Twins and Emotional Inertia: Unraveling Anger and Guilt

Many twins feel that anger toward their sibling seems wrong, regardless of whether they have legitimate reasons for such an emotion. Their close twin bond inherently leaves little room to vent disappointment or frustration. In my experience, both younger and older twin pairs struggle with this tension. They frequently speak about the injustices they have endured at the hands of their twin; nonetheless, the idea of sharing their anger with their sibling is met with resistance and fear. Most worry that their connection cannot withstand conflict.

An identical twin in her fifties, whom I will call Stephanie, described aspects of her sister’s personality that drive her crazy. Unlike Stephanie, the twin consistently behaves in a passive and irresponsible manner. She complains endlessly about all aspects of her life. Stephanie has listened to this litany of grievances and has felt compelled to help her sister for most of her life. Stephanie is driven principally by guilt to find solutions to her sister’s issues. While she genuinely feels sad about her twin’s unhappiness, Stephanie is angry and annoyed that her sister does little to help herself. Even though the twin has access to many resources, she prefers to remain feeling helpless and victimized.

With the help of therapy, Stephanie felt increasingly entitled to voice her anger. In the safety of our therapeutic relationship, she grew comfortable acknowledging repressed feelings of resentment and frustration toward her twin. Stephanie came to appreciate how expressing anger can be constructive and liberating. As she embraced this new understanding, her guilt and anxiety lessened. Moreover, working through feelings of blame enabled Stephanie to evaluate how her sister’s role in their dyadic dance reflected an inability to take responsibility for herself. Stephanie gradually realized that her sister’s problems were her own.

An addictive aspect sometimes appears in this relentless pursuit of maintaining a connection at all costs, even in the face of emotional abuse. Perhaps this is a holdover from childhood when twins assumed responsibility for one another due to absent parenting. Learning how to respond in a nonreactive manner can dilute old affective triggers.

Separating emotionally from your twin is a complicated process with unique challenges. Though walking away from a twin’s pain and suffering can be heart-wrenching, as the saying goes, you must save yourself first. Otherwise, agonizing years of going back and forth between anger, guilt, and shame can leave you emotionally spent and overwhelmed. Freeing yourself from this unsavory pattern is liberating. It allows a more authentic connection and frees up emotional space for both you and your twin.

Image courtesy of Gareth Williams (CC BY 2.0)

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