Different-age siblings often have conflicting views about their brothers’ and sisters’ choices and viewpoints. Twins, however, may exhibit especially uncompromising attitudes when their perspectives are at odds with one another: “How can you date this guy? He’s much older, divorced, and has six children! What’s gotten into you?” I have witnessed this situation time and time again. Many adult twins contact me for help with their frustration and sadness when their sibling does not concur with them about particular personal matters. Their inability to agree to disagree is wholly understandable in light of their attachment history.
Twins frequently say that they are upset about what their sibling is doing or not doing. They are so concerned about feeling out of sync with their twin that they have difficulty letting go and allowing the situation to play out. For example, one patient told me that she cannot bear how her twin has not told her children that she and their father are separating. While I empathized with her concerns, this woman’s preoccupation with her twin’s decision was exaggerated. While she intellectually recognized that this was not her concern, she could not emotionally divest herself from the situation.
As we talked more about it, we both realized that my client experienced her sister’s actions as a narcissistic blow. In other words, she felt that her sister’s poor judgment and unconscionable behavior reflected badly upon her. My patient kept repeating, “How can she do this? We were not raised like this.” Her sister’s behavior felt like a betrayal, a rebuke, and an abandonment.
In response, my client had difficulty curtailing her judgmental opinions. She felt unloved, unimportant, and punished by her twin. Her sister’s choice to handle problems differently than she would have became an affront and a rejection. Unsurprisingly, my patient’s twin stopped confiding in her sister in an effort to protect herself from my client’s criticism and disapproval.
As this patient learns about twin dynamics and assumes responsibility for the role she plays in her twinship, she demonstrates a willingness to modify her behavior. She is beginning to appreciate that asymmetry between her and her sister does not have to lead to a rupture. Rather, her increased awareness will enable both of them to build a healthier relationship based on the fact that two separate people raised as twins can differ considerably and still retain their close bond.