Under My Thumb: Coercive Control and the Sensitive Victim
Domestic abusers who portray themselves as sensitive, sweet, and a victim of others are among the most deceptive and destructive.
The Rolling Stone’s song “Under my Thumb” is supposedly about a victimized man who was pushed around by his woman. Finally he’d had enough, so he decided to push back—by abusing her.
Of course, Mick Jagger doesn’t admit to the abusive aspect of his lyrics. In an interview from 1984 he stated: “The whole idea was that I was under her thumb, she was kicking me around. All I did was turn the tables around. So women took that to be against femininity where in reality it was trying to ‘get back’ against being a repressed male.”
Spoken like a true abuser.
The lyrics to this song clearly display twisted attitudes and applaud abusive behaviours—and it remains one of the Rolling Stones most popular tunes.
“Under my thumb … It’s down to me. The difference in the clothes she wears, down to me. The change has come. She’s under my thumb. And ain’t it the truth babe?”
It’s very common for men with abusive attitudes to claim to be a victim of women; they tend to harbour a chronic mistrust of femininity that’s so intense it often turns into outright disdain and self-entitlement. Domestic violence expert Lundy Bancroft warns his female readers that one of the most prominent red flags indicating a partner may be abusive is if he claims his previous partner was a horrible, wretched monster with no heart, and if he speaks of her in seething, disdainful ways. If he claims a complete lack of “any responsibility for what went wrong in his previous relationships” and “if everything was always the women’s fault,” Bancroft warns his readers that “you will soon be to blame for all difficulties in this new relationship.”
This is the type of personality Bancroft calls “The Victim” and “Mr. Sensitive.” These abusers focus on how they’ve been wronged, how damaged they’ve been by the women in their lives (those women can include not only past partners but their mother, sisters, aunts, cousins, grandmothers, co-workers, etc.) They are the way they are because of those women.
That’s their excuse for being abusive? They were supposedly mistreated, so now they have to mistreat someone else?
That’s a fancy bit of twisted logic, wouldn’t you say?
“It’s down to me, oh yeah. The way she talks when she’s spoken to, down to me, the change has come. She’s under my thumb.”
The Sensitive Victim loves to play “Mr. Nice Guy,” and makes a tremendous effort to ensure his exterior, social appearance is spotless. He’s the undercover abuser volunteering in soup kitchens, basing his career on seemingly heroic selflessness (such as being an EMT, in the military/police/fire department, a therapist, surgeon, or activist), the one who shows up at all the kids’ events and is the loudest to cheer their performance. Or he could be an expert at cultivating a public genteel personality in a myriad of other ways.
But behind closed doors … watch out.
The Sensitive Victim loves to talk about his past pain. He clings to that pain as if it’s an invaluable treasure rather than something to heal from and release. He doesn’t want to get over past trauma (even though he vehemently claims otherwise), because if he does he’ll no longer be able to use it as an excuse for his current behaviour. He’ll nurse and nurture any real, exaggerated, or imagined hurts—no matter how long ago they happened. This allows him to focus on himself, and to ensure his current relationship is also focused exclusively on him and his issues. And, for the most part, he’s not even conscious of his manipulative ways.
His partner is left feeling like she has to creep around her own home, cautious within her own skin, so as not to “trigger” her poor, PTSD-riddled spouse. He’s fragile! Treat him with care!
Just what he wants.
“All I did was turn the tables around. I was trying to ‘get back’ against being a repressed male.” (Mick Jagger)
“He often tells persuasive and heart-rending stories about how he was abused by his former partner. Everything seems to revolve around his wounds, and he keeps himself at the center of attention.” (Lundy Bancroft)
As a relationship with Mr. Sensitive Victim progresses, he’ll increasingly switch blame from his ex (or mother, or other evil female) onto his current partner. An abuser once admitted to me that he takes all the hurt, all the blame, everything any woman has ever done to him in the past, and lumps these experiences together, projecting them onto his current partner and thereby making her “guilty” of … well, everything.
Ouch. It must be painful being married to that man.
You’ll know you’re saddled with Mr. Sensitive Victim if:
You’re constantly accused of insulting or “disrespecting” him, no matter how hard you try to please him—and you can’t figure out what you’re doing wrong (because the goalposts keep moving).
Hypocritically, he feels he has the right to disrespect you in all manner of ways—but then he’ll say he “didn’t mean it” and “I don’t know what came over me, I’m so sorry, but what you did just triggered something from my past.” (Keep in mind that a true apology never has a “but” in it.)
He blames all of his issues on other people and claims he’s so wounded that he just can’t heal.
He’s skilled at talking like an abuse victim, knowing all the proper jargon so as to coerce others to feel sorry for him. He uses this as a way to excuse his present abusive behaviours.
He insists that his intimate partner focuses on his hurt, his emotions, his supposed healing—to the exclusion of her own emotions and consequent trauma. He’s so focused on himself that he’s oblivious as to how much he’s damaging her.
“He blames his assaultive behavior on you or on his emotional ‘issues,’ saying that his feelings were so deeply wounded that he had no other choice.” (Lundy Bancroft)
If you’re involved with a partner like this, chances are you’re severely trauma bonded. He can be so sweet, so loving, so wounded and so kind. When he shows that side of himself, your empathy soars. So does your hope, and the belief that finally, this time he’ll change. You want so badly to help him heal. You’ll stick around and sacrifice yourself to ensure he’ll never be hurt again.
Warning! Red Flag! Don’t do this! You’re a child of God, deserving of respect and dignity. You can’t fill his gaping hole, so don’t even try. If you do, you’ll just be hurt again. And again. And yet again. Until it feels like there is no you left.
From a psychological and emotional standpoint, Mr. Sensitive Victim is one of the most dangerous types of abusers. Likely he isn’t even conscious of the depth and intensity of his abusiveness, and truly believes himself to be a victim due to his cognitive distortions. He relies on blame, denial, lies and manipulative coercion to get his way.
He truly sees himself as a victim. Because that’s what he wants to be.
He can get a lot of leverage out of that.
“Under my thumb, her eyes are just kept to herself. Under my thumb, well I … I can still look at someone else. It’s down to me, oh that’s what I said--She’s under my thumb. Ain’t it the truth babe.”
Is it the truth? Because at some point, a target begins to awaken with the realization that she’s child of God, worthy of respect and dignity. Because, at some point, we all have to begin loving ourselves—which means not putting up with manipulation, coercion, and abuse. Of any sort, no matter how subtle.
Abuse is abuse. And there is no excuse. Whatsoever.
That’s the truth.
My ex sang this song to me often in front of the children. I have been divorced for 24 years. I was married for 26. Yet I too suffered from PTSD as a result. It has taken me many years to realize I was abused, thus taken me longer to heal, but I am so very joyous to be free. I am so glad I was finally willing to face the abuse and let healing come!