Sadly, magical thinking may be easier than confronting spiritual bypassing, codependency, and trauma.
Image by Vjay Ishwar from Pixabay
The concept of twin flames was a strong presence in my New Age social circles from around 2015 to 2018. And Amazon Prime and Netflix each released a 3-part docuseries about Twin Flames Universe in recent weeks.
I guess this is my entry into the “I listened to this band before they got popular” game, and have my own story about getting burned by the New Age concept. And while I write this now from a mental health and trauma-trained perspective, I remain sympathetic to readers who consider themselves sensitive and/or spiritual. I still have many positive associations and memories from my foray into the New Age space. But the idea of twin flames is not one of them.
Too much of the Twin Flame “lore” contradicts the rules of healthy relationships and self-esteem.
I have a lot to cover. I guess we’ll start from the beginning.
144,000 Twin Flames
The idea of ascension and moving between dimensional realities is common in New Age thought. Many New Age gurus and authors claimed December 21st, 2012 would be the day that earth and its population would move from “3D” to “5D consciousness”. Predictions included natural disasters, magnetic pole shift, and even “3 days of darkness”. When all that didn’t happen, or not to the extent predicted by many channelers, the common explanation was that the ascension of 144,000 spiritually advanced people into the fifth dimension (5D) or the New Earth was delayed, or it did happen but only in vibrational reality. The battle between light and darkness–or the spiritually advanced versus the spiritually degenerate–wages on.
(This isn’t meant to read as a dismissive summary, but I do apologise if it does. While I’m no longer a subscriber, I am still outlining these messages as objectively as I can from memory and Google.)
The number 144,000 or even 244,000 is fairly common in religious prophecy for designating a “special” and chosen population, and maybe New Age is no different in recycling numbers, symbols and ideas. So it was not surprising the number popped up again with Twin Flames, that only the most 144,000 spiritual souls on earth had a divine counterpart.
Here is the other lore:
Twin flames existed only for the people for whom this lifetime was their last incarnation on earth.Twin flames are thus bound with the above concept of ascension–that in the right lifetime, preferably this one, you can clear off your karmic debts and achieve such a “high vibration” of love and light that you’ll never have to incarnate on earth or in 3D reality again.You only have one twin flame*. This makes a twin flame more special than a soul mate.Your twin flame will appear right before or after a kundalini awakening: an esoteric and energetic experience in which you awaken more senses/chakras and into a different view of reality than you had before.Your twin flame will appear in unusual circumstances and only once you’re “in alignment” or on the path to ascension.Your twin flame is your full complement in everything–if you’re quiet, your TF will be loud. If you’re messy, your TF will be neat. Your TF completes you. You’re 2 halves of a split soul.But because you’re also a split soul, you’ll share many similarities. (I didn’t create this stuff and its contradictions, OK?)Image by Enrique Meseguer fromPixabayYou don’t have to meet your twin flame to know they’re your twin flame.Meeting your TF is for evolving and testing you spiritually but it’s the most mind-blowing, psychic, spiritual, emotional, and sexual union you’ll ever have. You’ll be able to communicate telepathically, join chakras, share dreams and visions, etc.A twin flame relationship is unconditional love and different from a “karmic” relationship, of which the latter is a negative thing. Karmic relationships are connections we formed in 3D and low vibration — where we were/are only concerned with ego, material possessions, appearances, shallow connections, etc.Karmic and soulmate relationships can happen between colleagues, family members, and friends, but a twin flame union requires a romantic and sexual relationship to aid/achieve spiritual ascension.The journey with your twin flame will be “crazy” and have obstacles and intense ups and downs. (Don’t ask me why the emotional extremes of a karmic relationship are wholly bad and low vibrational but the emotional extremes of a TF journey are spiritual healing tests.)There will be a Runner and a Chaser. These roles may switch. The Runner is the twin flame who runs away from the union because they’re vibrationally “lower” or still “stuck in the matrix”, while the Chaser chases because they see the once-in-all-the-lifetimes TF union that the other doesn’t.Synchronicities will abound (“11:11”, “22:22” and repeating numbers) to confirm you’re looking at a TF union.LDBTQ+ people can and will and do subscribe to the concept of Twin Flames and some people are adamant that there must be a divine feminine counterpart to the divine masculine (this was well covered in the Netflix docuseries along with Jeff and Shaleia’s insistence that couples have to be heterosexual).The pain of the TF journey will show the couple what they have to heal in themselves and/or each other. This may be referred to as shadow work, which is a concept that New Age wants to claim but originated in Carl Jung’s work and that modern trauma and psychodynamic therapies do address.
I bought into this, briefly, but I did. And the people who have come forward in the recent documentaries now make this entire article easier to write.
But, I still have many people I know, love, and appreciate who, as far as I know, still take the idea of Twin Flames seriously. And though I become convinced TF ideas were deleterious to healthy relationships, I mostly hesitated saying so because I didn’t want to be seen as “attacking” those friends or beliefs. I kept my sharing to a private group for supporting Twin Flame apostates and survivors, in which I have been a founding member since 2020.
