Twins who have parented each other in the absence of reliable and available adult caretakers develop a unique style of communicating and being in the world. They are a closed societal unit interacting primarily with each other. They are left affectually adrift and abandoned. Nonetheless, they create a mutually sophisticated dyadic level of relating that is authentic and supportive. They emotionally sustain each other until outside resources become available.
A pair of identical twin women in their midtwenties suffered with such issues. They grew up in a family with older siblings, and they were the youngest children. They were adorable redheaded little girls who garnered much attention wherever they went in their rural town. However, no one differentiated one from the other, and no one knew their names. They entered kindergarten together, and since both were shy and rather introverted, they stayed as close together as they could.
As the years went by, their social difficulties became more pronounced. They did not fit into any group and successfully shared one friend until she abandoned the girls. They missed out on more normative developmental experiences. They became increasingly insular, anxious, and ill-equipped to manage social situations. Throughout their high school years, this uncomfortable and painful peer rejection haunted them. Their anxiety increased to such an extent that one of the girls did not attend school for a year while her sister muddled through, struggling to cover up the reason for her twin’s ongoing absence.
Understandably, both women felt tremendous shame about their social inadequacies and hoped that going to college would afford them a new lease on life and a new chance to create social connections. Tragically, they encountered insurmountable social and academic challenges. They both felt like failures and were relieved to return home.
Despite their ongoing struggles in the outside world, their twin world keeps them afloat. They have developed a keen and authentic interrelatedness. Penelope is the caretaker. She looks out for Constance, often having to explain to their parents why Constance is depressed, negative, and angry. Their parents are fed up and annoyed with Constance. They have little understanding, patience, or empathy about her behavior. Her perceived laziness and irresponsibility in terms of pulling her weight in the household especially infuriates her mother.
While Penelope relishes her role of caretaker and therapist, at times she becomes resentful that her own feelings and needs are neglected. Constance understands this and tries her best to be less needy. Initially, their sophisticated style of communication and authenticity astounded me. As yet, they cannot interreact with outsiders with this level of emotional intelligence. However, they have been able to make an impact on their family’s aversion to confronting conflict and negativity.
Penelope and Constance live at home with their parents, with their older siblings coming and going. In the past months the girls have created a vastly improved relationship with their parents, who have become more open to appreciating and listening to nuanced emotional communications. As a result, the punitive and harsh responses of both parents have diminished considerably. In addition, the girls have made their parents aware of some of the unhealthy family dynamics that they ignore, which negatively impacts the entire family.
Feeling valued and heard by their parents has had tremendous beneficial effects in terms of helping both girls heal from emotional trauma and shame-based behaviors. Both exhibit a kind of optimism that did not exist previously. Instead of being labeled as the “identified patients” in this family system, they have acted as a positive catalyst for and harbinger of open and honest communication and sharing. Finally receiving the parental recognition and appreciation that they longed for will provide a much-needed boost to their maturational growth.
Photo courtesy of Kaiser Ghost