When Does Being Needed Become a Liability?

I frequently point out that twins cannot be surrogate parents for one another; in other words, children cannot be parented by a same-age sibling. So I plead, ad nauseam, for parents to spend one-on-one time with each twin whenever possible and nurture their attachment to each child individually, not dyadically.

Some twin pairs who spent their childhood needing each other struggle with recognizing their independent selves. In fact, their identities are contingent on providing the essential roles of caregiver and cared for. Having been deprived of adequate parental mirroring, validation, and interaction, they understandably overrely on each other to provide these vital developmental criteria.

When one twin’s circumstances change—either internally or externally—she may no longer require or desire the caretaking ministrations of her twin. As a result, the caretaker twin will probably react to losing her role with a multitude of feelings. A trusted outsider is often required to help the caretaker twin adjust to a new reality and reframe the parameters of her twin connection. Having worked with many twins who find themselves in this predicament, I recognize the painful and resentful feelings that result from this new reality.

Initially, these relationship shifts may feel earth shattering to a twin. She may feel shocked and confused about how to carry on emotionally. In many instances, the signs were already present—increased tensions, ongoing conflicts, and deepening resentments surfaced. The twin who can do the important psychological work of recognizing the shifts and transformations within herself and in her twin connection will gradually adapt to the evolving circumstances.

Rather than feeling aggrieved that her twin no longer needs or wants her caretaking services, the caretaker twin should attempt to understand why and how this role came to define her identity. After an appropriate consideration of the circumstances of her upbringing and recognizing that she had little choice in the matter, she can begin to feel liberated from her caretaking function. The new context can help her learn about herself for the first time. She can redefine her identity, goals, and feelings as an individual, unencumbered by an outdated twin dynamic.


Image courtesy of Nathan Csonka (CC BY 2.0)

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