Borderline Personality Disorder,  Emotions,  Impulsiveness,  Shame

More on Hoovering

Cats and HooveringYesterday, I received a long and thoughtful comment about my post The Myth Of Hoovering. I wanted to respond to it, because I believe that the commenter actually misunderstood my point about hoovering and why I called it a “myth.” Certainly, I was well-aware that the post (along with The Myth of the High-Functioning Borderline) would be controversial in the non/BPD-support community. The commenter said the following about my post:

“Regarding the misinformation you mention, you’ve discounted the existence of the “hoovering” phenomenon on the basis that it’s not a conscious behaviour. In the link you provided, and in mentions of this concept I’ve seen elsewhere, I didn’t note any stipulation that the key ingredient of hoovering is premeditation. It’s merely an esoteric term to describe the behaviour that follows after the person with BPD has done something to scare off / push away their partner, and it is very compelling and sometimes very dangerous for the Non. It also mirrors the cycle of violence in cases of domestic abuse and you are dismissing the realities of countless victims who are so frequently told they should “just leave”. THIS is a shining example of ignorance. Whatever household appliance you name it after, the behaviour pattern in question most certainly does exist, in studies, interviews, textbooks, and therapy sessions, regardless of whether the person enacting it is conscious of its effects.”

The link I provided was to the definition of “hoovering” at My argument against hoovering was to point out that hoovering is not a pre-meditated form of manipulation, but in reality, I should have made a more salient point about hoovering and the existence (or lack there of) of the phenomenon. The link on says this:

“The intent of the hoover is to get the Non back into the relationship.”

In my experience with BPs, this statement is not the case. The intent of hoovering or any behavior that a person with BPD does (when untreated and emotionally dysregulated) has nothing to do with the non. The intent to two-fold IMO: 1) to as immediately as possible feel better emotionally and 2) to confirm that the BP is not a “bad person” and deserving of love, no matter what poor behavior was previously exhibited to argue otherwise.


You see, hoovering is routed in shame (shame of the BP, not the non). The person with BPD will want to confirm to themself that the non (who supposedly loves them – of course this goes both ways) does not discover that deep inside they are a shameful and unworthy person. I mentioned the “toxic self-consciousness” mind-set when I was talking about David Foster Wallace and his suicide. Toxic self-consciousness is there so that someone can be vigilant about protecting others from discovering their shame and thus, leaving them because they are “bad” and unworthy of love. The shame element is what feeds the fear of abandonment, not the other way around. Often, nons (and professionals) talk about the fear of abandonment as the “core” of BPD, but I believe that BPD actually has 3 core features that lead to the others (including fear of abandonment, rejection sensitivity, fault-finding behavior and others). Those core features are emotional dysregulation, shame and impulsiveness. So, in the event of a hoover, the BP is fearful that you (as a non) will discover their shame and this leads to emotional dysregulation (basically, panic) which can lead to impulsive behavior (including hoovering).

Another article from – the “rules of engagement” can be found here: Rules of Engagement. This is actually the article of which I was thinking when I posted my previous post on hoovering. Here’s what it says:

Rule #5: If at any time the Non figures out the Rules of Engagement for BPD Land, the BPD’er must change the situation, rewrite history, and thereby purchase the Non a one way ticket back to BPD Land.

Rule #6: If Rule #5 fails, the person with the disorder must use a major hoover, promise anything, mirror the Non exactly, seduce the Non, or engage in multiple acts of what ever worked last time to convince the Non that “this time will be different”.

As you can see rule #6, does imply premeditation, since “Rules of Engagement” imply premeditation. It states that a BP will use a major “hoover” to “convince the Non that ‘this time it will be different’.” What many of these documents and posts (such as the “Ten Demandments”) imply is that the BP is motivated by and reacts to the behavior of the Non. My view on this is that a BP will react and behave completely in response to their own feelings, shame and conditioned behavior. Very little of a BP’s behavior is about the non. In the words of WHINE – IAAHF (“It’s always about his/her feelings). Why does this matter?

It matters because a Nons approach toward a perceived hoover will be different and more effective than in the past. When given the choice between “giving in” or “rejecting” a hoover – each comes with a price. The price of giving in can be your own shame, feeling of stupidity when things don’t change and/or anger at the other person for manipulating you and your feelings. The price of rejecting a hoover is (in my experience) rage, rejection, fault-finding and the “what about you?” argument that many BPs will use to deflect attention from their own shame. However, if you realize that the actual problem is not the hoovering behavior (which DOES exist, I’m not denying that), it is the feelings of panic and shame that motivate the hoovering, the act of hoovering can be faced more effectively. Meaning, if you solve the real problem (which is the emotional dysregulation and feelings of shame in the BP), the hoovering behavior will cease because the motivating factor is NOT “to get the Non back at whatever the costs” – it is to make the BP feel better and worthy of love in themselves.

