The message conveyed in the phrase “sharing is caring” teaches that considering other people’s needs and feelings instills a sense of individual well-being and generates a purposeful societal connection and contribution. In principle, I agree wholeheartedly with this concept. In fact, one of the particular satisfactions of being a psychotherapist is exactly that—the wish to help one’s patients feel cared about, understood, and supported.
However, as I have written about extensively, in some twinships the burden of caring for each other may lead to particular challenges for one or both twins, especially as they get older. Of course, it is understandable how the idealized notion of twins caring for each other becomes sensationalized and acceptable. Reading about how a newborn twin quiets down when his twin is placed next to him generates a powerful image that perpetuates an ongoing expectation of reciprocal nonverbal ministrations. Nonetheless, in some adult twin situations, feeling as if you must share can lead to unhappy compromising interrelationships.
I recently spoke with an identical twin woman in her forties who was struggling with this caretaking aspect with her twin and her family. For several reasons, she has always been the designated fix-it person in the family. Relatives call on her to work through whatever type of problem might arise—financial, emotional, or physical. While this predetermined role has bothered her for quite some time, she felt prompted to call me when a series of events concerning her twin sister put her over the edge. Understandably, she felt guilty about her refusal to be involved but had reached the end of her rope.
We discussed her role in this dynamic, highlighting her childhood experiences and examining how she came to this caretaking role. It was clear that she instinctually associated caring with sharing. Tearfully she spoke about how her knee-jerk response in terms of sharing friends with her sister has contributed to her feeling resentful and abandoned. Also, she has some awareness about how this dynamic has impacted her own romantic relationships.
Although she wants to relinquish this role once and for all, she realizes that she must be a bit more strategic and methodical in how she communicates her feelings to her twin and her family. Recognizing how certain behaviors that worked to one’s advantage in childhood become maladaptive and unhealthy in adulthood is vital. This insight is true for many of us; however, twins have an exceptional hurdle to confront in light of their closeness and loyalty.