The Twin Blame Game

Many people assume that all twins are spontaneously and energetically in tune with each other. They hear them completing each other’s sentences and witness synergetic nonverbal behaviors. While these actions occur frequently, especially between identical twins, they do not necessarily contribute to the development of empathic behavior in twin pairs.

Usually, one twin exhibits more empathic capabilities than the other. More than likely, that twin’s emotional intelligence catapults her into the role of the caretaker twin. She is exquisitely attuned to her twin’s nonverbal behaviors as well as her psychological needs. Depending upon the particular twin connection, her caretaking role may or may not be recognized by either one or both twins. This dynamic may operate outside of the twins’ awareness. Often, it is neither articulated nor identified until a shift occurs in the twin connection.

The division of roles does not follow a specific format. At times the more outgoing twin assumes the caretaker function; alternatively, the twin perceived as less dominant takes on this task. Rather than focusing upon who performs the caretaking duties, it is more relevant to attempt to understand how empathic resonance in some twin pairs can lead to pathological accommodation. Basically, this term implies that having too much empathy for another can lead to unhealthy caring and overdependence. These behaviors interfere with and inhibit the development of a grounded, independent self.

Twins are certainly not the only group of endangered individuals. Many people who have grown up in environments where they have emotionally taken care of parents or other family members and consequently have not received adequate caretaking themselves repeat this pattern of attachment in relationships or jobs. For example, the obvious cliché is the nurse who marries an alcoholic. The nurse embodies the notion of overaccommodation and codependence. She feels gratified and worthy primarily when needed by others. She gives herself over in the service of helping others, yet the downside can be that she takes or expects very little from others. She may feel unworthy and selfish should she require individual attention or care.

In my practice, I sensitively strive to work with this dynamic with one or both twins. Many who have read The Same but Different tell me that they identify with either the caretaker or cared-for twin. Having this as a starting point is a helpful way to begin to tease out why a disproportionate amount of empathy coming from only one source inhibits the development of reciprocity. Creating a healthy mutuality within the twin connection is an important step in managing conflict and differences.



Photo by cottonbro studio, Pexels

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