Many of my twin patients succeeded in working through uncomfortable, hostile competitive feelings toward their twin. They reached a point where they could authentically feel happy and supportive of their twin’s successes and accomplishments. However, when these patients grapple with new emotional struggles and conflicts, they again become susceptible to comparing their circumstances with their twin’s. The comparison triggers deep-rooted feelings of envy and guilt that stem from a shared childhood of caretaking and accommodation. This comparative default position holds such powerful sway because the twin bond defined the twins’ identities for so many years. In these scenarios, I remind my patient that he or she is a separate and unique individual who happens to be a twin.
A forty-five-year-old identical twin patient told me he is having a rough time determining his career path. For many complicated reasons, he has resolved to branch out and embrace a vocation other than the one he fought unsuccessfully to attain. Although his twin is doing better in his chosen field, my patient is truly proud of his brother’s efforts and success. Nevertheless, when my patient laments about his personal setbacks, he can’t help but evaluate his shortcomings and struggles in relation to his twin’s successes. This is a knee-jerk reaction arising from years of twin conditioning.
A middle-aged identical twin woman that I am acquainted with obsessively compares herself to her twin. She wants to figure out why she is stuck in this mindset. We will work together to understand how being unfavorably compared to her twin most of her life led to her feeling perpetually inadequate and second best. Ironically, she currently feels intellectually content with her life and choices. However, on an emotional level, she does not feel deserving of happiness or love.
Insight and therapeutic intervention can help twins caught in this muddled mentality to reframe their sense of self. Twin comparisons need not plummet them into states of despair, depression, or self-loathing.