— February 16, 2015

Jennifer Lopez

By Allan Richter
  • In a new memoir, True Love, the superstar shares life lessons she learned from matters of the heart.
Jennifer Lopez

Anyone who observed Jennifer Lopez in the summer of 2011 could easily have held up the life of the multitalented performer as a model of perfection. She and husband Marc Anthony, the popular Latin singer, were the parents of two beautiful children and had just celebrated their seventh anniversary. Lopez was a judge on the hot show “American Idol.” Her new single, “On the Floor,” had hit No. 1 on music charts around the world. And People magazine, just months earlier, had named Lopez the magazine’s first “Most Beautiful Woman in the World.”

But a panic attack that Lopez suffered on the set of a L’Oreal commercial revealed a more complex and difficult existence. Lopez threw herself in the arms of her longtime manager, Benny Medina, and her mother, and broke down, saying she realized a difficult relationship with her husband could no longer continue.

For Lopez, that incident unearthed the first of a number of valuable life lessons—that the truth surfaces even if you don’t want it to—that would emerge following her breakup with Anthony. Lopez chronicles those events and life lessons, and the impact on her health, in her new book, True Love (Celebra).

In True Love, Lopez explores a two-year defining period of her life that marked great personal discovery and growth following her divorce, as she built and embarked on her first world tour. Lopez’s relationships with Hollywood stars made for tabloid fodder earlier in her career, but her breakup from Anthony was more profound because she wasn’t just setting out to build a life anew for herself, but for her twin children, Max and Emme, as well.

The realization that staying in her marriage was no longer tenable made Lopez more introspective. She began realizing that she was relying too heavily on people around her, and not following her own heart and instincts as she had done early in her career. She had been measuring her success and value by the perceptions of the public, not herself, she realized.

Finding Her ‘Self’ was 
Key to Recovery
By reaching back to her Bronx, New York, roots and other periods of her life that preceded her broken marriage, Jennifer Lopez reestablished what scientists call “self-concept clarity,” defined as one’s understanding of who he or she is as an independent person—a helpful step in recovering from a breakup.

“That turns out to be a really big driver of good recovery, reestablishing your sense of self and pulling yourself back together,” says David Sbarra, PhD, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at the University of Arizona. “That’s one of the main engines of recovery.”

Sbarra’s most recent study, conducted with Grace Larson of Northwestern University, found that people who had the most difficulty overcoming a broken relationship were searching for themselves, not just a lost love.
The study, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, was conducted over nine weeks and involved 210 college-age participants whose romances recently ended. 

Many studies have linked the quality of relationships with physical health. “The literature on the association between high-quality relationships and health is quite large,” Sbarra says.

Another study, co-authored by Sbarra with two of his students, lead author Kendra Krietsch and Ashley Mason, found that people who experience sleep problems after a divorce may be at risk for potentially harmful increases in blood pressure.

A good litmus test for how you are faring after a breakup is to keep an eye on your nighttime habits roughly three months after a breakup, Sbarra suggests. If you are still suffering sleep problems, you should seek help from a psychologist or primary healthcare provider.

“I had always wanted to believe that my public image didn’t affect my feelings of self-worth—but unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case,” she writes. “If you keep hearing negative things about yourself, they start to seep into your consciousness and you start to feel like they’re true. They cloud who you know you really are and you can lose yourself.”

Thinking back to her more autonomous role at the start of her career, Lopez realized that she had made more independent decisions by sitting in a quiet place and reflecting on what she really wanted and whether the decision on hand felt right.

Today, when someone asks her for career advice, she always answers: “Listen to yourself; listen to your gut. Because only you know what’s right for you.”

New Challenges

For reasons she says even she does not understand, Lopez writes that, “in the face of doubt or change,” she tends to “challenge myself beyond my normal limits” by doing something unprecedented. After she gave birth to her children, for example, she found herself doing a triathlon to regain her “mojo” and get back in shape. She was fearful as she stared at the ocean, but overcame her worries and finished the race. “I felt invincible,” she says. “I’d gotten my mojo back. I felt like I could do anything.”

