“I Don’t Know You”

Feeling embarrassed about one’s family members is not uncommon. In fact, at certain stages of development, this is expectable and acceptable. For example, many adolescents go through a period when they do not want to be seen with their parents or associated with them in any way. This is a rite of passage on the way to becoming separate and independent. Some individuals also feel embarrassed by their siblings sometimes, for many different reasons unique to their relationship and family dynamics.

However, societal and familial perceptions categorize most twin relationships as mutually caretaking and loving in spite of expectable sibling rivalry. More often than not, any ambivalent feelings that twins harbor for each other are suppressed and dissociated. A few months ago, I spoke with a female twin in her late twenties who stubbornly refused to take on the typical caretaking role with her brother. She recalled feeling enraged from the age of five about being repeatedly asked to explain why her brother did not behave properly or fit in socially with the other kids. Even at that young age, she recognized that her emotional survival would depend upon her ability to take care of herself—not him. She demanded that she and her twin be placed in separate classes beginning in second grade. Later on, she deliberately chose to go to the large public high school while her brother remained in a smaller private school.

Understandably, she has many conflicting feelings about her twin relationship. She rarely mentions that she is a twin and does not see her brother often. They live on opposite sides of the country and have infrequent contact. He complains that she is not interested in him and feels disappointed about their estrangement. She confesses that she feels embarrassed around him. He lacks social skills and has a very depressive demeanor. Although he is highly gifted academically, his social awkwardness limits his interpersonal interactions.

My conversation with the female twin patient made me think about a recent incident that I witnessed between two adolescent identical twin boys at a dinner party. A plate of pickles was served. One of the twins picked up the plate and accidentally spilled its contents on the table. All of the adults reacted nonchalantly, recognizing that accidents happen. However, the other twin was beyond mortified. He was so ashamed by his brother’s accident that he could barely contain himself. He could not help but feel affected by his twin’s mishap, as if the accidental spill had happened to both of them.

How difficult it must be to feel that your twin’s behavior reflects who you are. Feeling like two halves of a whole robs each twin of opportunities to experience a singular self.

Image courtesy of micadew (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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