own discourses as well as those of seven women who attend SLAA meetings in
London. It intends to contribute to the understanding of the employment of a Twelve
Steps programme for the regulation of emotions and women’s current difficulties in
The thesis provides a historical account of what has been considered ‘excessive’ in
women’s intimate relationships and thus deemed to require regulation. It
demonstrates how, despite historical changes in social perceptions of excess in sex
and love, continuous preoccupation with the irrationality of love nonetheless still
exists, which has been more directly linked to femininity.
SLAA’s origins are examined, including their adoption of the Alcoholics
Anonymous (AA) Twelve Steps programme. This programme aims at the avoidance
of alcohol consumption, and it has been adapted to the field of regulating
relationships. The constitutive problems this causes will be examined. This thesis
demonstrates how the infiltration of therapeutic discourse in SLAA has transformed
the programme from a spiritual to a hybrid one: spiritual and therapeutic.
From a psychoanalytic perspective, the thesis discusses themes of love and phantasy
and looks at the different positions women can occupy in relationships. I argue that
the loss of faith in the narrative of patriarchal power has led to a crisis, in which the
bearer of the phallus is no longer self-evident. I explore how this crisis has been
associated with the decline of the paternal metaphor in Lacanian psychoanalysis,
which as a consequence has altered the organisation of desire and has contributed to
uncertainties in relationships, which I argue that SLAA is a symptom of.
My methodological approach is influenced by different theoretical frameworks,
including the use of thematic analysis to organise data and narrative analysis to
inform the interview approach. The analysis of themes is informed by Lacanian
psychoanalytic and sociological theories.
The findings are organised in themes that clearly reflect the participants’ absorption
of SLAA’s discourse and show how they have negotiated SLAA’s operations and
strategies. A strong commonality was found in the participants’ accounts of their
difficulties, indicating how problems in relationships are conceptualised in SLAA.
There was also some evident ambivalence characterising the ways in which
participants reported traditional feminine positions.
The discourse of sex and love addiction signals the difficulties in women’s ability to
relate whilst keeping a sense of autonomy; it frames the inherent difficulties of love
as addictions and promotes a discourse of self-sufficiency and independence, echoing
the discourse of narcissism. Overall, there are clear shortcomings in the programme
related to the legacy of the twelve-step framework (which promotes avoidance) and
of its therapeutic discourse that encourages autonomy, in ways that are incompatible
with the experience of love. This discourse does not offer any original solutions for
the new challenges of relationships; however, it does provide an excellent temporary
space for containment and reflection for women who are undergoing emotional