Here’s an excerpt of the self-introduction I made there in December 2020 (excuse the typos):
I journal a lot and I know my timeline well. I know I got so enamored of new age stuff and had been divorced a few years, so I was obsessed w the idea that I needed a new age/spiritual partner too. That really narrowed the field! (Though most of my friends might be shy admitting it, I know their goals were probably the same.) And I observed that the TF propaganda made relationships for my friends even more fraught and dramatic.No one was just “dating”. They were all suddenly finding their TWIN FLAMES. I started to feel put out, like I was less for not finding a partner and not having a relationship, much less a TF one. There was some implication only the most “spiritually advanced” had TFs, yet here were all the Tom-Dick-and-Harrys I knew having TFs. (Arrogant-sounding but true, and I hope you can laugh with me. There’s competitiveness within the spiritual community too, and I’d rather that was out in the open; I can at least admit it)I also had a long-term crush on a [identifying info removed] I fell for him hard. When I admitted it to him, he seemed receptive, and all the TF propaganda (even as skeptical as I had been) invaded my world. I mean, I didn’t like many people so he HAD to be my TF and I cried buckets when he ghosted me. It didn’t help when my new age friends DIDN’T try to argue me out of the TF business and gave all sorts of unhelpful “oh it’s just the TF dynamic, many people can’t take it” instead of “hey, sometimes certain relationships aren’t healthy for us and you can do better”. Also “maybe don’t load all your expectations and fantasies onto one person” could have made a difference.
I’m no longer in that New Age/Twin Flame friend group. It had a “ring leader” who, unsurprisingly, styled himself as a spiritual teacher determined to become the best healer in the world (his own words). Months after his Twin Flame Group Meditation, same teacher would claim that people could have more than one twin flame*, because, hey, he had just fallen in love with a new person and it was no less than another twin flame.
The Scarcity Principle
In social psychology, the scarcity principle refers to the tendency to place a higher value on things that are perceived as rare while devaluing things that are seen as common or abundant.
New Age subscribers are not immune from claiming or aspiring to rare talents, labels, statuses, and relationships. Maybe they’re especially vulnerable. I don’t want to fault anyone for this (remember, I’ve been there) but my exposure to Twin Flame adherents made me question why regular romantic relationships suddenly weren’t cutting it for anyone anymore.
Everyone who knew about Twin Flames suddenly had to prove this was their last incarnation, or that they were one of the 144,000 ascending to New Earth, or that they possessed the special-est tier of relationship elevated above all the relationships of the unawakened muggles of the world.
Maybe I lacked ambition. I mean, on one level I just wanted to have a warm body with decent conversation and housekeeping skills–someone who didn’t regard me as too weird for my crystal collection and esoteric interests. The TF stuff sounded awesome, sure, but I didn’t feel entitled or guaranteed to a TF relationship.
Photo by mikoto.raw from Pexels
My low-esteem and Complex PTSD apparently put me in a narrow band of half-inoculation where I wanted to believe in and have the perfect TF relationship, but I was also comfortable letting pessimism or practicality tell me that it all sounded kinda suss.
So what happens when one belief or perspective doesn’t quite make sense or spark joy anymore? I found different distractions and lines of research.
I found the definition of codependency.
In fact, I found a lot of things.
Uncertainty is uncomfortable
There was a profile I suspected was common among those who wanted or needed the TF idea to be true (myself included). Clearly many of us found our previous (and current) romantic relationships lacking or nonexistent.
It would be easy to become enamored of the idea that we can have a spiritually sanctioned and “destined” perfect relationship to render all our past disappointments and heartbreaks moot. This would certainly be a more attractive notion than slowly dying of loneliness or swiping insufferable Tinder profiles forever.
We’ve all made this face. Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.
The lack of a partner can hit our self-worth head on, making us wonder what the hell makes us so hard to love.
The perfect love espoused in Twin Flame literature easily appeals to anyone looking for the “sure thing”: A partner who can’t abandon or reject you because the union is assured or dictated by a higher being or truth that cannot be contradicted. “Those who can’t perceive the same truth, or abide by it, are simply lacking, recalcitrant, or low vibrational — but they can be Saved!”
This provides both certainty and control for the believer who just needs to abide by the rules of ascension, obey the guru, practice the mirror exercise, and do All The Spiritual Things to be rewarded with their forever partner.
This coping mechanism for avoiding uncertainty, loneliness, and rejection is not exclusive to Twin Flame belief but can be found almost anywhere you find individuals with complex or relational trauma.
Similar coping keeps people in dysfunctional relationships or fixating on incompatible or unavailable partners. Or, they focus on a “surefire” formula to secure and control their partners. Mental health practitioners recognise this as codependency.
Codependency is frequently experienced by individuals coming from dysfunctional, emotionally neglectful, and less-than-nurturing family systems. These individuals often experience issues around identity, self-worth, self-esteem, and accessing safe and healthy intimacy while fearing abandonment. (A full overview of the impact on both children and adults here.)
