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April 8, 2021

Twin Flames or Toxic Codependency? The Danger of Spiritualizing our Attachments.


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Twin Mates and Soul Flames: the Problem with Labeling our Relationships.

When I first embarked on my spiritual journey, I fell in love.

It was a raw, intense, passionate, and insatiable type of love.

I didn’t know what had hit me. Inevitably, in the course of my exploration of all spiritual things, I stumbled across the term “twin flame,” which seemed to define what I was experiencing.

I wanted to explore, understand, and reflect on my emotions with mindfulness and personal insight. But I soon learned the danger of assigning labels to an emotional experience of this kind, especially when so many other people seemed to be doing the same, jumping on the twin flame bandwagon so as not to feel different, or left behind.

Like most things in spiritual discourse, trends come and go, and the notion of the twin flame is no exception.

The idea of a twin flame is a derivative of the idea of the soul mate. Both concepts have been appropriated in popular parlance to describe a state of emotional bonding between two people.

I purposely jumbled the terms soul mate and twin flame together in my opening line to at once highlight the interchangeability of the terms and the folly of using such arbitrary labels to assign a type of emotional experience that eludes description.

So, what is a soul mate?

The Symposium, a fictitious dialogue, written by Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher, is cited as the origin of the concept of the soul mate and, latterly, its derivation—the twin flame.

But it should be stated from the outset that the concept of the soul mate, as presented by Plato, is in the form of an exchange with Aristophanes, the comic playwright, and therefore the views espoused by Aristophanes are not endorsed by Plato: if anything, they are ridiculed by him.

Moreover, Plato’s dialogue focuses on the topic of love in all its manifold beauty and complexity; but it should be remembered that Plato—and his mentor, Socrates—had sexual relations with multiple young men: his views on love and relationships, as outlined in The Symposium, therefore need to be interpreted in this context of polyamorous homosexuality.

In the play, Aristophanes recounts the story that, in the beginning, humans were androgynous and had two faces, four arms, and four legs. They were fearless, strong, and a threat to the gods due to their overweening pride. Afraid that the powerful and physically whole humans would rise against him, Zeus bisected them to create distinct male and female counterparts. The splitting into two is, therefore, a punishment for human pride and hubris, condemning us to spend our lives physically and spiritually incomplete.

According to Aristophanes, this is why people speak of looking for their second half—someone to make them whole again.

In the play, Plato challenges Aristophanes’ account of the origin of the genders—the idea that one person can be one half of a whole. And, in other writings, he rebukes the idea of the divided soul as an unfounded concept, especially the idea of becoming whole with another person—for we are born whole. We are independent.

A healthy relationship is when two independent people come together, rather than being mutually inter-dependent—for that is tantamount to codependency.

It is this part of Plato’s play—Aristophanes’ speech—that has been co-opted by both relationship coaches and spiritual gurus and has crept into our everyday idiom to serve our definition of a soul mate or twin flame.

But whilst Plato’s dialogue is considered to be the origin of the concept of the soul mate, the actual term itself—soul mate—was first used by the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge in a letter dated 1822, where he states: “To be happy in married life…you must have a soul mate.”

What he means here is that a successful marriage is built on more than economic or social compatibility: there must be a spiritual connection, too.

Here, Coleridge may be using the term mate in the same sense as it is used in The Book of Genesis whereby Eve is created as a companion, or mate, for Adam, which in Hebrew translates as a spouse.

So, if we apply the concept of a soul mate here: Adam and Eve represent the division of the sexes—as in Plato—and their marriage represents a union, a return to wholeness.

The only common theme between Plato and Coleridge is the idea of something that was once whole being subsequently divided by a divine power and yearning to return to wholeness through a form of sacred union. The division of the sexes is linked to “the fall,” or our acquisition of knowledge and the hubris attendant upon it: essentially, our ability to challenge the gods—in this respect, the search for wholeness is the search for redemption.

Putting Soteriology aside, we might wish to consider the skewed history of the soul mate myth, for Plato’s drama and Coleridge’s letter not only differ in the nature of the mate they describe, and the socio-semantic context in which they were written, but they are also separated by 2,000 years.

Two. Thousand. Years. Think about that.

In the 20th century, it seems we have appropriated a phrase from the previous century, taken it completely out of context, and transposed it onto a myth that was recounted in a work of fiction written two millennia ago.

But at least we have a hypothetical origin and etymology for the term soul mate. What do we have for the concept of the twin flame? Nothing, except an entry in the Urban Dictionary and a mass of contradictory definitions of what constitutes a twin flame connection.

So, what is the difference, if any, between a soul mate and a twin flame?

In essence, a soul mate is someone with whom we share a deep affinity—a friend, relative, or a romantic partner—whereas a twin flame is a person who is our mirror: they are, apparently, the other half of our soul and reflect everything about us, for better or for worse.

