When someone engages in unhealthy behaviors used to manipulate people back into their lives, this is called hoovering. Here’s how to respond to these manipulative behaviors.

We’ve all participated in behaviors that we’re probably not proud of. Perhaps you’ve texted an ex after a breakup, even when they asked you not to contact them. Or maybe you’ve purposely started a new friendship to make an old friend jealous after a conflict.

But when a person repeatedly exhibits these types of behaviors as a way to lure someone back in who has chosen not to engage with them, it may be a tactic called hoovering.

Hoovering is a type of emotional abuse in which a person engages in manipulative behaviors to “suck” or “hoover” (yes, like the vacuum brand) someone back into a toxic or abusive relationship with them.

It typically involves behaviors like gaslighting, gift-giving, love bombing, or other actions that manipulate the other person into coming back.

It’s worth noting that hoovering isn’t a clinically recognized or formally defined term, and there’s little research on it. It’s more of a catch-all term that refers to various behaviors often associated with cluster B personality disorders, such as:

The concept of hoovering hasn’t been established in scientific research, but the following signs may indicate a larger manipulation pattern intended to lure someone back.

It’s important to note that the following traits and behaviors may not individually constitute hoovering, but they can become more concerning when they’re part of a larger pattern.

1. Attempting to reconnect with you

If a person with manipulative behaviors isn’t getting the attention they want from you, they may reach out to try and reconnect with you and pull you back in. And if they can reconnect with you, there’s a chance that they’ll try to love-bomb you to lure you in further.

2. Disrespecting your boundaries

When using hoovering tactics, a person will likely do everything they can to disrespect the boundaries you’ve set with them because, to them, “the rules don’t apply.”

If you communicate your boundaries or stand your ground, they will likely test the limits to see how far they can go.

3. Guilt-tripping or emotional blackmail

If you’re the one who walked away, they may play the victim and emotionally blackmail you until you feel guilty and ashamed. In some cases, they may go so far as to threaten or intimidate you into coming back to them – which you might do because you’re afraid.

4. Telling you they’re going to change

They may try to convince you that they’ve changed by faking regret and remorse, hoping you’ll feel guilty about leaving. But once they’ve “sucked” you back in, you’ll quickly see that their behaviors haven’t changed.

5. Involving your family or friends

If they can’t get through to you, they may use your family and friends to attempt to connect with you instead. This is also known as triangulation.

When this doesn’t work, they might try to hurt you by spreading rumors or smearing your reputation with your loved ones and peers.

6. Acting like nothing happened

Instead of wanting to talk about what happened, they may try to convince you that anything you think happened was your fault anyway.

They will ignore your boundaries if you want to discuss the topic and will likely try to convince you that everything was your fault.

7. Threatening to harm themselves

When tactics like love-bombing, gaslighting, and other manipulative behaviors don’t work, someone who’s hoovering may resort to threatening self-harm. And if you’re worried or scared, you may give in to their advances to avoid something happening to them.

What are examples of hoovering?

Hoovering isn’t just one behavior – it’s a group of behaviors that someone intentionally uses to drag another person into a toxic or abusive situation with them. Here are some examples of what these behaviors might look like:

  • They contact you out of the blue by sending you a text or calling you.
  • They continue to reach out even after you’ve asked them to stop.
  • They shower you with compliments and gifts to get your attention.
  • They make jokes or put you down when you communicate boundaries.
  • They promise you that this time is different because they’ve changed.
  • They temporarily change their behaviors to “prove” they’re not lying.
  • They convince your family and friends to send messages on their behalf.
  • They plan future conversations and hangouts without your consent.
  • They threaten to hurt you, themselves, or others – and blame you.
Was this helpful?

More research is needed to understand the concept of hoovering, so there isn’t enough scientifically-backed information on how to properly cope. But the following tips may help you cope if a manipulative person’s behaviors are affecting you.

It can be challenging to recognize when someone is using these manipulative behaviors against you, especially if they’re a family member or ex-partner. But if you think that someone is attempting to use hoovering against you, here are a few things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Recognize these behaviors for what they are: Manipulators use hoovering to lure you back in, so learning to recognize these behaviors is the first step in standing your ground.
  • Set your boundaries and stick to them: For example, if you’ve asked them to no longer contact you, this means not responding to them when they attempt to reach out.
  • Take the higher ground in response: People who use hoovering behaviors may resort to being mean and nasty, but the best thing you can do is not to engage or respond.
  • Reach out for professional or legal help: Therapy can offer you a safe space to process some of the feelings you may be having about the other person’s behaviors. If necessary, you can also take legal steps to protect yourself if you feel that you’re in danger.

The most important thing to remember is that your personal well-being comes first – and it’s okay if you need extra support to support yourself.

Hoovering is a term used to describe a set of behaviors that a person uses to manipulate others back into a toxic relationship with them. But hoovering isn’t a clinically recognized or formally defined term established in scientific research.

If you believe someone in your life is attempting to use these behaviors against you, know that you’re not alone – and resources are available to support you.

If you or someone you know are experiencing controlling behavior or domestic violence, you can: