Limerence and insecure attachment may have us struggling to recognize when boundaries are being violated.
Image by Nikos Apelaths from Pixabay
Several TFU members mentioned near the end of both docuseries that they became a “shell” of themselves by the end of their time in Twin Flames Universe.
In Part 1, I covered Twin Flame lore, the Scarcity Principle, codependency, spiritual bypassing, and how power and control can be imposed by those claiming to be higher on the spiritual hierarchy. In Part 2, we continue with enmeshment, limerence, unhealed trauma, and boundary violations.
Salvador Minuchin, developer of Structural Family Therapy, described enmeshment in a family thus: Members have diffuse boundaries, parental and child roles are confused, and members can lose their capacity for self-direction and autonomous development. They lose the capacity to self-differentiate.
If you haven’t yet guessed, enmeshed families are codependent.
In enmeshed systems, a fantasy of perfect symbiosis dominates, and members of such a family — or cult, for that matter — can feel the pressure to march in lockstep with their interests, emotional responses, beliefs, goals, and values. This is almost a perfect Venn circle with Steven Hassan’s “BITE” model for assessing destructive cults and authoritarian control; “BITE” standing for Behavior, Information, Thought, and Emotional control.
In both Twin Flame Universe documentaries, there were members who accepted Jeff and Shaleia Ayan’s declarations and instructions, including where to live and what roles to play, almost without question.
My suspicion is that people who grow up in enmeshed families can make perfect targets and members of high-control groups and partnerships, because that’s been exclusively their experience of getting their social needs met. During growing pandemics of loneliness like what we’ve seen before and during the Covid outbreak, more people, including those who received “good enough” parenting, may find themselves joining enmeshed systems to experience love and belonging.
Little wonder Twin Flame communities continue to attract people looking for both.
In the Amazon Prime series, ex-TFU member Arcelia had one interview in which she dropped the word “limerence”. It was the one word I was waiting for someone to utter in both documentaries, but that was the only instance I caught.
the state of being obsessively infatuated with someone, usually accompanied by delusions of or a desire for an intense romantic relationship with that person.
Researchers Lynn Willmott and Evie Bentley (2015) defined limerence as an acute onset, unexpected, obsessive attachment to one person (the limerent object). Obsessive rumination, anxiety, depression, temporary fixation, and self-disintegration were found to be common experiences.
Phillip Shaver and Cindy Hazan (1985) noted that people suffering from loneliness were significantly more susceptible to limerence, and that this was due to an accumulated backlog of unmet social needs. This leads sufferers to spin ambiguous signs of romantic interest from others into deeply emotional experiences that exist more in their imagination than reality.
Limerence received little Internet attention before 2021. I learned it thanks to Crappy Childhood Fairy, who linked it to childhood trauma and CPTSD, particularly as a way for survivors to escape “abandonment melange”. The term was coined by Pete Walker (author of Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving) and is a vicious cycle and mixture of shame, fear, and self-hatred.
Limerence provides a way to cope; the early days of limerence can lend the energy of euphoria. (Recommended read: Why limerence is addictive.) Think of it as a powerful DIY survival response, that can facilitate moving a person from depression and isolation straight to the highs of being “in love”. It is a powerful biochemical fix for loneliness and uncertainty.
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Within the twin flame community, some people claim celebrities as their twin flame. It seems a step up (especially to them I’m sure) from pure infatuation, especially when synchronicities provide “confirmation” and other TF community members support the notion. Citing “soul connections”, “trusting the universe”, “you just know” and “your heart cannot lie”, stronger TF proponents seem to have no qualms pushing parasocial relationships into a space that overrides the lived reality, boundaries, and autonomy of the limerent object.
WebMD describes Erotomania clearly:
Erotomania is when you think someone is in love with you but they’re not. It may be a person you’ve never met. They might even be famous, like a politician or an actor. You can be so sure of this love that you think you’re in a relationship with this person. You may not be able to accept facts that prove otherwise.
Originally this condition was assigned to women (though not exclusively) who claimed to be loved by men elevated by socioeconomic class, celebrity and/or position (Wikipedia).
I don’t want to give Erotomania too many words here because this condition is rare. That said, social media use may be exacerbating Erotomania in those predisposed to it. Erotomania can be experienced as part of Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, early onset Alzheimer’s, and other conditions. It can also exist on its own as part of Delusional Disorder as a primary, chronic condition.
Boundaries & Violations
The most alarming stuff about twin flame lore and communities is how they may normalize, ignore, or even encourage TF “Chasers” to ignore or violate the personal boundaries of their alleged twin flames. This was disturbingly demonstrated in the Twin Flame documentaries, and examples are easily found in TF forums too.
In contrast, healthy partnerships and informed relationship counseling recognize that all healthy relationships take two participants able to consent to the relationship without coercion.
