An identical twin in his sixties recently told me that his parents were fiercely proud of him and his brother because they stood up for one another and closed ranks. I looked up the meaning of close ranks—it means to “unite, work together” or “unite in a concerted stand especially to meet a challenge.”
I was struck by my patient using this phrase because he and his twin are presently in the midst of a horrific rift. They were singularly attached to one another throughout their school years. Although they were extremely competitive, they got along well most of the time. They created a few separate relationships while attending the same university.
As young adults, both brothers believed in equality. They hoped to share their professional achievements with each other and their family. They were successful until their work relationship collapsed. I told my patient that his parents’ laudatory attitude about their sons’ abilities to handle difficulties by themselves inadvertently set them up to fail. Praising the twins’ bravery robbed them of the opportunity to learn how to manage conflict and differences. What may have served as a positive defensive behavior in childhood impacted their capacity as adults to recognize each other as competent individuals instead of enemy combatants. Walling themselves off from criticism nurtured a grandiosity that left both feeling vulnerable and distrustful. In spite of financial successes, both struggle to find safe and fulfilling intimate relationships.
My patient needs help to think about another person’s point of view. Since he is not accustomed to reflecting on others’ thoughts, he reacts instantaneously to his own triggers and unwittingly creates chaos and ill will. Helping him to slow down and think about his own feelings first enables him to craft a thoughtful rather than argumentative response. Of course, singletons also experience narcissistic vulnerability and fragility. However, given the dyadic nature of twinship, with its inherent components of competition and jealousy, some twin pairs may be more susceptible to developing behaviors that demonstrate rigidity rather than compromise.