The Pulse

October 31, 2019

What Selena Gomez Can Teach Us About Her “Toxic Love” With Justin Bieber

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When Selena Gomez dropped her new song on Oct. 23, listeners reacted not only to the music, but to the revealing lyrics fans assume are about her relationship with ex-boyfriend, Justin Bieber. 

In the song titled “Lose You To Love Me,” the 27-year-old pop star sings, “I saw the signs and I ignored it / Rose-colored glasses all distorted / Set fire to my purpose / And I let it burn [...] You promised the world and I fell for it / I put you first and you adored it.” 

It’s clear from the song that Gomez had to leave this relationship in order to take care of herself. She hasn’t confirmed whether her song is about Bieber, but Gomez did talk at length in an interview on the Zach Sang Show about her past relationship struggles — particularly one that was “a little toxic.” (It starts at the 23-minute mark.)   

“You're in a phase of life where you experience love for the first time, and I think that can just be just a little toxic,” Gomez explained to Sang. 

“You have this codependency that you think is love, and then you have this addiction to the passion, and the frustration with each other that you think, 'Oh, that's love,' or fighting, and ‘Oh, that’s love,’” she said. “And I believed that for a long time.”

Gomez, who also told Sang that she’s a big fan of therapy, has been an advocate for mental health, openly discussing her codependency issues — which involve continually seeking emotional sustenance from someone who cannot or will not give it to her. 

From the outset, codependency can look and feel like passionate love or, in the case of a family relationship, deep familial love. Typically, codependent relationships can start with one person genuinely trying to help another person. That person wants to be loved and becomes self-sacrificing in order to “win” that love. The dynamic becomes an unhealthy battle for control and, simply put, the relationship itself causes suffering.

Online support group Codependents Anonymous does not offer a precise definition of codependency, but it does provide a list of common codependent behaviors, including avoidance, control, low self-esteem, denial and compliance. For example, codependents “are extremely loyal, remaining in harmful situations too long,” “have trouble setting healthy priorities and boundaries,” and “do not recognize the unavailability of those people to whom they are attracted.”  

Sherry Amatenstein, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City and the author of several books about relationships, tells O.school that codependency in relationships can often occur when a partner struggles with an addiction or a substance use disorder. 

"With a codependent relationship, typically one person is the obsessive clinger whose self-identity is wrapped around doing emotional (or physical, if required!) cartwheels to fix all their partner’s problems and make them happy, while the other person (frequently an addict) takes and takes and takes some more,” Amatenstein explains in an email.

Amatenstein adds that a codependent relationship can be improved with “plenty of therapy,” but sometimes a partner, like Gomez, decides to prioritize healing themselves and strengthening their mental health. After all, the general message in Gomez’s “Lose You To Love Me” lyrics is that we can’t try to fix other people at the expense of ourselves.

In her Zach Sang Show interview, Gomez said she has enjoyed being single for the past two years but wants to one day have a relationship again. “I want it to be real,” the pop star explained. “I don’t want it to be codependent or messy or [have a] lack of communication.”

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Jessica Wakeman is a journalist who focuses on women’s social, cultural and political issues. Her work has appeared in Bitch, Bust, Bustle, Glamour, Rolling Stone, The Cut, The New York Times and numerous other publications.


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