A Mirror or a Shield?

The other day I was speaking with a female twin in her midtwenties about her high-school experience. She told me that she enjoyed those years so much because her twin sister shielded her from feeling overwhelmed, intruded upon, and overexposed. This surprised me because she had always talked extensively about her sister being her “mirror”—needing to get continual validation from her twin about her clothing, hair, and general overall appearance. I was struck by how this young woman experienced the duality of this twin function. Unfortunately, now that she is geographically on her own, she struggles to figure out how to think for herself, to trust her instincts, and to map out her own mindset.

The conversation reminded me about a few paragraphs in Vivienne Lewin’s new book The Twin Enigma: An Exploration of Our Enduring Fascination with Twins (Karnac Books, 2016). She writes:

The primary bonding with the other twin is an essential element in the twin relationship. It develops through many factors: the creation and projection into each other of a phantasy twin, the psycho-biological resonances between them, the twinning processes linked with identifying with each other, and external sources such as the confusion between the babies by parents and others, the perceptions of others of the twin pair, and so on.

This intimate unconscious twin bond creates the difficulty twins experience in separating from each other even in adult life. The twinning, while comforting, is not a developmental bond [emphasis mine]. The other twin, unlike the mother, lacks the aspect of a generational gap that is necessary to help the infant grow towards a unique and individual identity. This gap, as experienced with mother, is needed to add differentiation and separateness between the twins, rather than sameness. (p. 9).

These sentences highlight my mantra about parents spending alone time with each baby.

While the twin connection is undeniably important throughout life, the parent-child attachment must take precedence for twins to separate and develop into healthy adults.


Photo courtesy of Hernán Piñera. CC by-sa 2.0

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