is NO. Once we see this, hopefully we won’t make the same mistake again, and will this time get rid of them for good.
Here is the most generous interpretation of what would be required for a person with full blown Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) to really, authentically change:
- Undergoing many years (not weeks or months) of intensive psychotherapy (multiple times a week), with a skilled therapist well trained in personality disorders.
- Going through an intensive 12 step recovery program for addiction (a thorough and prolonged effort, not just turning up to a few group meetings), usually in conjunction with the therapy mentioned in the above step.
- Facing criminal charges and/or incarceration which exposes them and breaks down their narcissistic image for all the public to see.
- Any other environment where they are exposed or “found out” and cannot escape to new people.
- Any other huge life upheaval which forces them to confront their personality defects over a prolonged period of time (years), not just in a fleeting and superficial way.
Are any of these things ever going to happen with a narcissist? The answer should be clear, especially once they’ve reached middle age and their narcissistic traits are firmly embedded into their personality and psyche. These people don’t ever authentically change, because they can’t. They lack the capability to. They can’t be “reached” or changed, and there isn’t a “real self” still in there somewhere you can rescue.
Any act they put on to appear to be changing is purely manipulative and self-serving. Break off all contact, drop them cold and move on.
Moving On From The Narcissist
Now we’re hopefully cleared up any confusion about what’s really motivating a narcissist’s behavior, here’s some simple tips for getting rid of them permanently and moving on.
No contact – Break off all contact with the narcissist and go strict no contact – delete off ALL platforms and never speak to them again. Do not even give them a chance to weasel their way back in with “sweet talk” and other glib nonsense. Carry on with your life as though they never existed. If you can’t go full on no contact because of children, work on gray rock methods and other tactics with a trusted therapist/counsellor (this course is also very helpful).
Therapy – If you’re hurting because of the toxic relationship with them (especially if cheating was involved), as well as multiple betrayals of trust, work with a good therapist on recovering your sense of self. Make sure they’re good though, as lots of therapists are unsuitable for this sort of work. Be very picky with the therapist you choose, but a good therapeutic relationship can help mend some of the interpersonal damage narcissists cause with constant betrayals and manipulation.
Upgrade understanding – One big reason why well meaning people let narcissists back in with a second chance if they’re still naive as to how narcissist’s really operate. Hopefully this article has helped, but really work on upgrading your understanding of pathological personality types to the point where you can drop the naivety and get streetwise to these people. Once you see there is no hope for these people to change, it’s much easier to let go of them.
New relationships – Some people argue it’s a much better use of time after ALL breakups to “never go back” to old exe’s and instead work in building new connections with new people without any baggage from the past. Whilst it’s debatable whether this is universally true, it’s definitely true with narcissists and other toxic personalities. Your time is better spent forgetting about them and moving onto healthier relationships where your boundaries are respected and you’re treated well. Move on from the toxic past and create new relationships.