We often hear about twins who cocreate thriving businesses together. The Property Brothers, for instance, are a prosperous twin brand that capitalizes on their twinship to promote lucrative television and real-estate deals. The Olsen twins launched a successful fashion line in their adulthood, making the most of their notoriety as television and movie stars in their younger years. Many other twin pairs have launched productive careers together as artists, writers, businessmen and -women, and athletes.
Twin pairs who are unable to work together demonstrate a number of difficulties that impede their capacity to collaborate. The primary obstacle seems to be an inability to listen to opposing points of view or tolerate criticism. Instead of feeling separate enough to listen to a point of contention, each reacts to the other’s perspective as if annihilating remarks or nasty insults have been hurled. The lack of mutual respect turns into a competitive battle about who’s right and who’s wrong.
An identical twin woman in her midthirties contacted me after struggling for five years to get a fashion business off the ground with her twin sister. The dynamics of their working relationship make her feel vulnerable and powerless. She suffers an enormous sense of guilt if she hurts her sister’s feelings. Her twin is an extremely sensitive and fragile individual that cannot withstand any difference of opinion. The sister defends her vulnerable psyche through grandiosity and belligerence. She quarrels endlessly if someone does not support her point of view. If she does not receive the mirroring she requires to validate her beliefs, she retires to her bed for hours or even days until she regains the strength and will to integrate with others again.
My patient was pummeled emotionally by her sister’s overblown reactions to mundane and inconsequential disagreements. Yet, she could not muster up the courage and conviction to save herself from these assaults. In light of her affection for her twin as well as her own fear of conflict, she simply gave up trying to be or do anything. In fact, she made a conscious decision to sacrifice herself for her twin’s well-being because she saw no other solution to her circumstances. She could not stand watching her sister suffer the aftermath of quarrels and rejection; therefore, she retreated into a state of affectlessness and nonexistence. She explained that abandoning her sister would be an act of betrayal. Furthermore, she could not bear the guilt of her twin holding her responsible for their shared failure.
Feeling enraged and frustrated by her situation while lacking a way to express those emotions understandably left this patient depressed and defeated. She needs to recover and reconnect with the aspects of her healthier self that she lost after she reunited with her sister. When unhealthy dynamics of pathological accommodation and excessive guilt squash individuality, the detrimental aspects of the twinship can be crushing and life altering. To achieve healthy differentiation, she needs to learn how to define her identity in relation to her self rather than in opposition to her twin.