A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

Don’t Get Sucked in by the “Hoovering” Vacuum of the Abuser

Abraham said to him, “See to it that you do not take my son back there. (Gen 24:6)

A “Hoover” is a metaphor taken from the popular brand of vacuum cleaners, to describe how an abuse victim (trying to assert her own rights by leaving or limiting contact in a dysfunctional relationship), gets “sucked back in” when the perpetrator temporarily exhibits improved or desirable behavior. It is a fairly new term and I think it is perfectly descriptive of one of the tenets of post-separation abuse philosophy. Yet another term to help us to be able to describe what often feels indescribable in the confusing moment of the abuse.


A lot of times, hoovering happens after a person sets firmer boundaries. I remember how I felt shortly after I left my ex husband five years ago. It had been three agonizing weeks since our departure. My return tickets to Europe were about to expire. I had received an email from trusted friends that my ex husband had changed. They encouraged me to go back home. My ex had also been confessing his short-comings as a husband and father. He had been (almost) begging and telling me that he simply could not live, anymore, without me. I felt torn . . . I was being sucked back in . . . I had a minuscule portion of hope that maybe he had changed. I was being hoovered.

I had been so lonely and sad. I was hungry for some sort of affirmation and just . . . to feel loved. My ex knew all of the right love-buttons to press and I was tempted. It started to feel easier to go back to him than face the other road of uncertainty. Just in time, however, a friend sent me an email he had received from my ex that day — an email that displayed all of my abusive ex’s worst qualities. He was verbally abusive to my friend and was writing about me as though I were a piece of property. I never went back and I never looked back. From that moment on, it was over for me. But being hoovered was what I knew in my relationship with him and with several others, in my life.

Hoovering feels fuzzy and warm so it draws us back in

It is familiar. And it is temporary, like so many other unhealthy behaviors that abusers exhibit. It is not our fault. But, when we succumb, it will not be long before he will take away the little bit of life that we were developing right out of us and leave us hurting and broken again, whether it is invalidating, giving the silent treatment or another favorite form of abuse. When this used to happen to me, I was bereft of my self-respect.

Other tactics include pretending like nothing happened, asking an “innocent” question or whatever it takes to break down your boundary.

Humbly, and recognizing that we are all different and all of our relationships are different, I want to share with you how I broke this cycle, in my own life.

1) I recognized the hoovering, as it was happening. That was half the battle. I decided I would rather be alone than allow myself to be treated the way I was being treated.

2) I responded to any emotionally charged texts or emails (extreme emotions, whether it be super lovey-dovey, hyper-spiritual or full of hate and blame) only when I had to and with a BIFF* response.

3) I realized that I had to work extra hard to seal my boundaries and I stuck to my guns.

4) As always, I stayed safe. If tempers were escalating, I got the heck outta’ Dodge or called a friend. Please do not be afraid to call the police.

5) I found a lot of support and I was not afraid to call someone if I was feeling weak.

I would also like to point out that I have noticed abusers can also “discard” a victim quickly, which may be a good thing but can be very painful. Chances are, the abuser has found another target, which is sad for her. She may not know what is coming.

In closing, please be at peace. The boundaries or separation or divorce that you instigated may actually be the most loving choice that you had, in your situation, for yourself and the one abusing you. I very much see it that way, in my life and experience. My ex husband and I had been through three years of counseling with a few different counselors. My ex was not going to change. If I had stayed and he would have genuinely consented to real and lasting change, it would have taken him a decade of intensive therapy. In one decade, my children would have been ruined. My leaving may have been the jolt that he needed to get himself together and stop using and taking from God’s children. I have no idea. But, the chance was there for him. As long as I stayed, he had me to hoover . . . he had his crutch and he had his supply. He would not have been able to resist because it was our way of life. And there was no one to fight for me and I had no fight left in me.

Setting boundaries is the real kind of healthy self-love that restored my dignity and self-respect. I became a different person when I began to love myself in a godly way. I’m praying for you tonight, dear reader, that the hoovering ends, once and for all, and that you press on and fill your empty cup again and feed your soul again. That soul, after all, is a beautiful God-breathed entity . . . that He cares about very much.


This is a guest post by our friend Megan Cox. Many thanks to her!

*What is a BIFF response?  See this post: A Review of “BIFF: Quick Responses to High Conflict People” by Bill Eddy



  1. Seeing Clearly 2

    Megan, I can’t thank you enough for sharing this…. it is spot on to my current situation… I have plans to leave in the next year and have to remember that everything you just wrote is my current reality and to not get sucked back in. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

    • MeganC

      You are so brave, Seeing Clearly 2! Praying for you as you plan. Be safe!! Hugs!

  2. Amen corner

    Beautifully written! Thank you.
    I appreciate learning about this new term, hoovering.
    This happened to me in my divorcing a narcissist.
    I was love bombed.
    He feigned repentance at church.
    I was told God’s best was to reconcile.
    When I rejected him, he spewed hatred of me, stalked me.
    He said “I consider you dead”.
    He quit his job and does not pay child support.
    He successfully alienated a child against me.
    Adult child and I are now reconciled.
    Co-Parenting has become parallel parenting, with remaining children.
    However, it’s the narcissist who needs the parenting.
    Eldest daughter becomes surrogate wife to narcissist and remains faithful to avoid her dad’s wrath.
    Anyone have experience on how to address this?
    Does the writer’s children live with her?

