Many twins who reach out to me for guidance struggle with anxiety about not feeling self-reliant. They realize that this conundrum relates significantly to growing up with a twin whom they relied upon to feel secure, soothed, loved, and protected. Most have an intellectual understanding about these circumstances. They realize that their twin attachment constitutes their primary emotional security throughout their lives. Yet if one twin decides to form relationships outside the twinship and no longer feels invested in his twin role, his twin feels abandoned and lost. He is puzzled and confused about how to be independent after having spent so many of his precious early years depending upon his twin to help navigate emotional hurdles.
Of course, this situation can present challenges for both siblings. While one twin seeks other intimate relationships, the abandoned twin continues to expect unfettered access to her twin’s lifeline. She feels unequipped to be independent. How will she be able to be happy and resilient on her own?
How does a twin begin trying to define herself and find her place in the world as a nontwin? A helpful way to think about this struggle is to imagine how a singleton copes when he leaves home to attend a university where he knows no one. He has to muster social skills and self-confidence to meet many new people in an unfamiliar environment. It is an exceedingly challenging task for most young adults—even those who may have enjoyed previous social success.
A twin who has depended upon his twin understandably finds this situation untenable and intolerable. He has not developed his own center of strength and stamina. One young woman described feeling as if she is on shaky ground or walking on uneven surfaces when she does not have her sister around to make her feel grounded and whole. This recognition of her neediness and dependency contributes to her feelings of abandonment, loneliness, and self-loathing. She is upset with herself about not being self-reliant, contributing to feelings of worthlessness, weakness, and vulnerability.
A word to the wise: help your twins branch out from each other in strategically healthy ways. Expecting them to be friends rather than soulmates will hopefully set the stage for healthier future outcomes for twins and their families.