A soul mate is generally someone who mutually enriches us and facilitates our personal growth. Whilst a twin flame serves the same purpose, the eventual union between twin flames—and the concomitant awakening it brings—is more aligned to a sense of service to humanity. Soul mates are, generally, emotionally available to us and bring harmony, whereas the twin flame connection involves many challenges, often resulting in confusion, angst, and chaos.

I must interject with a caveat at this stage: the idea of the twin flame is underpinned by a babble of spiritual, otherworldly jargon which I have since discounted on the basis that it is complete drivel.

Hereafter, any references to the woo-woo definitions of a twin flame or soul mate are not endorsed by me. Rather, I am simply describing the kind of gibberish I encountered whilst exploring the romantic experience I was going through at the time.

Okay, let’s press on.

Some sources say we have many soul mates but only one twin flame, whilst other sources say we encounter many twin flames (by sources I do not mean credible sources, but rather wacky blogs by self-ordained spiritual gurus and relationship coaches).

Indeed, definitions of a twin flame are hugely inconsistent.

In one source I read that a twin flame is when a soul splits into two souls, so the connection you feel toward another person is precisely because they are/were part of you, and your eventual union is a coming home, a return to the wholeness of being one soul.

But then I read in another source that we have multiple twin flames.

So, does that mean our souls separate into more than one soul?

If so, how can we ever truly find that sense of homecoming if our souls are severally divided?

How can we ever be truly whole if we are so dependent on another person external to us?

At this point, I could start to smell the bullsh*t in what I was reading.

There is an inherently sinister undertone to the concept of the twin flame.

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If the twin flame dynamic is essentially that of one soul mirroring the other soul, then not only is the twin flame relationship one of codependency, but the act of mirroring is a tactic used by narcissists to lure their victims in order to manufacture a soul mate connection.

Once they have established that connection, they then proceed to tear you down, gaslight, and play mind games, all of which is calculated to give them a sense of power, control, and feed their insatiable ego.

This is precisely what happened to me: my “twin” showered me with praise and compliments (love bombing), stating they felt a soul mate connection like no other, whilst putting me on a pedestal that inevitably sent me into a love-invoked stupor.

I lapped up every word. I was love-drunk. I was blinded. I fell for the trap, hook line, and sinker because I was convinced we had a twin flame connection. Then the real damage ensued: emotional abuse on a scale I have never known.

Another inherent danger in subscribing too much to labels is that we are told there are often clearly defined stages in a twin flame union involving the role of a “runner and a chaser.”

As the receiver of endless lies and mind games, I was the runner, and she was the chaser.

This resulted in a never-ending battle of wills: we would break up, then make up, then break up, then make up, and so on for months on end.

Rather than seeing the relationship for what it was from a detached and rational standpoint—that is a completely toxic and discordant mess—we were both guilty of getting too preoccupied with the supposed patterns of behavior associated with the twin flame connection and the various stages we were supposed to experience.

We were utterly convinced that what we had was some sort of sacred union of souls, when in fact it was just downright toxicity.

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But isn’t a soul mate or a twin flame a good thing? Not necessarily.

According to some definitions—and indeed experiences—of a twin flame union, you can each bring out the worst in each other. You mirror each other’s darkest fears and deepest insecurities; and you trigger the sh*t out of each other in the name of growth. The result? Constant questioning, crippling self-doubt, and what feels like endless anxiety.

If your twin flame bond is of a romantic nature then surely true love isn’t so challenging: love should be fluid and organic; your lover should diminish your insecurities, not trigger them.

Every relationship presents us with challenges for our learning and growth, but at what cost?

If your twin flame’s role is to bring your demons to the fore then that relationship smacks of codependency; you rely on each other for mutual insight—which is, of course, true of any healthy relationship. The difference is, in a twin flame relationship the process feels like an insurmountable challenge. Whereas in a healthy, balanced relationship mutual growth and insight happens naturally over time, organically—not painfully.

A soul mate connection brings out the latent qualities inside us. It brings out the best in us. On the other hand, a twin flame connection can force us to challenge and change our outlook and beliefs. It can bring out the worst in us.

Does challenge and change sound like the basis of a healthy relationship? How do we discern a healthy challenge that facilitates inner awareness from an unhealthy, seemingly impossible incompatibility? How much pain must we endure in the name of growth? Where do we draw the line?

The answer is pretty simple, and it has nothing to do with soul mates or twin flames.

Throughout our lives, we inevitably encounter people with whom we do and do not resonate. That’s pretty normal, given the rich diversity of human beings we meet. If we are in physical and emotional alignment with someone—if we share similar experiences, values, hopes, and dreams—then we connect with them on a deep level. Therefore, a soul mate is simply a term used to describe our compatibility with someone that goes beyond merely superficial attraction.

We need not overly romanticize such an affinity by inventing misleading terms such as soul mate and twin flame.

But for argument’s sake, let’s say a soul mate connection denotes a deep, harmonious affinity with someone. A twin flame connection is a similar sort of deeply felt, strong connection, but one that ultimately reveals the misalignment between partners.

