Can She Be Happy for Me?
Many twin pairs successfully juggle jealous feelings, recognizing their disparities and living comfortably with their ambivalence. For example, “I am jealous of your financial success and I am happy you don’t have worries about money.” Or “I am jealous that your children are married and I wish them nothing but happiness.” Or “I am jealous that you are getting married before me and I am so pleased you have found love and happiness.”
Authentic acknowledgment of these ambivalent feelings is vital to keeping love intact in the face of anger and resentment evoked by competition and comparison. Twins who achieve this level of individuation are in touch with their separate selves. Hence, they are capable of self-reflection while also listening to and recognizing the perceptions and feelings of another. They take responsibility for their thoughts and triggers while simultaneously managing upsetting responses from their twin.
An identical twin woman in her thirties related an interesting anecdote that highlights this dynamic. She and her sister have always been quite competitive with each other. In their individual therapy sessions, each has worked hard to understand her twinship issues. As a result, both have become more tolerant and forgiving of the other. While they have frequent misunderstandings and conflicts, these misattunements no longer lead to ruptures or devastating consequences.
My patient has worked diligently to separate emotionally from her sister. She had always felt like the inferior, defective twin who would do anything to win her twin’s approval and love. She grew up craving her sister’s attention and inclusion. Her sister’s demand that she be the life of the party led her to behave in ways that did not reflect her authentic self. Desperate to make her sister happy, she was ready, willing, and able to enact her sister’s requisites. At times this included gaining weight, getting drunk, or enduring hostile barbs. When a long-term rupture did occur, she felt lost, alone, abandoned, and bereft.
Now she can feel good about herself without her sister’s endorsement. Nevertheless, if she feels that her sister cannot or will not be happy for her, she is disappointed. Although she no longer needs mirroring from her sister to sustain her self-esteem, she longs for the closeness and connection that they once shared. She has learned to manage the frustration and not turn it into a combative bout. This action requires a high level of emotional intelligence not easily achieved without therapeutic intervention.
Just as singleton children and adults yearn for parental love and approval, twins who grow up without this vital developmental ingredient end up providing it to each other. While this proves to be a source of comfort for twins at that moment, this dynamic can become infused with ugly competitiveness as the twins mature. So it becomes a complicated process to dissect and digest.