The other day a patient told me that she felt “duped.” I asked her to explain what she meant by that. She related that she experienced feeling betrayed or taken advantage of by someone.
As we explored the incident together, it seemed clear in her case that feeling duped felt shameful. Being disappointed by someone appeared less toxic than admitting shame since disappointment does not evoke intense feelings of self-loathing and victimization.
Many aspects are at play that may contribute to feeling shame. Those who have studied the intricate aspects of shame link it primarily to a disruption in the relational attachment from a young age. Somewhere along the developmental path, a child and significant others experience a complicated and conflicted relationship, which can result in the child feeling as if he or she is the cause of “bad” emotional ruptures. A feedback loop of feeling bad, responsible, and rageful can contribute to a shame-based nature, which evolves into self-consciousness and self-loathing.
Among the twin pairs I have treated, shame-based behaviors are an expectable outcome of an unhealthy twin connection. When each twin vies for status, recognition, and validation, one twin may end up feeling less loveable, less valuable, or less important. To manage these uncomfortable circumstances, one twin may disavow her inferior status by becoming the caretaker twin. In so doing, she pathologically accommodates the needs of her twin and often her mother. As time goes on, the caretaker twin remains in the background, seemingly making way for her twin to shine while she dissociates from the resentment and victimization of the relational inequities. She descends into a pattern of passivity and dependency, further contributing to her sense of despair. She feels inconsequential and secondary, having little to offer in terms of self-agency or self-confidence.
To confront and remedy this situation, a twin in treatment should be encouraged to get in touch with disavowed rageful and defiant feelings designed to protect herself from feeling shame. While singletons may have to work through this dynamic in their relationships, it is doubly difficult for twins to navigate this terrain. The loyalty siblings “owe” their twin demands a conformity that further erodes individuality.
If we can feel sorry for ourselves and experience an authentic flash of self-pity, we can begin to acknowledge our situation without shame or debilitating regret. Anticipating change is undeniably difficult. Yet having the courage to recognize one’s vulnerability is tantamount to developing the confidence to embrace hope, positivity, and free will.