I have written extensively about twins who feel that their attachment is adversely impacted by their connection to a significant other—a boyfriend or girlfriend, a spouse, a best friend, or perhaps a niece or nephew. Yet, the most tragic situation results when one twin is devotedly connected to his or her mother while the other is not. If this pattern of parental preference persists throughout the twins’ childhood and adulthood, it understandably leads to a contentious twinship.
I am currently counseling a pair of female identical twins in their late thirties who are attempting to reconstruct a relationship. However, when we speak together, it feels like their mother is present. The subjective perspectives of both women are viable. One, whom I’ll call Erica, feels victimized because she experiences her mother as unavailable, unloving, and critical. In contrast, her sister, “Heather,” describes their mother as a best friend and confidant and glowingly boasts about her strengths and accomplishments. Consequently, she either will not or cannot entertain her twin’s viewpoint and is incapable of offering any validation.
The victimized sister craves an attuned and empathic response from Heather about what she describes as their mother’s narcissistic atrocities. Even when Heather attempts to listen with compassion, she accuses Erica of being disingenuous and defensive. Erica remains convinced that Heather is too afraid to get in touch with any angry or negative feelings that she has toward their mother.
The victimized sister is very analytical and insistent. Heather, on the other hand, is not motivated to examine feelings under a microscope. She believes that life happens and one has to move on rather than cogitate endlessly. Even if she could self-reflect as intensively as Erica desires, she would likely fail to fulfill her twin’s expectations. Heather struggles with not knowing how to respond to Erica’s emotions and describes her situation as similar to navigating among landmines, never knowing when to expect an emotional eruption.
Sadly, this situation is truly unbearable for both women. While they can superficially agree to disagree, considerable pent-up resentment exists between them. Both women say that they do not feel emotionally safe with one another and struggle to accept each other. Perhaps when their lives expand to include other intimate relationships where they can direct their energies, they can disengage from this psychological battleground where nobody can win.
At this point, Erica and Heather’s divergent relationships with their mother inhibit them from developing a loving and trusting twin bond. This is a cautionary tale about how a blatant preference for one twin over the other creates a good twin/bad twin dichotomy that leads to complicated rifts.