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Pursuit & Distance: Hoovering

By Kenda-Ruth Stumpf

Hoovering is a metaphor describing how an abuser sucks a victim back into the relationship. Often it describes apologies, promises and temporary exhibits of improved behaviors. But Monster behaviors spew that incites arguing and poor-me victim clinging and whining are also hoovering.

  • Gifts such as flowers
  • Promises: Alienator break-ups--I'll never see her again.
  • I'm lonely and depressed. You're the only one who will listen.
  • I'm leaving and you won't have anything left.

The person hoovering may be genuine in his intentions and apologies. He may have broken up with the alienator or be planning to break-up; that doesn't mean the break up or the relationship will last. MLCer guilt and depression are real. MLCer taunts and threats are often bluffs meant to push your buttons, but some will follow through and the more narcissistic the MLCer, the more he may mean what he says when making threats; a narcissist needs to suck you back in because it is through attention that he feels real.

Won't he someday feel like I've given up on him?
Perhaps, but that may not be a bad thing. Have you given up on him or is it merely a fear of his? Reassure him that you believe in him and that you believe he can do this--whatever this is--on his own. Then step back and do nothing. That is how you show you believe in him. Consider that when you interfere you are showing a lack of faith in his abilities. MLCers need someone to believe in them, but poor-me whining is a hoovering and cake-eating tactic to suck you back into service.

When he was feeling guilty, he told me I didn't fight hard enough for him.
That is classic hoovering. He tried to give you his guilt and make you feel at fault when he did not want to come home. This gives you a glimmer of hope that if you fight for him he may come home, thereby sucking you back into your former pursuit. Some MLCers want you to win the fight, they secretly want to come home--someday, some not so secretly. They think they know what actions on your part would convince them and some are free with this advice during the crisis or they offer it in hindsight later--genuinely. But MLCers are not aware that once you return to pursuing they will return to distancing, they get what they ask for and suddenly change their minds--again.

When you cease your pursuit you are likely to experience panic, depression and mood swings. Your MLCers reaction--hoovering--to your distancing may exacerbate your emotional turmoil. Your MLCer is panicking too. Rather than giving in to your panic and desire to placate your MLCer, allow this panic to be his burden; it is part of the process. Giving your MLCer space enables him to face the fears buried within his Shadow--one of which is losing you.

And then my husband sends me some beautiful roses to my work today. I don't know if he is playing games.
MLCers play games and manipulate, but more than that, they cycle. So sure, he could be trying to placate you, but it's more likely that he is cycling toward you with his guilt. When he spews venom and regresses he is cycling away with his guilt--toward and away are both guilt actions.

    When I'm distant my MLCer...
  • accuses me of being manipulative or vindictive.
  • calls me names--Bitch!
  • says I don't love or care about him.
  • becomes angry and mean.
  • says there is nothing between us; we've grown apart.

You are not caring for him, but you are caring about him. Sometimes love and care are passive; you show and do them by doing nothing. He is trying to suck you back in; his words show that what you are doing is working. He is trying to make you responsible for his actions and inactions and thus to get you to resume the familiarity of your pursuit pattern. When instead of responding, your MLCer reacts with antagonistic behaviors and emotions you will know it is working. The dynamics did change--just not in the positive direction you wanted or expected. What you are doing may seem to cause your relationship to move backwards instead of forwards. Your MLCer's reactions are showing you that he is upset and is trying to get his way. He felt secure and in control when you were pursuing and initiating the communications; he had the choice to ignore you or respond because he felt reassured that you were there. When you distance yourself he is in unfamiliar territory and panics. He is no longer in control and thus feels insecure. Some MLCers will react to distancing by pursuing nicely--either with genuine kindness or manipulative placations. Others will react with an antagonistic pursuit. It is still a type of pursuit in that he is now initiating communication; it's also hoovering. He's trying to upset you so that you will go back to your pursuer role and he can again feel secure and in control in a familiar situation. Your job is to be consistent and respond instead of react which will force him to eventually change his tactics to connect with you. Emphasize the word eventually in that last statement. Your MLCer will exhaust each tactic before switching and he may try to escalate his antagonistic behavior multiple times to break you.

I'm Kenda-Ruth and I believe in marriage.
Are you tired of hearing...
  • Once a cheater always a cheater?
  • You're better off without him?
  • She doesn't deserve you?
  • I guess it just wasn't meant to last?
  • Divorce is no big deal?
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