As an aside, I had an experience with my cat this morning that could be seen as hoovering. This cat is not very loving (except when she wants to be). She was a stray and abused, so she is pretty shy about showing affection. I’ve had her for about 2 years. Anyway, last night she got locked out of the house all night. When I came downstairs at 7 AM this morning, she was sitting in the back window (on the outside) meowing. I opened the door for her and she ran inside and rubbed up against me, followed me around for about 20 minutes and made me pet her by pushing her head against my hand. This was all before she went to the food bowl, which is usually the first thing she does in the morning. Again, this is not an affectionate cat, normally. But she was upset and needed to have affection shown to her. After she calmed down and made sure we still loved her and didn’t abandon her, she went upstairs, climbed in the linen closet and went to sleep. My point is that even a simple animal (although cats are hardly simple animals, they have interesting personalities) undergoes emotional dysregulation and needs assurances and needs to feel better. If the point of hoovering is to feel better and to receive feedback from a loved one that you are worthy of love – what is wrong with that? I believe that in the moment, those feelings are completely genuine (although further emotional dysregulation at a later time might cause opposite behavior) and can be assuaged with emotional tools. In the case of the cat, I just had to pet her and reassure her that all was OK. Of course most cats hate vacuum cleaners, whatever the brand.


  • John Lucas

    GREAT post, Bon. And I love the cat example; it’s a perfect analogy.

    My favorite part of this post was this line:

    “Of course most cats hate vacuum cleaners, whatever the brand.”

  • Border Life

    Thanks for elaborating on this mechanism. I often find myself to be the “double-bind” situation– choosing between harming my own self esteem by “giving in” or “rejecting” and suffering from the effects of the accompanying rages and blame. I think I hear that the intent is to get the Non back into the relationship in order to alleviate negative emotions. That is, the phenomena exists, the reasons behind it aren’t due to the BP’s thoughts of love for the other person as such. Undoubtedly this information will help me when faced with hoovering. Thank you.

  • MZ

    I agree with your comment. It is very difficult to have any satisfactory outcome to whatever we call this process with that I’m referring to satisfactory outcome for the sufferer.

    I ‘ve never had any illusion that ‘hoovering’ is about me (the non) as I can see how desperate the BP is for any kind of connection at this point. However what is difficult is knowing how to effectively respond to such a ‘defended ‘person who is already shamed beyond belief by their need to come hat and hand begging once more for connection.

    I find by the time my x makes contact, his level of frustration is so great that even when he is met with a genuine warm welcome, he somehow always manages to short circuit himself in the process making it necessary for him to come back time and again to get a very poor incarnation of the love and affection he desires.

    Any as un p.c. as it sounds, my heart breaks for him. Can you tell me why each ‘reunion’ after the hoover lasts a shorter time as the article said?

    Many thanks for your blog

  • Skip/

    The term “hoover” is “urban slang”. The term was born on an Internet support forum in the early 2000’s.

    Is it a good term or a bad one? I think the true test is whether it enlightens and provides clarity over more conventional terminology or whether it obfuscates and furthers misunderstanding.

    From my experience, it is more the latter.

    “Hoovering” generally implies maliciousness, premeditation, and that a pwBPD does it intentionally to injure the “non”.

    As B Dobbs points out, pwBPD are notoriously impulsive, wounded, and reflexive and often too consumed in their own pain to be respectful or sensitive to others.

    While the “reason” may not matter much with respect to how much a non is hurt by such actions… the reason does matter in terms of how the non can best respond for all involved.

    Good discussion.

  • MorningAfter

    Maybe I’m just not thinking straight…it seems a little like splitting hairs to me. I never thought from any of the definitions of hoovering that I’ve read that the behavior was really about the non but about resolving the feelings of the BP. Maybe some people have taken it a little too personally, but either way, it definitely happens. What I’m not seeing, is what is the best way to deal with this? So, okay, the BP has tormented me emotionally, and we’ve ended the relationship and now he feels bad and reaches out towards me. What are we saying I should do? If I give into him in order to soothe/take care of him, I know there’s not going to be a good outcome. He’ll only be soothed for a very short period of time and I’ll feel much worse. Do I not respond at all?

  • Bon Dobbs

    I say focus on the emotions. The idea of “giving in” and him “tormenting you emotionally” does not agree with my basic premise here – that the behavior is completely motivated by the emotions of the person with BPD. If you (or, more importantly, he) deal with the emotional root of the behavior, the behavior will go away.

  • Gar

    Really interesting comments and tend to agree. I’ve literally just come out of a marriage with someone I now realise had BPD throughout the entire relationship. Two v young kids and all very messy. Not sure how or why I refused to see it over the years but all the symptoms were there and because I never set good boundaries and was too passive in my approach it just made things worse. You lose your respect and self respect and think the good times will out weigh some of the terrible emotional abuse you suffer. My BPD started an intense romantic emotional affair with another man about 6 months before we separated and I could not understand how someone could be able to sacrifice everything and her young family for her own selfish wants/needs.
    Understanding the black and white thinking and how emotions and feelings become so intense has really helped me understand what at the time I thought very irrational almost crazy behaviour. Reading into how these relationships develop and star was like reading the story of how we first met and fell in love. I was the saviour. Now it’s someone else and while there is a part of me that was devastated to begin with I’m now feeling v sorry for the next guy as it’s just history repeating itself. Same game, different players and 1 player who does not know the rules of the game. Lucky escape…

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