So after she and Anthony split up, Lopez wasted no time looking to the future. She decided to launch her first world tour, a tour that turned out to help her realize how to regain control of and responsibility for her life. She was lifted, in particular, by a section of her concert called “Back to the Bronx,” recalling her old neighborhood and the sense of invulnerability that comes with youth, in her words, the “hip-hop cockiness that made you feel so powerful.”

“While I was putting it all together, the realizations were coming fast and furious. Performing it every night was reminding me of so many past missteps but also of the essence of who I really was. I might have lost my way, but Jenny from the Block was still alive and well. She was still in there.”

Lopez’s book is filled with aphorisms and inspirational phrases that capture steps along her journey and give her strength:

“Passion is a pendulum that swings both ways. As beautiful as it can be, it can also get very intense.”

“We can never change someone else’s behavior—we can only change our own.”
“The only way you can be mistreated is by allowing yourself to be mistreated.”

Lopez recounted how she came to embrace that last maxim when she was six months pregnant. Someone standing near her at a public event lit up a cigarette and, for the first time, she moved away to protect the children growing inside her.

“I’ve been around smokers before, but it never bothered me,” Lopez says. “I never even thought about the effect it had on me. But now someone lights up a cigarette and I don’t hesitate a second to move as far away as possible because I’m worried it will affect my babies…Why did I never think about that for myself? Why were my health and well-being not important? I loved these babies so much. I did not want anything to harm them in any way. Did I not hold myself in the same regard?”

In order to take care of her children, she realized she had to take care of herself first. “This was a different Jennifer,” she says. “Before, I might get frustrated at something someone had done but I’d swallow my feelings and move on. But now, because of the babies, I was thinking differently, and I was going to do what I thought was right for them, and for me. And I wasn’t about to compromise.”

Finding Self-Forgiveness

On her world tour, Lopez reached back to a more pure and innocent part of her past to find a healthier future. She dusted off “If You Had My Love,” her first single from her first album, and stripped it down so it would feel like she was speaking intimately to her audience. When she finished performing the song, she announced that it was the first love song she ever sang. 

“And every single night as I said it,” she writes, “the feelings and weight of all my experiences were right there in that phrase.”

She made veiled references to her breakup with Anthony. “What was amazing about doing that, night after night on the tour, was that every time I did it, I felt a little bit more forgiving of myself,” Lopez says. “There’s something liberating about standing up 
in front of a crowd of people and saying, ‘I know that maybe I haven’t made the best choices. Maybe things haven’t always worked out. But I’m right here and I’m saying it. I’m not ashamed, and I’m still trying.’

“In doing that,” she continued, “I discovered that sometimes it helps to make yourself vulnerable. The people, the songs and the show were helping me learn to forgive myself and accept myself for who I was, mistakes and all. Little by little I was healing.”

Lopez writes that it was ultimately a visit from Louise Hay, the publisher of New Age and self-help books, that helped solidify the message she needed to embrace: that she needed to love herself first.

“What was loving yourself, anyway?” Lopez writes. “Nobody teaches us what that means, but now I’ve discovered that it’s the key to life—because it’s the key to loving someone else and allowing others to love you. And without that love inside, we 
are lost and empty shells. More practically, you have to take care of yourself, your body, your mind, take care of your soul—be your own keeper. You can give, and love, and do all kinds of things to make a relationship perfect, but if you don’t think that you’re great, if you don’t love yourself, you’ll be treated in a way that is less than you deserve.”

True Love is a testament to Lopez’s honesty and candor, and is evidence that introspection coupled with the craft of writing one’s feelings and emotions can be an arduous pursuit, but one that heals. It is also testimony that, for all of Lopez’s material wealth and fame, it is the understanding of those internal wrestling matches—which are universal and to which we all have access—that are ultimately most valuable. That internal strength, it becomes clear, is as responsible for Lopez’s success as her many talents.

Up until a few months before her book went to print, Lopez says she was still deciding whether to release it. “I kept asking myself: Does it have value? Why would I want to expose myself in this way?” she says. “And no matter how much I thought about it, at the end of the day it came down to just one thing: wanting to share the lessons I have learned in the hopes of helping others.”

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