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.