Book Review: “The Love Response” by Eva Selhub

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Eva at a conference here in LA last month where she was speaking.  As is my habit with all readings, I purchased her book and had her sign it (gotta support your friendly neighborhood fellow author, y’know).

At the time, my reading queue was over 30 deep, and I didn’t think I would get around to Dr Eva’s book, The Love Response, for a while.  But the premise was so compelling and close to my heart – subtitle: “Neutralize the physical effects of stress; turn off anger fear and anxiety; restore balance and well-being” – that I found myself cracking it open.  I’m all about bringing together the holistic and the scientific, the spirit and the body, so this was right up my alley.  In two days, I had read it cover to cover.

Let me tell you that this is a magnificent and supremely timely book.  First off, Dr Eva has sterling credentials: medical director of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and founder of Alight Center for Healing in Newton, MA.

What I love about this book is how Dr Eva has seamlessly blended together the solidly scientific with the deeply spiritual in a package that is eminently usable to you, the reader, right now.  This book can literally start to transform your life within minutes of being in your hands (we’ll go through one of the exercises that does exactly that). The tone is compassionately straightforward without ever being preachy.

What makes this volume particularly poignant is its intensely personal nature.  Dr Eva starts out with the account of an exceptionally stressful period during her medical training when she got stuck with an HIV-tinged needle.  That incident started a downward spiral of disasters that unraveled her life as she knew it.  The book is partly her journey of response and recovery from the ordeal.  In addition, she brings in case studies of people in truly dire straits from all walks of life, ages 17 to 83, and how the Love Response principles helped them recover.  Whoever you are, whatever your situation, you or someone you know is bound to resonate with one of these stories.

The overall premise of the book is simple: under stress, the body undergoes a Fear Response, which has to do with activation of the sympathetic nervous system and secretion of stress hormones.  Although the Fear Response is essential to our survival (e.g. to run away from a saber-toothed cat), its tonic activation under conditions of modern stressful living can wear down our immune system and make life miserable.  You get the fear response when you think “I am not enough; I do not have enough.” The Love Response – “I am enough; I have enough” – is the antidote, with simple practices that activate equally robust physiological mechanisms of well-being and joy.

The questionnaires in the book provide tools for self-assessment, and the scoring (cleverly) operates such that unless you get a perfect score, you’ve got some work to do, buddy.  In one of these, she introduces the concept of the tripartite Love Pyramid: “The Love Pyramid is a life structure that can help you override negative childhood conditioning and negative experiences from early life and keep your Fear Response in check.”  Its three levels are:

  • Social Love: the love you exchange with others
  • Self-Love: the love and nurturance you give yourself
  • Spiritual Love: the connection with Spirit or something larger than yourself and the altruistic works that flow from it

This concept, introduced in Chapter 3, becomes the foundation for the rest of the book as subsequent chapters establish practices for cultivating each of the three kinds of love.

The effectiveness of any self-help book is in its ability to create constructive behavioral change in its readers.  The Love Response succeeds brilliantly in this task because of the multitude of questionnaires, exercises and case studies that directly engage the reader.  The most potent tool that Dr Eva gives its readers are the acronyms serving as mnemonic devices for the exercises.  The SHIELD exercise alone is worth the purchase price, serving as the foundation of many healing procedures in the book.  I will enumerate its steps here to get you started.  Quoted straight from the book:

  • Slow down and visualize the white or golden light enveloping you in love and protection
  • Honor what you feel or experience.  Avoid judging your feelings as bad or wrong.  Just acknowledge them.
  • Inhale
  • Exhale
  • Listen to your thoughts, feelings, sensations.  Ask: how am I being reminded that I am not enough or do not have enough?  Listen to the answer.
  • Decide to heal and shift out of the Fear Response and into the Love Response.

I promise you that this practice alone, when done regularly, can transform your life.  And it’s only one of dozens of visualizations, exercises and prayers in the book to strengthen and elevate you and those around you.

Most of the exercises are geared towards very specific goals – e.g. overcoming loss and addiction, resetting expectations, transforming anger.  You can think of them as specific prescriptions for whatever may ail you – in fact, Dr Eva calls them ‘Love Rx’ in many instances.

There is so much positivity, power and healing that this book brings in its 208 pages that I could go on for a very long time praising it.  In the end, this volume brings all of the benefits of deep spiritual practice without any of the jargon or esotericism that may repel more scientifically-minded folk.  It is grounded in science while reaching heavenwards to our better selves, which is the best that any self-help book can aim to do.  And, above all, reading it will make you feel even better than you are right now.

I give Dr Eva Selhub’s The Love Response my wholehearted recommendation for all who want to bring more joy and health into their lives (and that would be everyone).