This is a common question among people who’ve been in relationships with narcissists. We all learn pretty quickly of the “hoovering” tactic, where they circle back trying to regain your trust and attention after they’ve dropped you or you dropped them, but why do they seem to always come back right at the point when you seem to have recovered, moved on and are strong again?
The fact that this exact question is typed into search engines so often provides a clue that we need to go “woo” a bit in searching for an answer, and explore the possibility that we are somehow connected on a deeper level than just what we can clearly discern with our five senses.
Why do ex partners or friends of narcissists ask this question so often? Why do so many of us encounter this exact same phenomenon, where they seem to come back into our life right when we’ve gained (or regained) our strength or have happily moved on from them? Moreover, in many cases this can be months or even years since we last spoke to them? What’s going on here?
We’ll explain in more detail further below, but here is a quick summary answer:
The frequency with which victims of narcissists report them reappearing back in their life right at the point they are strong or have moved on is indicative of a deeper connection between narcissists and their former partners, where the narcissist can almost seem to sense when their ex has moved on and is unsettled by the loss of control that this represents.
Whilst some readers may be put off by such a vague and non-materialist explanation, there’s really no other conclusion we can come to when we see how often people who’ve been tangled up with narcs in the past experience the uncanny timing of them suddenly reappearing again out the blue when they’re strong and happy, and pulling out the same old “hoovering” tactics we’ll all be familiar with.
It’s also confirmed by people who work with victims of narcissistic relationships, such as the excellent Richard Grannon, which we’ll cover in more detail. In short, it just happens too often to be a coincidence, which is why we have to accept on some level the concept of psychological connection between people on an almost telepathic level to explain it.
Let’s look at this bizarre phenomenon in more detail.
The Timing of a Narcissist Recontacting You
Like so many readers, I too had noticed this pattern in relation to narcissists and their ex friends/partners, and was at a loss to explain it, until I came across the excellent work of Richard Grannon, who works in the field of narcissism and recovery from toxic relationships.
He speaks with authority on this, having worked with hundreds of people who’ve been involved with narcissists, and this quote from one of his seminars explains the pattern perfectly:
“(Someone) is in a relationship with a narcissist, and at the moment when they start to recover, the narcissist crawls out of the woodwork and sends them an email or calls them. The day, the morning, the afternoon. They’re getting on with their life, something great happens, they just got a new job, they’re about to move to a new country, life’s moving forward finally.
BOOM! In (the narcissist) comes. How does he know? How does she know? It’s almost like there’s a web, a connection there….The point that I’m making here is, you’re conveying more about your emotional state than you realize. You might even be conveying it without being in contact at all. So be happy, that tortures them…Get to the point where they are not on your mind”
Got a text from your narc ex that seems to have an uncanny sense of timing?
Here’s some ways this pattern can manifest, some examples of it:
- You’ve made a major breakthrough in therapy and feel you now “get” something about their behavior or the relationship you had with them. You feel stronger, more in control and detached.
- You’re just about the start a new job.
- You’ve just started a new relationship.
- You’re about the move to a new country.
- You’ve just woken up one day, and thought to yourself “do you know what, I’m over this person now. I don’t care about them one way or the other. I’m strong and in a good place”, or something similar.
- You’ve reached a place of detachment and indifference regarding them and the relationship you had with them, to the point where you rarely think about them and if they ever come up in conversation or in your thoughts, your reaction is just “meh”. They’re not important to you anymore.
- You feel if they tried their old nonsense abuse tactics, you’d hold your own and not stand for it any more. You’ve got more self respect and stronger boundaries than you used to have.
- In general, you’ve made a major mental breakthrough that’s further detached you from them, or you’re about to start a positive new chapter in your life that represents another level of moving on and feeling strong and recovered.
And then just when everything seems great again, when you’re in a good place, in they come again!
But don’t worry! If you’ve seen this pattern in your own life, where a narc ex suddenly crawls out the woodwork again when you’re strong and have moved on, you are not alone. It’s very common, and it’s difficult to explain it in any other way than saying there’s some kind of intangible connection there, where they can sense you’ve moved on and detached from them and it unsettles them. We’ll offer some possible reasons for why this bothers them further below.
Moreover, I’ve even seen evidence in my own life that narcs even have an anticipatory sense of when you’ve taken decisions that will in the future (not even right now) lead to you breaking free of them, even if you aren’t “free of them” or “strong” right now.
It’s like they can sense even when you’ve taken a first step or made a smart investment that will in the future allow you to be independent and not need them, even if you are not fully aware of confident of this yet.
It’s like they have an uncanny radar that can sense when you detach from them psychologically a little more, and this seems to stoke in them their fears of being abandoned (more on this below). It’s bizarre to experience. You’ll find them suddenly being extra kind and generous, even giving away their own stuff to you when they never normally do, like they’re trying not to lose you.
It’s weird, but also “icky” and unsettling in my experience, because it’s not real and is based on the fact that narcissistic personality is so fragile and broken that they can’t stand to lose someone one more time. We’ll cover this more further below in the section on shame and abandonment in relation to narcissism.
Narcissists & Their Need For Supply
Now we’ve covered the weird aspect of the timing of the contact, let’s also cover the “why” of why they’re even contacting you again at all, so readers have a complete picture of what’s going on.
