Have you found your twin flame?
The concept, and the hunt for finding it in real life, takes center stage in two new documentaries: “Escaping Twin Flames“ on Netflix and “Desperately Seeking Soulmate” on Amazon Prime Video.
Both documentaries center on Twin Flames Universe, a group founded by Jeff and Shaleia Ayan with the intention of coaching members into finding a “harmonious union” with their true loves, or “twin flames.” The Twin Flames Universe Facebook group currently has about 66,000 members.
Former group members and family members of current group members express concern in the documentary about the tactics Twin Flames Universe espouses, like encouraging stalking of crushes and manipulation. For example, leaders Jeff and Shaleia Ayan told members, in video footage shown in the Netflix documentary, to overrule objection from the objects of their affection, and pursue them, to the point that members would be served with restraining orders. Members were also pressured to couple up among themselves. Former members state group pressured them into changing their gender identities to enter twin flame unions with other members, as the documentaries detail.
Twin Flames Universe responded to TODAY.com’s request for comment with a lengthy rebuttal, saying, in part, “We take seriously recent allegations implying we wield inappropriate control over our community members. After a careful review of both media coverage and recent productions, we are saddened that so much effort has gone into taking swipes at an organization and community founded on love and mutual respect. The allegations levied against Twin Flames Universe not only distort our true aims, methods, and curriculums but also misrepresent the autonomy of our community members, who are free to engage with our resources as they see fit. We are committed to confronting these allegations in an open and accountable manner.”
What is a twin flame?
Kindred spirit. Soulmate. One true love.
All of these are synonyms for twin flame, a concept that suggests both a deep sense of kinship with another person, and a sense of your connection being fated.
Licensed psychologist Shauna H. Springer, who has written and researched extensively about love and relationships, clarifies that “twin flame” is not a clinical term.
“People use ‘twin flame’ describe this concept of finding somebody that you are sort of destined to meet,” Springer explains. “(Someone) with whom you are supposed to stimulate mutual growth over the course of a lifelong love partnership.”
What is the origin of ‘twin flames‘?
The actual term twin flame appears to have been popularized by the controversial American spiritual leader, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, who wrote “Soul Mates And Twin Flames: The Spiritual Dimension of Love and Relationships” in 1999.
But twin flames are a different kind of connection than soul mates, especially within the mythology of the Twin Flames Universe.
Rachel Bernstein, a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in cult intervention and re-acclimation, says the concept underlying “twin flames“ goes back to Plato’s “Symposium.”
In “Symposium,” a fictional version of the Greek playwright Aristophanes weaves a tale saying people once had four arms, four legs, and two heads, and were then cut in half by an angry Zeus, leaving them forever searching.
“A twin flame is the ‘other half’ of you,” Bernstein adds. “It is (based on the idea that) before you were born, there were these two parts of you that got separated.”
Paula Hardy, whose twin sister Stephanie Zimmerman is a current member in the Twin Flames Universe and is married to her "twin flame," explains the concept in her words to TODAY.com.
“At the core of the Twin Flames Universe’s ideology is that God created two parts of us to have basically one soul,” Hardy, who is featured in the Netflix documentary, explains. “And those two parts that were created at the exact same time are mirror images of one another.”
This is distinct from soulmates, which Springer defines as “(people) with qualities that make them feel like home to you the instant you meet them.”
Should you be looking for a twin flame?
Think twice before adding “seeking twin flame” to your dating app, psychologists say.
Both the concept of soulmates and twin flames are inadequate for “people that actually want lifelong love,” Springer says.
Springer describes the first stage of nearly every relationship as the “cocaine rush phase,” since it lights up the same neural pathways as using a drug.
“There’s a feeling that you’ve found this person — the soulmate or twin flame that you were always destined to meet — is problematic in the sense that everybody feels it. More than half the time, people are wrong. Abusive relationships also start out with this intense physical chemistry and attraction. If we use that as kind of the hallmark of having found something really special, that’s actually a pretty dangerous way to think,” Springer says.
Bernstein, who has worked former members of cults and former members of Twin Flames Universe, finds the notion of “other half” also misleading.
“I think a person is a fully formed being and should not be given the impression that they’re not whole without another human being,” Bernstein says. “I think that’s robbing someone of the feeling they have a whole self.”
Bernstein also disagrees with the notion that there is only one person out there for a single person.
“If that were true, then people who went through the loss of love or the death of a loved one would be relegated to always being alone,” she explains. “And we know that that’s not the case.”
That said, Bernstein says that she would tell anyone not to judge themselves for believing in the idea of a soulmate or a twin flame.
“It means that you’re a human being looking to connect, looking to have a meaningful relationship, looking to pierce isolation,” she says.
As Bernstein points out, we live in a time when people are more isolated and are searching for human contact.
“(People) don’t want to have to keep going through the rollercoaster of finding a person who turns out to not be the right person,”she adds. “These are all very normal and human desires. The only problem is, there are some people out there like the leaders of groups like (Twin Flames) who will take advantage of that hurt and worried part of people’s hearts and that is the unconscionable part.”