The Good/Bad Twin Split: A Recipe for Disaster

The psychological effects on twins who are identified as the “good” or “bad” twin are well documented in various writings by Vivienne Lewin, Barbara Klein, and Dale Ortmeyer. The emotional fallout often continues well into adulthood. Understandably, many twins who have been raised this way are completely estranged from one another. The bad twin feels betrayed that his twin colluded with their parents in perpetuating this split. While the good twin relishes the special role that he has coveted, he also feels tremendous sadness and guilt that he accrued his good fortune at his twin’s expense.

If these twin pairs do reconnect later on in life, the connection often revolves around life-changing events that target the designated good twin. The good twin may experience a divorce, a financial setback, or a death that makes him feel vulnerable and unsteady. He no longer feels like the top dog, and the shame about his diminishing status and power feels intolerable. Finding himself in these circumstances, the good twin might reach out to his sibling for empathy.

Whether the bad twin becomes involved with his twin in these altered circumstances depends upon many factors. As is often the case with feelings of envy, if the bad twin has achieved success and happiness in his life, he may be inclined to feel forgiving about his twin’s adverse situation. Or the bad twin might find these circumstances to be the perfect opportunity to cause his twin to feel the pain that he had to tolerate for so many years. The situation can worsen if the siblings have no tools to communicate about their childhood experiences.

Sometimes marital discord leads to the good/bad twin split. For complicated reasons, a mother or father will openly favor one twin over the other. The parent-child alliance attempts to be more powerful than the marital dyad, resulting in a power struggle over the affections of both children.

Have you ever found yourself labeling twins in your life as “good” or “bad”?


Image courtesy of B Rosen (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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