As one person mirrors the other, all their fears and insecurities are revealed. So, perhaps too much sameness is a recipe for conflict.

Our twin flame is indeed our shadow, our doppelganger, and so the term twin flame can be seen as a superfluously romanticized way of describing someone who is hugely incompatible, yet someone to whom we are irresistibly drawn—either platonically or sexually.

At the heart of both the soul mate and the twin flame concept is the idea of inner growth. But aren’t all our encounters and experiences about growth?

Our invention of the concept of the soul mate reveals our deep human need for connection or completion. We seek unity and wholeness in each other, for it is in our nature to seek companionship and union with the other: they embody what we lack; they have attributes ostensibly missing in ourselves; they reveal our inherent differences which serves to either complement or contradict our own values and beliefs.

Human beings are torn between the polarity of uniqueness and sameness. We are individuals and yet we seek belonging. But how do we identify with ourselves except through difference, through the other? All people are mirrors to a degree—some reflect while some distort.

What drives us to seek connection or completion in the other? More to the point, why do we seek to label those experiences?

One answer is bandwagonism.

This is the tendency for people—or groups of people—to follow whatever is in vogue. Within the spiritual community, bandwagonism is rife. So many people want to fit in, to feel a sense of belonging, by labeling themselves as an empath or a lightworker, and the idea of belonging to a twin flame union is no exception.

When we see other people harping on about their true love, it’s only natural that we want the same, either to follow the trend, or to not feel different, or not to feel left behind.

Bandwagonism aside, another explanation comes from the Greek philosophers who agreed that human beings are existentially wounded and seek to fill an inner void.

As Aristophanes puts it in The Symposium:

“Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature”, so that when “a person meets the half that is his very own something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another.”

As human beings, we are predisposed to seek fulfillment in the possession of material goods, through power and control, and even through a desire for fame.

But, as we know, a life devoted to any of these goals is vapid on an existential level. The allure of money soon dwindles when we realize there is more to life than possessions, and the ecstasies of the flesh may bring instant gratification, but they do not fulfill our need for longstanding connection and security.

After the ancient Greeks, the idea of the wounded human was adopted by Christian leaders, most notably St. Augustine. He believed that the pursuit of worldly pleasures is a symptom of our innate sinful nature.

Writing much later in the 17th century, the French philosopher, Blaise Pascal held an alternative view that associated our wounded nature with our secular sensibilities. He claimed that the origin of our sin or desire for earthly pleasures lay in our inability to be still, to be alone and complete in ourselves.

Indeed, we are always looking for something more—meaning, validation, fulfillment—often outside of ourselves, as if the external world holds the answer to our soul’s plight.

Our search for answers is the root of our perennial suffering, or what Buddhists might term our dissatisfaction.

We resort to distractions —such as drink, drugs, sex, power games—to numb the pangs of emptiness. Perhaps we are alone. Perhaps there is no benevolent God or supernatural life hereafter.

We can never truly know, for the answers we seek elude us, and so we teeter between anxiety and hope in our constant search for meaning.

I don’t mean the feeling of being alone per se, but the feeling of being alienated from the world, the feeling that we do not understand other people and they do not understand us. A soul mate connection is one way to fill this void, and that is precisely why we are psychologically drawn to such labels.

But putting our hopes and expectations into seeking the other to complete us risks further dissatisfaction. The idea of completion,  or even worse, mirroring, smacks of codependence.

Therein lies the problematic nature of the soul mate and twin flame concept, for we are already each uniquely whole. It follows that when two pre-existing wholes meet, we form something greater than the sum of the constituent parts.

Perhaps this is the crux of what we mean by a soul mate: someone who does not complete us, but rather someone who complements us.

I naively fell for the allure of the soul mate/twin flame concept, much to my own detriment. Like too many others on the bandwagon, I held onto a belief that what I was feeling could be explained by a bunch of self-professed gurus and coaches who were as much a part of the same bandwagon.

Instead of trusting my gut and fleeing from the destructive relationship I was seemingly destined for, I clung erroneously to the belief that what I had was, in fact, a twin flame union. The challenges were supposedly part of that experience—one of the many “stages.” So I held on, persevered, believing it would result in a happy ending.

It didn’t. We broke up.

But then again, breaking up was the best thing that could have happened, for it lifted the veil on my folly. The folly of assigning such labels as twin flame to our romantic experiences.

The greatest lesson I learned was to trust your instincts rather than the hyperbolic, misleading, and potentially detrimental labels espoused by spiritual gurus and relationship coaches.

They are, essentially, strangers and have no concept of us or the intricacies of our relationships. To be guided by their false labels is to be left wandering in the dark, ignorant, and vulnerable to narcissists.

Etymologically, conceptually, and experientially, the terms soul mate and twin flame are massively dubious. Don’t fall for their charm.

Your heart can mislead you down dark roads if blinded by the allure of romantic labels. Don’t be guided by its confusion.

Use your head instead.


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