Fact or Myth: BPD and Hoovering

Fact or Myth: BPD and Hoovering
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Compared to other mental health conditions, borderline personality disorder or BPD is still being investigated via clinical trials from the National Institute of Mental Health1 (NIMH), especially since the exact cause is relatively unknown; although some researchers say it may be a genetic or environmental mental health condition2.

In the past decade or so, the use of antipsychotic drugs, anti-anxiety medications, and dialectical behavior therapy of DBT, have shown improvement in those with BPD, but what’s this new thing we are now hearing called BPD and hoovering?

What Is Hoovering?

Although the exact source of the term hoovering as it pertains to those with BPD is anyone’s guess, most BPD and non-BPD forums claim the creator of the term was most likely an online BPD support website, BPD411. This online support website is owned by Kelly and Deborah Anderson who do add a disclaimer to all of their offerings stating that the materials contained within the website are from “personal experiences of the authors.”

From further research, and as the mother of a BPD daughter, BPD and hoovering is best explained as a person with BPD that sucks or “hoovers” (much like the vacuum cleaner) the non-BDP back into relationships through the power of guilt and desperation.

The term “hoovering” has not been recognized by the NIMH, but non-BPDs who have relationships with BPDs do seem to feel the condition exists. On the other side of that coin, there are many websites such as Anything to Stop the Pain by Bon Dobbs, who has been married to a person who has BPD for over 20 years and for the last 4-5 years has performed his own research including the publication of two books on BPD.

A non-BPD that feels they have been “hoovered” or sucked back into a relationship goes something like this if a non-BPD attempts to leave a relationship:

BPD Sufferer“You hate me and you never liked me or even loved me, I should just take all these sleeping pills and then you’d really feel bad.”

Non-BPD“No! That’s not true. I do love you and will always be here for you no matter what! I’ll never leave you.”

You can find many hoovering posts from non-BPDs all over the Internet, however, since the NIMH doesn’t feel the condition exists, what do psychiatrists think? I asked my mental health professional, Dr. Robert Franklin about “hoovering” and he did say he had heard the term (from non-BPD patients who were supporting their BPD counterparts in therapy sessions), but “never gave it much weight.”

Bon Dobbs seems to totally dislike the word hoovering saying “it doesn’t exist.” Mr. Dobbs also feels that BPDs are unable to “manipulate” or “pull a hoover” because they “live in the moment,” and are unable to manipulate. To further his dislike of the word hoovering, Dobbs says that BPDs can’t “hoover” because the emotions that flood them make it impossible for BPDs to “plan ahead of time when to hoover.”

Image Credit (MorgueFile)

Please continue on to Page 2 for more on BPD and hoovering and a link to a BPD publication from the NIMH.

The Hoovering Dilemma

Vacuum Morgue File

As the mother of a 30 year old daughter with BPD, I do remember a phone call; I received one night (we live in two different states) that went something like this:

Daughter: “Mother, if you ever loved me I need you to do something for me and not ask me why. Can you do that? I need to use your frequent flyer miles to take a trip but you can’t judge me OK? Oh and you can’t ask questions either, you must trust me!”

Me: “Why do you want to leave your husband right now, especially since you found a new doctor and therapist? Where do you want to go?”

Daughter: “I want to go visit my old high school boyfriend and if you don’t let me use your frequent flyer miles to get here, I’ll just hitchhike and you’ll be sorry if I get raped! Are you going to give them to me or not?”

The conversation continues with basically the same sort of statements from my daughter and because I am aware of her BPD I could have:

  • A – Given her the frequent flyer miles and not asked any more questions in fear of her hitchhiking – to me this is definite hoovering.
  • B – Told her I would not give her the frequent flyer miles – this is more of setting limits and boundaries—something non-BPDs must do.

I chose option B and while I worried she might hitchhike to get there, she did not. Because I did not allow myself to be manipulated or “hoovered” the consequences I faced as a non-BPD were fierce and since that time, our relationship has been non-existent; except for a call here and there to tell me she’s “not dead, but I really made her much, much worse since I wouldn’t let her use my frequent flyer miles.”

So is BPD and hoovering a myth of a fact? Often myths turn into facts or are perceived as fact. An idea can become a reality—hence non-BPDs reading about hoovering and feeling, “yes this has happened to me!”

Image Credit (MorgueFile)

Hoovering and Manipulation

Although the NIMH doesn’t recognize BPD and hoovering they do believe that manipulation occurs in people who suffer from the disorder. As they put it, for BPDs, “when a slight separation or conflict occurs (with family members and partners), they switch unexpectedly to the other extreme and angrily accuse the other person of not caring for them at all.”

Still, as a non-BPD with a BPD child, I do understand the views of Bon Dobbs who says because they live in the moment they are unable to plan ahead to manipulate. I think hoovering, therefore, is not manipulation but spontaneous in nature. Or, “I feel this way right now and want this right now and if I can make the other person feel bad enough, I can get it.”

So, BPD and hoovering—myth or fact? Because there’s no real science behind the term, it does indeed remain a myth, but just as those trendy words came into play not so long ago, “my bad,” hoovering may stay as well and will remain associated with BPD suffers and how non-BPDs perceive their actions.

For more information on BPD, its symptoms and current treatments you can read the National Institute of Mental Health’s publication Borderline Personality Disorder: A Brief Overview.


  1. NIMH - https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/borderline-personality-disorder-fact-sheet/index.shtml (accessed 9/15/10)
  2. Zanarini MC, Frankenburg. Pathways to the development of borderline personality disorder. Journal of Personality Disorders, 1997; 11(1): 93-104; and, Zanarini MC. Childhood experiences associated with the development of borderline personality disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2000; 23(1): 89-101.
  3. Dr. Robert Franklin, MD (telephonic interview 9/14/10)