Jennifer Lopez Weaves a Compelling Tale of Love Addiction

Multiplatinum singer-dancer-actress-entrepreneur Jennifer Lopez recently added another hyphen to her professional accomplishments. In November 2014, Lopez became a bona fide author with the publication of her first book, True Love.

The book was intended to be a diary of her first world tour — a simple collection of photos and anecdotes for fans — but evolved  into a revealing account of  her journey from addictive love to self-love.

True Love opens in July 2011. J. Lo is in the desert preparing for a photo shoot and has just celebrated her seventh wedding anniversary to Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Marc Anthony. She’s mother to two healthy children and a judge on the Fox reality-show juggernaut American Idol. Lopez should have been on top of the world, but instead she was melting down. Heart racing, consumed with fear and worry, she experienced a classic anxiety attack. She blurted out to her mother and manager that her marriage was over. “I had finally hit rock bottom,” Lopez recalls in True Love. But this divorce would be unlike her previous two, because this time she had children. The event sparked a massive reassessment of her life and the choices she’d made up until then.

To distract herself from her problems, Lopez opted to go big; she began planning a world tour — her first — to promote a new greatest-hits record, Dance Again…the Hits. The tour’s elaborate production became biographical. And as Lopez revisited the ups and downs of her life she discovered that the thing that had sustained her over the years was also the crux of her problem: She was obsessed with love, seeking it at every turn, she says, even as it eluded her. Lopez even offered her own self-diagnosis of sorts, referring to herself as a love addict in an interview with Self magazine.

What is Love Addiction?

Yes, there is such a thing as love addiction. It’s not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the diagnostic bible for mental health professionals, but therapists find the term helpful in describing a fairly common cluster of behaviors. These behaviors include:

  • Mistaking sexual and/or romantic intensity for love and genuine, lasting intimacy
  • Constantly struggling to maintain the sexual/romantic intensity of an existing relationship
  • Feigning interest in activities that aren’t enjoyable as a way to keep a partner or meet someone new
  • Relying on romantic intensity as a way to escape from stress and other types of emotional discomfort
  • Feeling desperate and alone when not in a relationship
  • Missing out on important commitments (with family, work or elsewhere) to search for a new relationship

Love addiction is associated with early childhood neglect, and there appears to be a chemical component to it as well. In his groundbreaking book The Chemistry of Love, psychiatrist Michael Liebowitz theorizes that in the early stages of infatuation, the brain releases a neurochemical called phenylethylamine, which creates a jolt of energy and feeling of euphoria, similar to a drug. He suggests that it’s possible to become addicted to the sensation that infatuation produces. More recently, researchers have used functional magnetic resonance imaging to further isolate the neural mechanisms of love and addiction. Biological anthropologist and researcher Helen Fisher, PhD, who has written extensively on the chemistry of love, reported at a TED talk that “romantic love is one of the most addictive substances on earth.”

Lopez in Love

Jennifer Lopez Weaves a Compelling Tale of Love AddictionAs Lopez weaves her story of failed marriages and a broken engagement to actor-director-screenwriter Ben Affleck, her book details experiences that seem almost textbook examples of love addiction: She would mistake intensity and grand gestures for love; she didn’t know how to be alone; and she would fall into intense, inseparable relationships without exploring who the person really was or asking herself if that person was right for her. She also demonstrated classic codependent behavior. If there was a problem, it was her job to fix it. “I went to the mat for every relationship I was in,” she says in the book. “For many years I had managed to convince myself that if I worked at relationships hard enough, I could always fix everything, make things better.”

From the beginning, her childhood may have put her at risk. She grew up in the Bronx and shared a bed with her two sisters. That physical closeness became normal for her. As her parents worked to keep the family afloat, Lopez struggled for attention. “As the middle child I was always trying to be perfect at everything I did in order to get some attention,” she recalls in the book. She sought attention through her achievements, and looked for validation from others. The search for validation shaped her identity. If she didn’t get it, she’d simply try harder.

The Epiphany

Through introspection and therapy she began to see patterns and determined that her problem was threefold: She had low self-esteem, she was overlooking her own needs and she didn’t recognize the value of her own love.

The key to her recovery would be in learning self-acceptance and self-love. “It doesn’t matter where you sit in this world, poor or rich, famous or not, we all need to be loved in the right way. That’s what matters,” she says in the book. “In discovering my own value, that’s what I was finally realizing I deserved.” She later explained to Sam Rubin on, “When you love yourself, you won’t allow anybody to treat you in a way you don’t want to be treated… It’s a real key to life and something that I hope to teach my children.”

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