It’s just woo-woo-speak for toxic codependency
Last year, I was eating a salad and watching Bravo’s Southern Charm when cast member Madison LeCroy called her on-again, off-again boyfriend Austen her “twin flame.”
A piece of lettuce fell out of my mouth.
I’d been reading a lot about twin flames at the time, mostly because my messy lover had said I was hers. (To be fair, I was messy too. We were messy together.)
And I’d been seeing my own twisted relationship in Austen and Madison’s desperate attempts to cling to each other despite all logical evidence that they should not be together. They had different values and goals. They didn’t respect one another. They cheated on each other constantly. They made each other miserable. But they somehow ended up back together, again and again.
Twin flame shit.
When I first Googled the term, I was directed to articles from women’s magazines like Allureand Cosmopolitanand Goop, as well as more janky neospiritual websites with names like Loner Wolfand The Twin Flame Tribe.
There are a lot of articles on it.
The definitions vary slightly, but most agree that a twin flame is one soul split into two bodies. Like a soul mate, a twin flame brings an immediate and electric sense of recognition upon meeting, like you’ve known each other your entire lives. But a twin flame is, pointedly, not a soul mate. Unlike twin flames, soul mates do not share a consciousness.
Because your twin flame is your other half, they confront you with the worst parts of yourself. After the initial stages of fairy-tale ecstasy, egos start to clash. Wounds and traumas are triggered. Believers say the discord is a positive thing. According to “psychospiritual mentor” Lisa Vallejos, your twin flame “pushes you to want to engage with the divine, shift consciousness, and become a better, soulful being.”
Because your twin flame is your other half, they confront you with the worst parts of yourself.
Twin flames are said to mirror our shadow selves. If you’re emotionally repressed, your twin flame might be hysterical and explosive. (Just an example with no personal relevance whatsoever!) As a result, “it’s inevitable that almost every twin flame relationship battles through drama and dysfunction.”
Accordingly, Southern Charm’s Madison defined “twin flame” as being like “the antichrist of your love.”
LeCroy isn’t the only public figure who has invoked twin flamedom to describe her love life. Megan Fox called boyfriend Machine Gun Kelly her twin flame; Paris Hilton said boyfriend Carter Reum was hers.
But Paris has been vocal about her history of toxic relationships, one of which is depicted on-screen in her documentary This Is Paris:Her ex drunkenly drops her laptop before a big DJ set, and Paris retaliates by confiscating his artist-pass wristband—“the meanest thing you can do to someone.” (Twin flame shit.)
“I went through multiple abusive relationships,” Paris told People. “I was strangled, I was hit, I was grabbed, aggressively. I put up with things no one should.”
I worry that people cling to twin flamedom to justify toxicity.
When researching the signs of toxic relationships as defined by psychologists, I noticed a lot of overlap with the language used to define twin flames.
According to Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, when we’re in toxic relationships, our intuition often tells us something is amiss, but we somehow talk ourselves out of it. A twin flame narrative comes in handy here: It lets us tell ourselves that “we fight because we’re mirroring our shadow selves”—whatever that means.
Another sign of a toxic relationship is intermittent reinforcement, or a “push-pull dynamic where you never know when you’ll get love or acceptance or validation.” Likewise, the twin flame literature explains a “runner and chaser” phase. After the honeymoon period, one soul will abandon the other, seemingly without reason. After the runner leaves, the chaser can be relentless in his or her pursuit. “The chasing isn’t done out of the best interests of both souls,” writes Kate Rose in Elephant Journal, “but rather because the chaser has their own issues surrounding abandonment, loneliness, and worthiness.”
This phase mimics the anxious-avoidant relational dynamic. For those #blessed not to know, anxious attachment types have trouble feeling secure in relationships. As young children, they likely clung to caregivers or became devastated when a caregiver left. As adults, they’re prone to jealousy and relationship insecurities. They need constant reassurance from loved ones and have trouble being alone. In relationships, they’re clingy and perpetually fear abandonment.
For an accessible example, Ariana Grande’s music is teeming with anxious attachment. In “Needy,” she threatens, “If you take too long to hit me back/I can’t promise how I’ll react.” Then she admits, “I’m obsessive and I love too hard.” In the chorus: “I can be needy, tell me how it feels good to be needed.”
Avoidant attachment types exist at the other side of the spectrum. Raised by emotionally unavailable caregivers, they learn to suppress outward emotional displays. (Hi.) As adults, they may enjoy the company of others but use techniques like sarcasm and criticism to create emotional distance. (Also hello.) Intimacy and vulnerability send them running.
When anxious and avoidants come together, the description echoes that in the flamedom literature. “When these two opposing extremes meet,” therapist Jeremy McAllister writes, “it can be electrifying.” Much like twin flames, they mirror one another.
Just because something is familiar doesn’t mean it’s good for us.
Once a certain level of intimacy is reached, however, the avoidant partner will pull away. The anxious partner will seek reassurance and try to close the space between them, which in turn triggers the avoidant partner to widen the gap. Alas, the runner-and-chaser dynamic.
Also, the anxious partner mistakes the avoidant’s mixed signals for signs of love. Intermittent reinforcement. Push and pull.
“Dependance and conflict,” McAllister writes, “are the primary ingredients required for attachment reenactment.” When the running-and-chasing cycle takes shape, each partner experiences the relationship dynamic they once felt with their primary caretaker. Hence why, in flamedom terms, they will feel like they’ve known each other their entire lives. They feel connected because, together, they can play out their early childhood wounds.
A more extreme but similar dynamic is that of the borderline and the narcissist. People with borderline personality disorder use love as a remedy for persistent feelings of emptiness resulting from childhood trauma. Borderlines form quick and strong attachments and reject any information that the match is not right. Likewise, narcissists fall quick for literally anyone who will enhance their self-esteem, which is unusually low, also a result of childhood trauma.
Like anxious and avoidants, borderlines and narcissists often have an electric start to their relationships, because they both form intense romantic attachments without looking very closely at their partner’s actual personality. But the relationship becomes unstable as it progresses. When the borderline inevitably fears abandonment and lashes out, the narcissist will flee, creating the runner-and-chaser dynamic of the twin flame literature.
A toxic relationship dynamic that plays out childhood wounds isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’ve all had them, and sometimes we need to reexperience them to grow and change, like the psychospiritual mentor said above. But just because something is familiar doesn’t mean it’s good for us. And conflict is not a sign of love—it’s often a sign that something is wrong.
In other words, don’t use the trendy twin flame narrative to justify staying in something that doesn’t make you happy. Or do! I’m not the boss. Maybe you want to be miserable, and that’s your prerogative.
But to return to the woo-woo, we all deserve divine love.