Twins and Imposter Syndrome: A Dual Dilemma

An adult identical twin woman recently asked me if her parents’ reluctance to be honest with her and her sister regarding their academic test scores when they were eight or nine years old may have contributed to her suffering from “imposter syndrome.” Essentially, imposter syndrome occurs when someone feels severe and persistent doubt about her abilities or accomplishments. She either attributes any success to luck or believes that others cannot accurately perceive her deficits.

This woman learned later in life that her parents “intervened” and placed both girls in the gifted program, even though only one twin legitimately scored high enough on the test. Her parents’ duplicity made her question her true abilities. Moreover, she reported that her sister felt like the “dumber” twin after finding out about this incident.

While I cannot attest to any direct connection between this event and this woman’s suffering, I can safely say that parental discomfort with twin inequality is a troublesome issue. Naturally, parents do not want to discriminate; however, they may not realize until their twins are older that lack of honesty can have detrimental emotional effects as the children mature. I have worked with several twins who resent being denied their achievements and success because ofothers’ uneasiness about exposing any differences—academic, athletic, or social—between the siblings.

Parents should overcome their reluctance to hurt the feelings of the twin who has not achieved the accolade. Feeling happy for the successful sibling while empathizing with the twin who comes up short is understandably uncomfortable. Nonetheless, I want to stress that the earlier parents confront these issues, the more well-adjusted their children will be. Accommodations can be made to help each twin explore his or her strengths and talents.

During the twins’ early years, modeling the capacity to have different feelings for each sibling enables individuation. As they grow older, the outside world will not cater to their need for ongoing equality. Thus, the sooner parents can shape these experiences and help twins handle their differences with resilience, the better prepared they will be for adult life. More importantly, the twin relationship will be strengthened because the competitive aspects of this bond will be mollified.

Image courtesy of Mattias Åström (CC BY 2.0)


  1. parents often feel uncomfortable praising one twin for their achievements and so don’t do so, but if they can manage to have individual time with both twins as a matter of course, praise can be given when the other twin is not present and can be given honestly and enthusiastically so that each can enjoy rheir own achievements and not feel guilty or unappreciated. – See my parenting book TWINS AND THE FAMILY available on Website

  2. Mark

    This aspect of raising twins (and being twins) is really important — and an easy trap to fall into. As a twin, I can verify this. By wanting to treat us with complete equality, I think my parents unintentionally created a ‘false reality’ of equivalence. While growing up, I was certainly aware that there were skill-sets and abilities that weren’t equal — yet nobody voiced it — not my parents, other family members, friends, nor me. Combined with our strong sense of competitiveness, it created a facade that made the reality of our differences psychologically and emotionally
    ‘unacceptable.’ And I think this was extremely stifling to our development. With neither of us comfortable being better (or worse) than the other, our individuality and capabilities were subjugated. Stuck in a long-term false reality, this in turn, fomented unspoken identitiy issues and resentments that continued well into adulthood. Joan is spot-on with this post. While as parents, it may feel uncomfortable, it’s really important to recognize and cultivate your twins’ differences in regard to talents and capabilities.

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