Updated: Oct 1
The three most powerful words in the English language... Just, But & Only.
There are ALWAYS early warning signs in an abusive relationship but usually, we’re too caught up in the excitement and romance to pay them much attention.
We tell ourselves it was a one off or that we’re being too sensitive about stuff but the alarm bells are real and we’ll usually live to regret ignoring them…
You can quickly test whether you need to be concerned about the healthiness of your relationship by doing the following:
Look at your phone.
Find the last message that was sent to you as ‘an apology’ for something.
See if that apology includes the words, Just, But or Only…
JUST: Minimises the abusive behaviour - makes it seem like no big deal.
“It was JUST a slap / joke”
BUT: Excuses the abusive behaviour - makes it seem like there was a valid reason.
“BUT I only did it because you wound me up!”
ONLY: Normalises the abusive behaviour - makes it seem like a reasonable response.
“I ONLY did it because you were out of control”
The really skilled abuser can get all three into an ‘apology’ with very little effort:
“I’m sorry, BUT it was JUST a slap, and I ONLY did it because you wound me up!”
And boom! Just like that it’s all your fault and responsibility that they assaulted you…
Just, But & Only are invaluable tools for the abuser because they keep the cycle of abuse alive. They’re keywords for abuse; particularly in the making-up (Honeymoon) phase of the cycle. They help keep us unsettled and unsure; did we push them to it? What should we do differently next time? How can we stop provoking them into reacting to us in an unreasonable way?
The truth is, any apology that includes the words, “Just, But or Only” isn’t sincere. It’s nothing more than lip-service to reset the clock on the cycle of abuse – to retain their power and control.
Cycle of Abuse
You’ll notice the phrase “lovebombing” in the Honeymoon Phase – this is when we’ll be overwhelmed with Grand Gestures; we’ll get flowers at work, new things, they’ll book a family holiday…
But. It’s likely they’ve used our money, or the holiday has been booked for term-time (for example). When we point this out to them, they’re (apparently) crestfallen.
“But I tried REALLY hard to make it up to you! I just thought you’d like [insert grand gesture] and I only did it to make you happy!”
Then, because we’re reasonable humans, we feel guilt for admonishing their efforts and we start to rationalise.
“I suppose it doesn’t really matter whose money it was – after all, we’re a couple now so we should share things. They’ve tried hard to make amends and I’m being ungrateful. They did their best…”
(Note the lack of just, but & only in our ‘rationalisation’)
These grand gestures are always very public and we discover that those who’ve already been recruited by the abuser, will know about them before we do so they can reinforce the abuser’s position that the gifts and the apology are important, not who paid for them…. It’s the thought that counts, right?
Words are Powerful
Most abusers never lay a hand on their victims physically – they’re not daft, they know bruises and marks are evidence.
Instead, they use coercive control or gaslighting.
Abuse ALWAYS begins with the mind – if your mind hasn’t been abused, you’re not likely to put up with your body being abused, so the abuser always starts by questioning, and making you question, your mind – often to the point where you lose sight of where the abuser ends and you begin.
It could be argued that when one is in an abusive relationship, the relationship between victim and perpetrator isn’t dissimilar to the relationship between Cult Leader and Cult Member… The same process of ‘brainwashing’ goes on with the same intention of ‘indoctrinating’ the victim to the perpetrator’s way of thinking.
We recognise the damage done to people by cults and often, we’re sympathetic to their plight precisely BECAUSE they were brainwashed – not in their right mind, for want of a better phrase.
Most of us have probably seen programmes on the TV about Waco or Jamestown; incredibly sad stories of mass indoctrination or group-think. We feel our hearts hurt for the exploitation of the victims’ naivety and goodness and we reassure ourselves that we’d like to think we wouldn’t fall for that. Maybe we even consider ourselves to be a bit more ‘worldy-wise’.
But abusive partners are going around creating mini cults everywhere they go.
They’re like travelling salesmen… Always on the look out for the next vulnerable punter. And their patter is worthy of a top-notch salesman too – in the early days of an abusive relationship – the very first, shiny, new, exciting Super-Honeymoon phase, they’ll sell you a dream so convincingly, you’d believe they could sell ice to Eskimos and grass to cows.
Somehow, they just know what we need and how to activate all those happy chemicals in our brain. The flowers, meals out, romantic dates, not taking no for an answer…
Wait! That one should ALWAYS ring alarm bells, shouldn’t it?!
But those sneaky happy chemicals mean we don’t realise that we’re giving consent to having our boundaries ignored when what they’ve actually done is turn up somewhere to surprise us with a big box of chocolates, or they’ve left 106 “Miss You!” xox messages by lunchtime.
We’re flattered, not frightened! This is romance, not rape! This is PROPER chemistry, right? This is what love’s meant to feel like isn’t it…?
At some point though, we realise that everything has changed. Instead of them making us feel like a million dollars, we’re mostly feeling like a crumpled, ripped fiver that’s been through the wash a few times.
We realise that we haven’t made a decision for ourselves for as long as we can remember; we’ve learned to question ourselves about everything, and by doing this, we’ve inadvertently given the abuser the Power & Control they crave.
We realise that our life; our independence – our sense of self and identity has disappeared somewhere.
The nights out with our mates have stopped because, in the beginning, we wanted to spend all our time with the new love of our life – The One.
In the end, it was just easier to stay home with them than to endure the CONSTANT calls, messages, comments about our hair, outfit, shoes, that came while we were out.
