Last week, Selena Gomez released the most vulnerable song of her career to date, “Lose You To Love Me.” The ballad is rumored to be about her on-again-off-again ex, Justin Bieber, so I couldn’t help but listen with intrigue.
After the first verse, I felt a pit in my stomach and thought, “Wow, relatable.”
The opening words of the song opened a pit in my stomach because I could relate to the experience of ending a relationship. A year ago, I had fallen for someone more than I ever had before. He broke up with me after ghosting me for weeks. I don’t think I ever cried so much over a guy in my life. He was involved with another girl just a few weeks later. The experience hurt like hell but ultimately forced me to grow as a person. “Lose You To Love Me” recounts a similar tale of betrayal, heartbreak, and healing.
As I listened, the line that hit home the most was this: “I needed to hate you to love me.” Who hasn’t felt that post-breakup anger? Gomez’s candidness is refreshingly relatable. It might sound immature or even unhealthy to “hate” your ex, but I think there’s a deeper psychological element at play.
The seven stages of breakup grief
One night post-breakup, I Googled, “How long does it take to get over someone.” What I found was an article detailing the stages of grief after a breakup (yes, that’s actually a thing). As I read, I could pinpoint exactly where I was (and had been) in the seven stages! I kept the stages in mind every day, knowing that each one was apart of the process.
During the first couple of weeks after the breakup, a small part of me thought we’d get back together (hello, denial). The stage that seemed to propel me toward healing the most was anger. This is where the anger in “Lose You To Love Me” comes into play.
You’re probably thinking, “Are we really supposed to believe that hating your ex is healthy?” So, I did a little research.
Suzanne Lachmann Psy.D, describes the anger stage: “When you’re able to access anger, the experience can actually be empowering — because at the very least, there are shades of remembering you matter too, of feeling justified in realizing that you deserve more from a relationship.”
Stage five forced me to start seeing things more clearly. I began to see the faults in the man who broke up with me, free of the illusions I had projected onto him. I likewise recognized my own faults and mistakes. It was a like fog being lifted.
Gomez similarly sings: “Rose-colored glasses all distorted,” and “We’d always go into it blindly.” She also admits her own mistakes: “You promised the world and I fell for it,” and “I saw the signs and I ignored it.”
Blinded by dopamine
But can you really be blinded by love? Using brain scans, scientists have been able to map out the chemical changes that occur in the brain. Your brain’s frontal cortex actually shuts down when you fall for someone, causing you to “suspend all criticism and doubt.” What’s more, when you’re attracted to someone, your body is flooded with dopamine, which has a drug-like effect. Naturally, that clouds judgment and encourages you to associate the person you love/like with positive emotions every time you get a hit of dopamine.
Unsurprisingly, when you break up, you’re forced to go through withdrawal from dopamine. According to licensed psychologist Dr. Wyatt Fisher, “When a couple goes through a breakup, the brain experiences massive withdrawal symptoms almost identical to a heroin addict quitting cold-turkey.”
This all plays into the seven stages of breakup grief. The chemical withdrawal allows you to see things clearly and pushes you into the next stage, helping you to see the situation more objectively. You can finally access the natural reaction to someone treating you poorly — anger.
Anger vs. hate
I’m sure plenty of people would say that hating your ex is actually a sign of not being over them. But I’m not talking about harboring ill-will or real hatred, and I would argue that Selena Gomez isn’t either. Her song isn’t actually hateful — it’s certainly a far cry from Alanis Morisette’s revenge anthem “You Oughta Know.” In fact, “Lose You To Love Me” isn’t even really about Gomez’s ex, but the growth she experienced from her pain. It’s about the recognition of an unhealthy relationship.
Sometimes anger means standing up for yourself in the same way you’d be angry for a friend or family member who was treated poorly. This is not a vindictive anger, but a just anger — an anger that comes from recognizing your worth and maintaining a high personal standard for relationships.
Stage 8, forgiveness
The song’s chorus, “I had to lose you to love me,” expresses a spirit of acceptance and gratitude for personal growth. In a recent interview on the song, Gomez said, “It’s not something negative, it’s actually something positive — that I was able to experience that, as beautiful and ugly as it was. I’ve been able to turn this into a new chapter.” After getting through the seven stages of breakup grief, she has come out on the other side.
I would also submit that after stages six and seven, acceptance and redirected hope, there’s a final eighth stage: forgiveness. Acceptance and hope allow you to let go of the past and to move on with joy and peace. Acceptance lets you see your ex as a person who isn’t perfect and makes mistakes, pushing you to have mercy — even if they’re not in your life anymore. Having mercy releases you from anger and pain.
A couple of weeks ago, my ex messaged me out of the blue asking for a favor. All at once, the seven stages of breakup grief boiled inside of me. When the anger passed, I realized he was the same flawed, broken man who hurt me just one year ago. I wasn’t angry at him anymore, but sorry (for his sake) that he hadn’t changed. In that moment, the weight I had been carrying around was lifted, and I haven’t thought poorly of him since. He’s human and I forgive him. I can finally wish the best for him. It’s incredibly freeing.
Coming across “Lose You To Love Me” reminded me of how far I’ve come since that unhealthy relationship. Feeling solidarity with Selena Gomez is something I would’ve never seen coming. It’s inspiring to know that thousands of other women are also listening along, united through heartbreak and healing, learning to find and love themselves, too.