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