Insisting on a relationship without the consent or agreement from the other because one can claim the partnership exists “in spiritual truth” is manipulative, and potentially abusive.
Twin Flame believers purport access to a “higher truth” to bludgeon the most basic rule of consensual relationships into irrelevance.
I won’t mince words. This needs to stop.
Attachment Wounds, Relational Trauma, and Trauma Bonding
Many of the members of Twin Flames Universe found the book and courses through online searches for why their attraction and longing for their desired partner felt so intense. I had no trouble believing that the existential distress and panic attacks they experienced were real — but for them, it was attributed to not attaining HTFU (harmonious twin flame union).
There’s a mundane reason for the intensity. (Sorry!) Intimate and important relationships commonly trigger our earliest attachment wounds, when our very survival during our earliest years depended on our parents’ attunement to our needs.
Abandonment and rejection by a TF or limerent object may feel intense because it could harken back to these earliest unprocessed fears and attachment wounds. These are essentially “buried” in our autonomic nervous system, usually out of our control and consciousness, until triggered and (hopefully) healed in therapy.
The field of trauma research and recovery is expanding and making progress all the time; we know now that even growing up in an emotionally “cold” family can create adults with low self-esteem, shame, and insecure or disorganized attachment. Such adults — possibly vulnerable to TF material — struggle with relationships, intimacy, and getting their relational needs met. When they experience codependency, limerence, and difficulties with boundaries, TF lore may unfortunately do them no favors.
Ultimately, our nervous systems seek safe connections.
Attuned parents modeling safe relationships for their children should have been the way we all learned to self-regulate and co-regulate in safe, healthy relationships — but we know this isn’t the norm. Studies vary, but generally the percentage of people without attachment difficulties falls between 51.5 to 65%. This potentially leaves a half to a third of the population stumbling with relationships and/or loneliness and relying on luck or dubious coaching to get by.
The Mirror Exercise so central to TFU teachings is dangerous for anyone in an abusive or dysfunctional relationship because it maintains and deepens victim-blaming and trauma bonding by having only one party take all responsibility for the dysfunction in it.
Photo by Mariana Montrazi from Pexels
Scientific American lays this out about toxic over-responsibility:
Like many dysfunctional beliefs, it often starts in childhood. Kids who get blamed for things they have no power over, like their parents’ emotions, finances, or relationships, start to believe they are indeed responsible.
In adulthood, a trait which may have started as a control or self-soothing mechanism is easily exploited by unsatisfactory intimate partners–or profiteering gurus.
Relational trauma and all its symptoms cannot be healed by anyone alone. Even with trained professionals, any kind of trauma recovery requires safe connection and conscious effort. Many individuals may intuitively or instinctively seek relational healing through communities, New Age beliefs, alternative healing, religious counseling, and romantic relationships. Your mileage may vary.
Healthy Relationships & Spirituality
I’m lucky. Aside from the group for survivors, I haven’t subscribed to twin flame beliefs or participated in TF circles since 2017. In a way, researching narcissistic abuse, studying psychotherapy, and working on myself were the new rabbit holes that took me away from certain New Age ideas.
I am still finding my way of balancing all that I’ve learned (and am learning) in psychotherapy with my love for spirituality and feeling connected to a larger picture. I don’t believe these two loves conflict. They ultimately lead me to recover from complex trauma without being limited by “loyalty” or driven by magical thinking to one side or the other. And that is what real empowerment and unconditional healing support should do.
While working on this article, I had to pleasure of meeting up with two other women for the first time over a shared love for Tarot. The subject of twin flames came up and it was a shared relief to voice our experiences and misgivings over twin flame beliefs. Adherence to twin flame concepts is not needed to maintain a personal spiritual practice.
And, relationships do not need the label of “twin flames” or “soulmates” to be spiritual and healthy. Neither should New Age labels be used to ignore red flags and signs of relationship dysfunction, and that may benefit from “mainstream” help. As mentioned, being triggered is hardly exclusive to TF relationships — they happen in any relationship as long as we have unhealed and unexamined trauma.
Labeling relationships to insist they must be pursued, “completed”, or fulfilled for one’s spiritual evolution and advancement may well close people off to healthier ways of getting their social, emotional, and esteem needs met.
Maybe these ways are less “sexy” or spiritual. Then again, maybe not. (Uncertainty is uncomfortable, but learning to bear it may well be part of our healing journey.)
Who knows, releasing ourselves from the drive towards ascension and perfection and meeting our human needs without spiritual labels could be the most loving, transcendent gift we give ourselves.
Where to go from here? I may have material for a follow-up article about healing from codependency. For now, I would love for you to subscribe and check out my other work! If you’d like to support me, The Self-Love Oracle is a new-age work featuring my paintings in a deck of healing and inspirational oracle cards .