To understand why they circle back months or years after a breakup trying to rekindle with you, we need to understand a narcissist’s addictive and desperate need for “supply”.
The supply model of NPD is the best way to understand the disorder. It basically states that narcissists are constantly looking for some form of supply from other people, which confirms one of two things:
- How they’re so beautiful, clever, bright, funny, exceptional and special. Some kind of admiration/adoration/attention.
- How other people (or one target scapegoat individual or group in particular) is stupid and dumb, which makes them feel superior and “full” by comparison
This can take many different forms; here are just some of them (list is not exhaustive):
- 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, or there’s a back and forth attention dynamic where they feed you nonsense and you feed them nonsense.
- 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 is suddenly contacting you again:
- 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.
“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”
Moreover, this can vary, and there isn’t a one size fits all answer. Some narcissists you will literally never hear from again after the discard or after you drop them. It’s like you’re dead to them, and it’s best to return the favor by also pretending they never existed.
However, some narcissists will circle back after months or years and see if they can top up their supply. It all depends on how much they liked the supply they got from you, and still want it from time to time, plus how much or little supply they’re managing to leech off the people currently in their midst.
Narcissism, Shame & Abandonment
Another possible piece of the puzzle in understanding why you breaking free of narcissists psychologically seems to unsettle them so much is understanding more how the narcissistic personality forms, and how fundamentally fragile and broken it is.
Regardless of the outer confidence and brashness that more overt narcissists project out, the research on narcissistic personality confirms that it is a deeply shame based disorder, and also often drive by an intense fear of abandonment.
In other words, you being strong and breaking free of them represents them being abandoned one more time, in the same way they were originally abandoned by their original caregivers, who likely ignored, objectified, shamed, berated or rejected them.
When their childhood was particularly abusive, this can create fear up to the level of terror in the narcissist, which explains why they can behave in such odd ways when faced with this symbolically happening to them again, to the point where they’ll show up trying to “hoover” you back in again with a weird onslaught of charm and fake “niceness”.
This, along with understanding their addictive relationship with the supply they’re always seeking, is another aspect of why narcissists can recontact you again when you’re strong and free of them, as they don’t like the sense of loss and abandonment this triggers in them.
You being strong and detached from them also conveys the message to them that they don’t matter, which is another insult to their fragile sense of self.
Tips For Managing Attempts to Re-Contact You
Given all we’ve gone over so far, the answer to dealing with unexpected contact from a narcissist ex after a long time should be clear – don’t get drawn back in and ignore or dismiss them.
However, precisely the fact that it happens out the blue after months or years can shock and unsettle us. Here are some tips to handle this:
- Stay calm. If it’s an email/text/social media message, and you’re taken by surprise because it’s been so long, your heart may jump and you may be flooded with adrenaline again (plus other psycho-somatic reactions) once you realize it’s them. Do not react when still in this state. Take time to calm yourself down:
- Go for a walk or do some exercise
- Try meditation if you can
- Try relaxing music
- Try any kind of pattern interrupt, like self administered bilateral stimulation, which can calm racing thoughts and neutralize your emotional connect to events.
- Do any or all of these things until you return to a baseline state of calm where you can see things clearly.
- Once you’ve calmed down, then handle it in a way that keeps you in control. Do NOT respond right away if it triggers you, as you’re not in control.
- If you are recovered to the point where you stay calm even when the unexpected contact comes through, then great! It’ll make brushing them off even easier.
- Do NOT be drawn back into long discussions about anything.
- In fact, you don’t need to respond at all. You can just ignore them and block their number (best approach if you’re perfectly happy doing this). If it’s a phone call, just put the phone down. Also consider changing your number, email, social media etc. since the best approach is to block off any avenues they can contact you anyway (full-on no contact).
- It can also be satisfying however to brush them off in a briefly dismissive way. Say you’re not interested, and imply they’re boring, dull, uninteresting and unexceptional, and put the phone down and block their number, as a final parting shot to irritate them.
- Be aware that even in the briefest communications, they’ll probably be trying to provoke or annoy you, or make you jealous again.
- Be especially aware of hoovering, where they’ll pretend they’ve changed to try and draw you back in. See next section. Don’t fall for it.
- Bottom line – Ignore or quickly dismiss. Don’t waste your time on them. Move on with your life.
- See Richard Grannon’s excellent course on managing contact with a narcissist, NOT for re-opening up permanent contact again, but for better understanding the narcissistic personality, and for handling even brief contact in a way that keeps you in control.
Narcissists & Hoovering
Most readers who are fully strong and recovered will already know this, but just in case anyone is wavering and debating within themselves whether the narcissist deserves another chance, let’s prepare them for the predictable tactic of “hoovering”, where the narcissist will tell you what you want to hear to try and get you back.
Do not be taken in by any of this glib nonsense. It’s just more game and manipulation.
Here are some examples of it:
- 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”.
- If you do take them back, they’ll keep up these apparent changes for a while, then drop them and go straight back to the old, obnoxious, abusive patterns.
Hoovering From The Psychopath/Narcissist:
When you see through the cheap trickery of an NPD, it’s almost comical. Don’t fall for any of their nonsense. Drop them cold and move on.
Bottom line – Never let a narcissist back in. These people cannot and will not change absent years of intensive psychotherapy and introspection. 9,999 times out of 10,000, this never happens. See our article which explores the issues of narcissists and change in more detail.