Many twin pairs begin to experience discord and tension when one sibling no longer needs the other the way she used to. This change can occur at all levels of development and depends on many factors unique to each twinship. In the cases I treat, I have found this dynamic to be particularly troubling for older female identical twins. They often have difficulty adjusting to new parameters even if they are both unhappy with the status quo.
An identical twin in her midsixties, whom I will call Madeline, described how conflicted she felt about her sister, “Mathilda.” Madeline recognized that her intense longing to be needed by her sister stemmed from their early childhood. Like many other twin pairs, they relied on each other for emotional sustenance since their parents offered little to none. This dependency continued until Mathilda began pulling away from Madeline in high school. Mathilda said she needed to feel separate. On some level, Madeline never recovered from this rejection and abandonment. She spent years attempting to regain her twin’s love and approval. Having Mathilda in her life was the only way she felt loved and secure. Madeline’s longing to be enmeshed with her sister left little room to find or create her own sense of self.
Madeline has worked hard to understand her compulsion to please Mathilda at the expense of developing her own sense of self and can now articulate the underlying feelings that fed this potent craving for so many years. Feeling needed by Mathilda was like an opioid addiction for Madeline. Even though she logically understood that this situation was unhealthy, the visceral sensations of being adored and cared for were worth the cost. They numbed the emotional and physical blows inflicted by Madeline’s mother.
Now Madeline can reflect on this addiction and recognize its ill effects. The pleasurable feelings are now intermixed with a sense of being controlled and squashed. She no longer desires a fusion with her twin at the cost of losing herself. She has found ways to feel loved and valued by others instead of being exclusively mired in a toxic twin vortex with Mathilda. Prior to therapy, Madeline dissociated from any competitive or envious emotions. She worried she would lose her connection to her sister forever if she ever experienced these feelings.
Now that Madeline feels like a separate person, she can manage and deflect Mathilda’s aggression without getting triggered. Madeline trusts her decisions and, more importantly, her reality. She no longer fears being undermined or annihilated. Her addiction is over. She is recovered, discovering her separate self, and thrilled to exercise her burgeoning individuality.