Cupid's Knife: Women's Anger and Agency in Violent Relationships: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Cupid's Knife: Women's Anger and Agency in Violent Relationships

1st Edition

By Abby Stein


188 pages

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Much domestic violence literature has called attention to the fact that women's material needs for shelter, daycare, employment, and legal protection may render them helpless to leave toxic relationships. Yet, even with the provision of these, many women remain tightly wound in their abusers' embrace. In Cupid's Knife: Women's Anger and Agency in Violent Relationships, Abby Stein draws on the gripping narratives of physically and emotionally abused women to illuminate how splitting off their own aggression undermines women's agency, making it almost impossible for them to leave violent partners. Psychology, with its focus on 'managing' men's anger in violent relationships, has had little to offer in the way of substantive critical work with women on the identification, integration and constructive use of a range of darker emotions typically labelled as antithetical to the norms for female behaviour.

In this book, Abby Stein shows that although a number of psychological processes that contribute to the intractability of abusive relationships have been identified – such as trauma bonding and learned helplessness – their recognition has offered no clinical pathway out of the abyss. Stein suggests that our attention to other aspects of the internal world, the relational framework, and the cultural context in which both operate, may be more useful than current interventions in determining individual treatments that break the oft-cited 'cycle of violence'. More globally, Cupid's Knife: Women's Anger and Agency in Violent Relationships jumpstarts a provocative conversation about how female aggression can be repurposed as a catalyst for social change. It will be essential reading for psychoanalysts, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, criminologists, students and the lay reader with an interest in clinical treatment, interpersonal psychoanalysis, domestic violence, gender roles, dissociation and aggression.


"I think that Cupid’s Knife will be very useful for experienced clinicians who are already comfortable conducting psychotherapy and who will most likely find that Stein’s work adds to their ability to imagine the experiences underlying a woman’s pattern of abusive relationships in a way that permits them to formulate more creative and effective responses to the challenges of helping these women. The book could also be useful for non-clinicians who work with women in relevant contexts and people who work with their partners and their children."- Wendy Katz, The International Journal of Psychoanalysis

"Any account of romantic love under the siege conditions of relational violence must seek out paradox. Abby Stein has that gift, showing us how women's anger and agency are woven through the tendrils of abuse and victimization. Her book hurts. But it also inspires – her writing, scholarship, and clinical depth transform portraits of "victims" into those of survivors, whose stories demand our attention and respect." - Virginia Goldner, Ph.D., Clinical Professor of Psychology, New York University Post-doctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis; Faculty Emeritus, Gender and Violence Project, Ackerman Institute for the Family

Table of Contents

An Ill-Fated Introduction. The Utility of Contempt. Engendered Self-States. Masochism as Medium. Theater of Judicial Absurdity. Venus With Arms. Epilogue.

About the Author

Abby Stein is Associate Professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and post-graduate faculty at the Manhattan Institute of Psychoanalysis. She is the author of Prologue to Violence: Child Abuse, Dissociation, and Crime (Analytic Press, 2007).

About the Series

Psychoanalysis in a New Key Book Series

When music is played in a new key, the melody does not change, but the notes that make up the composition do: change in the context of continuity, continuity that perseveres through change. Psychoanalysis in a New Key publishes books that share the aims psychoanalysts have always had, but that approach them differently. The books in the series are not expected to advance any particular theoretical agenda, although to this date most have been written by analysts from the Interpersonal and Relational orientations.

The most important contribution of a psychoanalytic book is the communication of something that nudges the reader’s grasp of clinical theory and practice in an unexpected direction. Psychoanalysis in a New Key creates a deliberate focus on innovative and unsettling clinical thinking. Because that kind of thinking is encouraged by exploration of the sometimes surprising contributions to psychoanalysis of ideas and findings from other fields, Psychoanalysis in a New Key particularly encourages interdisciplinary studies. Books in the series have married psychoanalysis with dissociation, trauma theory, sociology, and criminology. The series is open to the consideration of studies examining the relationship between psychoanalysis and any other field – for instance, biology, literary and art criticism, philosophy, systems theory, anthropology, and political theory.

But innovation also takes place within the boundaries of psychoanalysis, and Psychoanalysis in a New Key therefore also presents work that reformulates thought and practice without leaving the precincts of the field. Books in the series focus, for example, on the significance of personal values in psychoanalytic practice, on the complex interrelationship between the analyst’s clinical work and personal life, on the consequences for the clinical situation when patient and analyst are from different cultures, and on the need for psychoanalysts to accept the degree to which they knowingly satisfy their own wishes during treatment hours, often to the patient’s detriment.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
PSYCHOLOGY / Movements / Psychoanalysis
PSYCHOLOGY / Mental Health