  3. Wendy

    Well said. So comforting to hear from others who have experienced this. I lost everything in my life when I named the abuse from my husband, church, kids, friends. But in the end I gained everything and am so thankful for where I am today.

    • twbtc

      Hi Wendy,

      Welcome to the blog! You will noticed I changed your screen name as it appeared that you gave your full name. For safety reasons, I changed that. We like to suggest to new commenters that they read our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for staying safe when commenting on the blog. If, after you read the page, and you would like us to change your screen name to something less identifying, feel free to contact me and I can do that. twbtc.acfj@gmail.com

      Again, Welcome!

  4. JesusmyJoy

    I am praying right now for a friend whose abuser is “hoovering” and hoping God will help her realize and understand what is really taking place.

  5. NG

    So well written and spot on. Yes, leaving an abuser is the most loving thing for everyone concerned…

  6. Elsie

    Wow I can’t believe this was actually posted the exact same night I was driving my daughter home from visitation with my abuser and I was literally thinking all these thoughts (“maybe I should reconcile, it would be easier, we got along so well tonight, etc”), and in reality I was being hoovered and I did not even realize it!! Thank you so much for this article, it has brought me peace and reassurance that leaving and staying gone is indeed the right decision.

    • I changed your screen name to Elsie just as a precaution for your safety. Welcome to the blog and so glad you found this post useful!

      We always like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

  7. TruthBknown

    I tried going back and my boundaries were trampled on. A therapist can help you get your life together. However counseling with an abuser can retraumatize by trying to hold you accountable for his behaviour choices because they won’t address the real issues. I, too, have heard of abusers discarding women after shot-gun weddings and they end up running back to the ex. May God protect and help each one never to be ensnared again.

  8. StandsWithAFist

    Great post. Hoovering, love-bombing, engulfment, enmeshment…..NONE of it is healthy and ALL of it is destructive.
    A few weeks ago my son called me about my / our abuser (my MIL, his grandmother). She had hoovered him & he knew it, but he was conflicted & wanted to know if it was “possible for her to change.”
    Then the real story came pouring out of him and it was as predictable as it was despicable.
    He said “as a Christian I want to believe that anyone can change”.
    So I expressed the truth that yes, with God’s help, anyone can change.
    But the question remains: does the abuser want to change? Or just change their tactics?
    God also allows the abuser to remain unchanged.
    Which is why the abused MUST change….to protect themselves and those they love.

    Great post.

    • keeningforthedawn

      StandsWithAFist —

      Does the abuser want to change? Or just change their tactics?

      The million-dollar question. You nailed it.

  9. Lee

    Stands with a Fist:

    I copied your last paragraph and shared. Stating that this was a comment from a blog post. Not revealing anything else.

    It’s a great sentence: God also allows the abuser to remain unchanged. So many Christians don’t believe that. But the Bible is replete with examples and God did not fellowship with unrepentant people. So why would He expect us to?

  10. broken not shattered

    Oh my…yes…I was hoovered many a time until I finally woke up and realized a pattern…It started when I left the blinding church and stopped believing their lies about marriage and stopped reading trash books Lies Women Believe and The Excellent Wife….then I finally stood up for myself to him and said, Experience is a teacher. So he said I was wrong because I was using the past against him, and bringing up old stuff. I was not. I just didn’t get sucked back in….I challenged his actions, I questioned why? We still have not come to an answer…there is a blockage somewhere that doesn’t allow him to love me.

  11. Finding Answers

    (Airbrushing through the fog and pain…)

    For me, I ended up going No Contact with everyone – family of origin, anti-x, “friends”, professional acquaintances, “c”hurch.

    Hoover makes many kinds of vacuums – some big, some small, some multipurpose. The analogy is apt.

    Sometimes the “strategy of choice” is to “disable” the nozzle…

  12. Bj

    In 2010, I left but came back to empty promises. I divorced four years later after more verbal abuse and gaslighting. Can you believe that there are people who still are unkind and unloving toward me, who still refuse to accept my divorce? This has really hurt me and has slowed down healing. No hoovering for me.

    • Can you believe that there are people who still are unkind and unloving toward me, who still refuse to accept my divorce?

      Yes, I can easily believe that.

  13. Healing my soul

    I feel terrified to think that I was so close to get back sucked in [getting sucked back in?] this weekend after his visitation to my daughter was over…. Just when I started to feel independent after all the marks that his abuse let in my soul, I was about to go backwards! Although I feel scared I know at least it is good that I am able to see it now. May God give me the strength to stay alert and especially handle the parenting without jeopardize my stability. Thanks for sharing, Megan!

    • Welcome to the blog, Healing My Soul. 🙂

      I’m so glad you didn’t get hoovered back in! Every time we re-experience and see through the abuser’s tactics, we get more wise, more astute, more strong. Having a close call is worth it — when it is past we can reflect on how the abuser manipulated and how with the grace of God we saw through the chicanery and prudently resisted it. So, well done you!

      We like to encourage new readers to check out our New Users’ Info page as it gives tips for how to guard your safety while commenting on the blog.

      And after reading the New Users’ Info page, you might like to look at our FAQ page.

      • Trying Again

        Yes, many times I felt like the Lord was teaching me the same lesson many times, and I would wonder did I really need to learn that lesson again. But yes, each time I learned a bit more and was reinforced a bit more in how to deal with my abuser, how to see through his tricks, how to keep myself safe.

        In the end, I am thankful for each and every lesson, each and every close call, each and every strengthening episode.

        Praying for strength and courage for you, Healing My Soul.

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