Twin Estrangement: Offense or Defense?

An identical twin woman in her late thirties (“Rory”) found me via ChatGPT! It is the first time I have received a referral via AI. I am so glad that we connected because her twin narrative was compelling and enlightening. Rory needed guidance and perspective about her twin’s ongoing hostile and abusive behavior. Rory shared that her twin sister (“Ryder”) repeatedly badmouthed her to friends and family. The family dismissed this behavior—“Oh you know, angry, mean Ryder”—and advised Rory to forget about it and not be reactive.

I believe Rory attempted to be nonreactive as best she could. Even though Ryder followed her every physical move, Rory kept her distance. In fact, when Rory contacted me, she had not had any meaningful contact with Ryder for over a year although they live within blocks of each other. However, on New Year’s Eve they had a chance encounter. Rory was reeling from it and contacted me soon thereafter. Surprisingly, they found themselves at the same party venue. Ryder approached Rory with a menacing, mean tone. Unprovoked, she called Rory a loser among other choice insults and vulgar epithets. Rory was stunned and unable to recover emotionally from Ryder’s verbal attack. She immediately left the party and returned home, upset and confused.

As we unraveled this story together, it became quite evident that Rory had been repeatedly devalued and criticized by her sister throughout their lives. Rory told me that she became aware of this abusiveness only after hearing and witnessing her boyfriend being mistreated by Ryder. Not until she recognized this behavior happening to someone else did she identify that she had been treated similarly.

Why do some twin connections become insular pathological breeding grounds for unhealthy behaviors? The repetitive abusive cycle of being criticized and devalued by her twin seeped into Rory’s personal as well as professional relationships. She attempted to defend herself rather that fight for herself. We are working together to help her heal from this maltreatment and to find her inner strength so that she feels resolute about accepting and understanding this estrangement from her twin.


Photo by Anna Giorgia Zambrelli, Pexels



  1. This seems to be a feature among some twins in my caseload as well, where childhood relationships are continuously reenacted in adult ones, particularly those from school!

  2. Hi Dr. Friedman,

    Thank you for sharing Rory’s story, which resonates deeply with me as a mirror-image twin from a similarly challenging background. Like Rory, I’ve experienced devaluation from my twin, who displays a Freeze response to my Fawn, often expressing superiority through subtle cues. This emotional distancing can be incredibly hurtful, akin to more overt forms of abuse. Rory’s narrative validates the experiences of many twins like us, underscoring the importance of understanding and support in navigating these complex relationships. It’s comforting to know we are not alone in these struggles and that estrangement, while painful, can sometimes be necessary for preserving mental health and self-worth.

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