If your twin has been the sole person meeting your emotional needs for most of your life, it can be challenging to recognize how nontwins might respond differently. Inseparable twin pairs develop an unarticulated rhythm that enables them to intuit what the other is thinking and react accordingly. For instance, if one twin is trying to get the other to change his plans to be with his brother, the twin needs little convincing to do so. Both are programmed to be alert to and cognizant of each other’s needs so that a compromise is negotiated without argument or conflict. In many instances this fluid interaction is not even conscious until outside forces abruptly bring it into awareness.
An identical female twin in her midtwenties contacted me because she was beginning to feel uneasy and resentful toward her sister. She felt annoyed and intruded upon by her sister’s incessant insistence that she drop whatever she was doing to be with her. Her twin repeatedly told her that she should join her to go shopping, swimming, or out to dinner. My patient resented these relentless demands to be together because she wanted to do things with other friends.
She felt torn between needing to appease her sister and wanting to be left alone. Predictably, she told me that she felt selfish about putting her own needs first, guilty about disappointing her sister, and angry that she felt so mired in this conundrum. She wanted to avoid conflict with her twin, as that had been a lifelong ingredient of their emotional connection. Moreover, she had difficulty handling her sister’s anger and displeasure. She told me it was impossible to argue with her or give her advice because often they feel like one person.
We discussed how she could begin to take baby steps to establish some boundaries. While the process is extremely scary and difficult at the beginning, I stressed that changing her behavior might have a complementary effect on her sister. I explained that the emotional collusion that goes on between individuals who are overreliant on each other can evolve when one no longer colludes with the other. I gave the example that if one lives with an alcoholic and never says anything about the other’s drinking, one plays an enabling role that perpetuates the problem.
I have noticed in my work with some of my twin patients that feeling entitled to their twin’s unfettered emotional support leads to complicated situations in their other intimate relationships. Nontwins seek out emotional intimacy, of course. However, they may feel more inclined to work toward maintaining it rather than accepting that it is a ready-made, built-in feature of the connection.