The Tragedy of Narcissistic Abuse: Hoovering, Love Bombing, and Cognitive Empathy
Being in a relationship with a narcissist feels so convoluted and devastating because they seemingly trap you with falsified moments of trust. In these precious moments, you experience a sense of profound security and comfort.
You sense that your partner understands you in a way nobody else can. You feel like you can’t get out- that you’re crazy if you decide to leave.
But, it’s all a thinly-veiled lie built on advanced manipulation. Let’s see why.
The Love Bombing Paradox
Let’s start with the beginning of most relationships with narcissists. Frequently, it begins too well. Maybe, for the first time, you feel like you’re really in love with another person. It’s euphoric and intoxicating. Like the rush of a drug, the high seems enticing and alluring.
Indeed, this relationship seems like the answer to all your problems. You feel like the prize of all prizes, and you believe your love is unique and enchanting. Your partner is the one, and such affirming words and actions prove it to you.
Love bombing refers to using flattery, compliments, and cognitive empathy to secure your trust and approval. When narcissists engage in love bombing, they attempt to seal your faith and sense of validation and safety in a relationship.
Narcissists understand that humans crave affection and a sense of belonging. They know that most people carry insecurities that evoke fear and resistance. As a result, the narcissist will act in seemingly noble ways to dismantle those defenses. In doing so, they will provide you with the affection you need. They will seemingly accept and even embrace those shameful parts of you. You may feel like your insecurities have melted away.
Again, it’s enticing and captivating, and it’s what keeps you hooked in. Love bombing represents a security weapon. Because you’ll feel safe and appreciated, you’ll want to stay close to your narcissist. Your partner has become a sneaky, well-dressed predator, one who knows how to flatter your every flaw and compliment your every quirk.
At first, it’s exciting. Because let’s face it. Who doesn’t like to feel adorned? Who doesn’t want all the attention and validation? Who doesn’t want to feel unconditionally accepted and appreciated?
But when the surface cracks, the narcissist’s uglier, authentic colors start to emerge. The darkness reveals itself. It may happen slowly. An insult here and there. A passive-aggressive comment. Blame or accusations that don’t make sense. You typically brush them off at first. After all, nobody is perfect, right?
Then you suddenly can’t do anything correctly. Suddenly, you’re the enemy, the ugly fool, the stupid and incompetent person who keeps messing up. Your partner becomes more and more meaner. You start feeling more and more insecure, worthless, uncertain of your every move. Suddenly, you’re walking on eggshells in your own home, ashamed and fearful of your next step.
Because the narcissist knows how to lift you up emotionally, he or she also knows how to bring you down. Love bombing floods you with idealization only to then reject the very core of yourself.
The Hoovering Trap
You finally broke free from your toxic and abusive relationship. The release felt so painful, but you’re now on the positive road towards recovery. Perhaps you have taken the time to reflect on the narcissistic abuse you endured. Perhaps you have decided to pursue the method of no-contact, and you feel empowered and enlightened. You are ready to move on.
Until you get a message. Until the narcissist comes right back.
Hoovering is a powerful, manipulative tactic narcissists use when they feel threatened about losing you and the relationship. In this process, they enter back into your life and utilize whatever strategies they can to suck you into their manipulation (just like a Hoover vacuum).
Even if you felt strong and convicted in your values, the narcissist uses hoovering to challenge your status quo in an attempt to win you back. Because narcissists intimately know your weaknesses, flaws, and deepest secrets, they will exploit them as a means of taking advantage of your vulnerability.
To them, it’s just a proverbial game of cat-and-mouse. They’re just assessing and making sure that they can restore their original power and influence.
Hoovering can come in many different flavors. Some narcissists use sweet, empathic approaches to suck you back in. They will send complimentary messages reminiscing on positive memories and praising your worth. They may deliver your favorite flowers to your work or leave a thoughtful present in your mailbox.
Others will resort to guilt-tripping tactics to evoke feelings of sympathy and shame. They will apologize for their actions and tell you how wrong they were for hurting you. They’ll assure you that things will be different this time, that they love you, that they are just a little broken.
They’ll tell you that you’re the light of their world, the best thing that ever happened to them. They’ll blame their past traumas or their ex-partners or the stress at work. They’ll use every excuse in the book, and when they run out of those, they’ll find a new book.
Finally, some will feign an overwhelming crisis where only you can understand. With this approach, they’ll trap you with a sob story and emphasize that only you can help.
Hoovering represents the top of a pyramid of false promises. Promises to change. Promises to offer you something better or new. Promises to be a better partner in the future.
Remember, if your partner could uphold those promises, he or she would have done so long ago. The groveling and storytelling and apologizing is a mere distraction from the fact that your leaving has threatened their innate sense of power.
Of course, the ending of a relationship represents a mini-death to the narcissist’s ego. To them, it’s unfathomable, insulting and unforgivable. Thus, he or she will utilize whatever tricks they can find to ‘suck you’ back under their control, back where they believe you rightfully belong.
And, yes, they’ll be convincing with their narratives. They’ll make you second-guess your intentions. They’ll make you wonder if you’re being the over-dramatic or crazy one.
Don’t Give In To The Manipulation
As you can see, love bombing and hoovering both exist on a similar continuum. Both tactics involve distraction (from seeing the person for who he or she truly is) and deceit (convincing you of a false reality). Unfortunately, to the untrained victim, both strategies work exceedingly well, and that is why many people stay in these toxic relationships despite feeling miserable and unloved.
If you’re in the throes of love bombing, it’s important to take a step back and evaluate the state of your relationship. While it’s normal for partners to validate and compliment you, the intensity and frequency shouldn’t feel so intoxicating. It also shouldn’t ‘turn off’ at a moment’s notice.
If you’ve already ended this kind of abusive relationship, committing to the no-contact approach is going to be the fastest road towards sustainable healing. You already said goodbye once. You already left once. Stay strong and stay true to yourself.
You and your recovery deserve it.