“But I miss you so much when you’re not here! You’re the only one I want to spend time with…. Don’t you feel the same? I’m just trying to show you how important you are to me.”
We gave up our job because they wanted to ‘look after us’...
“I just want to look after you…. No partner of mine should have to work! It’s only right…”
Our friends stopped calling us because we were always ‘busy’ with our partner. Those who did keep calling were eventually weeded out too – either because our partner told us they’d ‘come on to them’, or because our partner ‘Just didn’t like something about them’…
At the start, it was sweet – they cared about us and wanted to spend time with us, or so we thought. They weren’t checking up on us, they were checking we were safe and having fun, weren’t they..?
“I just want to know you’re safe. Especially when you’re out with X – I know they’re your mate but they’re a bit wild, aren’t they? I’ll come and pick you up but you’ll have to be ready at X time because I need to do Y”
In fact, now we think about it, we start to realise that the exact point that we gave over our life, independence and individuality – the moment we ‘gave in’ completely to them, they lost interest and the abuse began. We’ve been chasing that dream they promised us at the start ever since…
“I didn’t mean to kick off last night but I get jealous really easily…. Look how beautiful / handsome you are! It’s not that I don’t trust YOU, I just don’t trust THEM…”
We’re reminded of the old joke:
A man lays dying in hospital and at the end of his bed appear two figures. One is St Peter, the other is Satan. They tell the man that as he’s led a mostly good life, he can choose whether he wants to go to heaven or hell. The man’s offered a day each in Heaven and Hell to assist him in making his decision, and he elects to visit heaven first.
When he arrives in heaven with St Peter, everything is lovely; the clouds are fluffy, there are cherubs playing harps; it’s everything the man had ever imagined Heaven would be. He spent a lovely day and at the end of his visit, he returned to his hospital bed 95% sure he’d choose Heaven.
The next day the man went with Satan down to the bowels of Hell. When they arrived, the man was staggered! Hell was AMAZING! There were fast cars, dancing ladies / men (delete as appropriate), free bars, jet skis, computer games, casinos; everything the man had ever wanted in every single one of his wildest dreams. He had a fantastic day and at the end of his visit, his mind was made up.
The following day, Satan and St Peter appeared again at the foot of the man’s bed and told him he had to choose. Without a second’s thought, the man says, “I’d like to go to Hell, please!” St Peter tries in vain to convince the man he’s making the wrong choice, but the man is insistent – Hell is where he wants to be.
Shortly, the man dies, and Satan comes to claim his soul. As they are headed down to Hell, the man says to Satan, “I can’t wait for this!”
Satan laughs, and as they arrive in Hell, the man is gobsmacked. Gone are the fast cars and dancing ladies / men (delete as appropriate), no more were there free bars and casinos… All there was, was emptiness. Baron, fire-enveloped, fractured landscape as far as the eye could see.
“What’s this?!” The man stammered. “Where’s the casinos and the cars?”
Satan winked at him and said, “Well my friend, that was the recruitment process, this is the reality of employment…”
(Please feel free to change the specifics for your personal preference – no offence intended).
Domestic Abuse is all about Power & Control
It’s not about sex, money, mental health, addiction, stress, culture, work, family, the colour of the sky, or anything else. It’s always solely about exercising Power & Control over another individual.
Domestic Abuse advocates talk all the time about the recruitment process of abusers. Sometimes they use the phrase “flying monkeys”.
Once we’ve been recruited, the abuser will start on our friends and family. Their friends, family and work colleagues have already been recruited so there’s a chorus of people reinforcing our view that the abuser is charming, lovely, romantic, ever such a good egg…. You might hear DA advocates calling this “Hoovering” because the abuser is fundamentally sucking our support network and objectivity up for their own benefit – to continue the abuse.
Pay close attention though, to those the abuser has failed to recruit. You’ll know exactly who they are – they’ll be the ones who the abuser says are “Crazy”, “Abusive”, “Dangerous”, “Bad influences” or “Out to get them”…
ANYBODY can be the victim or perpetrator of Domestic Abuse.
It doesn’t just happen to old people or married people or straight or gay people, it doesn’t matter how rich or poor you are, where you live, how you choose to identify or what colour your skin is… it can happen to anyone, at any time, in any kind of ‘intimate’ relationship.
Intimate doesn’t just mean sexual, it might mean parent / child too.
So, the next time someone amazing swoops into your life like a Superhero, promising you the moon and stars, ask yourself:
Is that really a Superhero cape they’re wearing or is actually a MASSIVE red flag…?
Keep count of the just’s, but’s, and only’s – they’re there purely to maintain the abuser’s position and strengthen their belief that WE’RE the unreasonable ones, not them.
Just, But & Only are keywords for successful toxic and abusive relationships. They minimise, excuse and normalise the abusive behaviour
If your boundaries aren’t being respected – even for really ‘romantic’ reasons – that’s a red flag
Remember the abuse cycle will continue – they’re not really sorry, they’re re-establishing control…
Domestic Abuse isn’t usually obvious, it sneaks in gradually like mould growing on a slice of bread - Most abusers never hit their victims.
Abusers abuse for one reason: Because they can. It’s nothing to do with the victim, abuse is a choice made by the perpetrator
If this blog has rung bells for you, please, unless you’re in immediate danger, DON’T JUST LEAVE! We know that this will increase your risk of further abuse. Instead, check our resources page and find a DA service to offer you some support and advice; then have a look at our Safety Planning Tips. If you think your phone will be checked, delete your history.
If you are in immediate danger, call 999.
If you’re unable to speak, press 55 on your mobile keypad.