We have been writing about love for millennia. From the earliest surviving love poem dating from around 2030 BCE to the work of philosophers like Lao Tzu to the sonnets of Shakespeare, countless tomes have been written about seeking love, finding love, feeling love, and all the possible variations on the theme. In the modern era, it has become a favored topic in the self-help genre. Put “love self-help books” into Amazon and you come up with more than 12,000 titles, speaking to our perpetual search for this greater level of human connection.
In Feeling Loved: Finding Happiness in an Overstressed World, Jeanne Segal, a psychotherapist with more than forty years of experience and a specialty in emotional intelligence, is one of the latest to provide insight on this universal feeling. Her book, however, fails to add much to the nearly eternal conversation.
Segal begins by pointing out something already much-discussed: that society today promotes the accumulation of more — more cars, more clothes, more social media connections — which can cause us to “appear full and plugged into the world around us” while ultimately making us feel “less and less plugged into our feelings and emotions and more and more stressed.” This is not exactly a new idea.
Despite societal pressures and cultural trends, Segal argues, we do not need to accept this disconnect. Rather, she writes, we can take steps to overcome the obstacles that stand between us and more loving, connected relationships.
Segal observes that it is easy to lose touch with our feelings. We “often avoid thinking about or discussing our emotions,” she writes. In turn, we distance ourselves from the possibility of giving and feeling love. Segal highlights factors that may be interfering with love, both developmental and societal in origin.
As many other experts have researched and found, Segal writes that our experience in infancy can shape our later ability to feel. When it comes to societal factors, however, Segal blames not only our shift from in-person interactions to virtual ones, but our reliance on antidepressant medications to solve complex issues.
In response to all these issues, Segal has her own prescription. She shares a number of specific tools to help us stay in what she refers to as the E-Zone, the stress range in which we feel “energized, alert, focused, calm, and relaxed” rather than overwhelmed and harried.
Throughout the book, Segal illustrates her points with stories of individuals from her life and practice. She ends with “A Recipe for Feeling Loved” — four stories to demonstrate how remaining emotionally connected in even difficult situations can lead to our feeling fulfillment and joy.
I liked the underlying premise of this book — who wouldn’t want to find more happiness and more loved in this fast paced, overstressed world? And I admit that I spend more time on social media than I probably should. I am more inclined to spend thirty minutes (or more) scrolling through posts and acting supportive by “liking” photos, links, and pithy quotes posted by 400-some-odd “friends” than I am to arrange a thirty-minute chat with an actual friend in person.
However, I found myself uncomfortable with other ideas Segal presents, such as when she singles out the shortcomings of Skype as a form of connection for grandparents and children. She sets up a bit of a straw man with this contrast: grandparents who use video chat programs to try to connect with young descendants who live far away, versus a grandfather sitting on the sidewalk playing with his grandchild.
Well, of course, sitting with the child in person results in a more spontaneous connection. But the reality is that not all loved ones live down the block. Sometimes a virtual connection is better than no connection at all. Harping on this example does not serve the book.
Also, I was unconvinced by the placement of blame on antidepressants for our emotional disconnect. Having seen the positive effects of these medications on friends and family members, I hesitate to cast aspersions on a class of drugs that can be so beneficial.
In all, much like the culture it describes, Segal’s book left me unfulfilled. Maybe I was looking for something novel — a new insight, a new technique, a new way to view human connection. But given that we’ve been writing about love for eons, perhaps there’s just not much more to say.
Feeling Loved: Finding Happiness in an Overstressed World
Helpguide.org International, March 2014
Paperback, 300 pages