Or, from Mental Health America:
It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive.
The irony of aspiring to the best and highest relationship possible, or a last and forever romantic relationship, is that this still does not and can not protect twin flames from needing to navigate reality-based issues like cohabitation adjustments, boundaries (or lack of them), reciprocity (or lack of it), employment, finances, healthy communication and intimacy, and even break-ups —because that’s just life. (In 3D, if you must.)
Photo by Vera Arsic from Pexels
Healthy non-TF couples do couple stuff without the added expectation that it can or should happen without any friction — or even that it should spark the “most intense” fights of their lives. Healthy non-TF couples are also under no expectation to perform their relationship as the ideal and unbreakable model for other aspirants.
In both docuseries, the not-so-successful pairings in Twin Flame Universe were pressured to hide or minimise any problems they experienced. (This is consistent with the “good vibes only” toxic positivity messages in a lot of New Age and spiritual coaching, and I’ll get to spiritual bypassing, co-idealization, and limerence later.)
As TFU members became asked to date only other TFU members, the added challenges for the “divinely” assigned couples — like lack of natural attraction, or one partner being the “wrong sex” — were more glaring and harder to overcome.
But I suspect Twin Flame lore, adherence, and coaching likely advocated dismissing these mundane issues. Remember, TF lore says relationships can also be “crazy” and the most challenging spiritual test of this lifetime. So let’s talk about spiritual bypassing.
Image by khaled Aljaber from Pixabay
Buddhist psychotherapist John Wellwood, who coined the term, defined spiritual bypassing as the
“tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks”
Loneliness and uncertainty are not only uncomfortable, but for some, they are unbearable. Avoidance coping — that is, avoiding a stressor through addiction, othering (the enlightened 144,000 vs the non-awake masses), and/or escapism — can be a solution that people reach for subconsciously.
The Twin Flame and ascension concepts appeal to several needs in a certain dissatisfied audience. It appeals to individuals who show these signs of codependency:
An exaggerated sense of responsibility for the actions of othersA tendency to confuse love and pity, with the tendency to “love” people they can pity and rescueA tendency to do more than their share, all of the timeAn unhealthy dependence on relationships.An extreme need for approval and recognitionFear of being abandoned or aloneRigidity/difficulty adjusting to changeProblems with intimacy/boundaries
The implicit “savior” role of being among the 144,000 Twin Flames here to raise vibrations on earth satisfies the need of individuals from dysfunctional backgrounds and ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) to find love and belonging, spiritual purpose, recognition, acceptance, power, validation, and value all at once.
It’s a heady cocktail, and again, I wasn’t immune. And I genuinely felt for those TFU members in the docuseries who, upon leaving, wondered if it was all a lie. The pain and grieving of expulsion and/or self-exile from a belief system and community is real and brutal. My hope in writing this is to make clear that healing is possible both inside and out of New Age/spiritual circles.
My own journey lead me to learn how narcissistic abuse and narcissistic parents can predispose us to codependency and manipulative behavior to get our relational and emotional needs met. I have written other pieces about this.
The connection between narcissistic abuse and Twin Flame vulnerability isn’t commonly drawn, but here’s what both things feature heavily:
My thanks to Dr. Sam Vaknin for this concept.
While the narcissistic lovebombing cycle–idealize, devalue, discard–is well-covered in literature on narcissistic abuse and vulnerability, less covered is what factor can keep someone in a controlling relationship longer or more desperately — and that’s joining in the idealization phase.
Co-idealization — sharing a confabulation of the specialness and unassailability of a relationship, so that both partners idealize the other — can make any relationship and its issues harder to see the truth of.
Image by Eva Michálková from Pixabay
Twin flames serve as a shared fantasy that lets both partners minimize the uncomfortable “3D” problems of their relationship — as well as the solutions offered by “non-spiritual” counselors and therapy.
It keeps help-seeking within the accepted in-group–in this case, within the community of Twin Flame believers and coaches.
Let me emphasize: Co-idealization doesn’t just happen in romantic partnerships. Love-bombing and co-idealization can happen between guru and follower. In high-control groups, it’s part of the power game.
Power is useful.
“In Spiritual Truth”
In the Netflix documentary, Jeff Ayan claimed the power to channel divine information for identifying the twin flames of TFU members. “In spiritual truth” were the notable 3 words he would use to pronounce so-and-so as another’s twin flame, which placed his assertions — sorry, his spiritual truths — above question.
This is not exclusive to New Age, but leaning on hierarchical authority — spiritual, institutional, religious — to override someone else’s perspective, experience, and autonomy, especially if they’re codependent and lacking self-trust, is one of the oldest ways to exert influence and control over another.
Remember, for some people, uncertainty is unbearable. Even among the strongest of us, it can be seductive to yield to someone who seems to have all the answers.
More so when we’ve been down or lonely for too long: It can be a lifeline and relief.
I had to split this into parts. In Part 2, I’ll cover enmeshment, limerence, relational trauma, and attachment wounds.
Thank you for reading.