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Is a ‘twin flame’ a soulmate? The meaning of the term, and why it’s controversial

Two documentary series explore how an online group pressured members into taking extreme measures to find "harmonious twin flame union."
Couple holding hands
Maria Korneeva / Getty Images

How far would you go to find your "twin flame?"

Individuals may embark on an exhaustive journey in the quest for a twin flame, or a profound romantic connection. Two documentaries, “Escaping Twin Flames“ on Netflix and “Desperately Seeking Soulmate” on Amazon Prime Video, track the often darker destinations such searches can lead to.

Twin Flames Universe is the center focus of both documentaries. The organization was founded by Jeff and Shaleia Ayan and draws in members on the promise that they can be coached into finding a “harmonious union” with their true loves, or “twin flames.” The Twin Flames Universe Facebook group currently has about 66,000 members.

Throughout both documentaries, the family of current and past members disclose their experiences with the group and express their concern for the ones who've stayed. Of great concern to them seems to be the tactics Twin Flames Universe espouses, which include the encouragement of stalking and manipulation.

The documentaries’ subjects accuse the group’s leaders, Jeff and Shaleia Ayan, of encouraging and instructing their followers to pursue their romantic love interests even when their advances have been directly rejected. In various cases, the documentaries show how these instructions led to legal intervention, including restraining orders.?Former members also claim that they were pressured to couple up among their own small pools of group followers. Former members also claim to have been pressured 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.”

The concept predates the Ayans’ prominent group, which has been the focus of exposes and podcasts as well. Read on to learn more about the concept of twin flames and how it affects real people.

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.”

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