Attachment Woes

Many who did not experience a secure attachment with their primary caretaker struggle with recognizing their potential. Having missed out on “good enough” affect attunement and mirroring, they tend to devalue their strengths and minimize their role in perpetuating conflict and feeling victimized.

A recent session with an identical twin gentleman in his sixties evoked these thoughts. Blaine (not his real name) was in therapy with different clinicians for many years. He appeared to be trapped in a cycle of depression, anxiety, and helplessness. He repeatedly blamed his mother and twin brother for his inability to get his life together.

After Blaine and his twin brother decided to live together and subsequently failed to collaborate on a joint creative endeavor, Blaine steadily “lost touch with himself.” Since he felt worried about disappointing his twin, his drive to succeed was squashed and his ambition annihilated. Similarly, when he moved in with his mother some years later, he struggled to tolerate her idle chatter and nonsensical thinking. In each situation, his mounting anger and hopelessness about not being recognized and appreciated led to suicidal ideations and crippling depression.

 Blaine explained that he felt obligated to bear the brunt of his mother and brother’s emotional instability because he was emotionally healthier than both of them. He insisted that he had to “take the high road.” However, the crushing burden of their overbearing personalities and narcissistic needs evoked intolerable anger and guilt along with unmitigated sadness about not feeling heard or seen.

Blaine’s only recourse was to shut down and wall himself off from the toxic aftermath of their interactions. Shutting down meant a complete shutdown. He stopped speaking to his mother and his brother, holed up in his room, and smoked cigarettes incessantly. Blaine believed that sacrificing his needs and feelings would safeguard his mother and twin brother’s psychological fragility. Feeling compelled to absorb his family’s pathology, Blaine exhibited a defensive, omnipotent stance and severe masochistic tendencies.

After I confronted Blaine about the secondary gains he experienced by obsessively blaming others for his failures and paralysis, he gained some insight into his own behavior and attachment difficulties. Eventually, Blaine understood that condemning his family for his suffering was no longer feasible. In fact, he and I empathically recognized the tragic loss of time and missed opportunities caused by his emotional entrapment.

Eventually, Blaine realized that it was his responsibility to actualize himself as best he could rather than lose himself in a cycle of blame, self-loathing, and helplessness. Waiting for his mother and brother to change and become rational human beings by whom he could feel understood and loved was a waste of time and an unrealistic expectation. While both singletons and twins struggle with attachment difficulties and emotionally unhealthy families, some twin pairs experience particularly challenging circumstances exacerbated by the loyalty and dependency created by their twinship.

Image courtesy of mendhak (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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