We Can Compete in Sports, Not in Life

Comparisons and competition exist in most sibling relationships; nonetheless, for obvious reasons the emotional stakes are higher for twins. In fact, some twin pairs have a very hard time learning to handle competition as they grow up. Since they may not acknowledge or work through this developmental milestone until much later in their lives, the threat of twin estrangement looms large. Naturally, different-age siblings encounter similar difficulties. Yet due to unfortunate misperceptions, twins are not supposed to have rivalrous feelings because they are expected to be soulmates and best friends by their families and society at large. Conflict is unarticulated and swept under the rug.

For example, consider the common refrain that identical twin athletes utter when asked if they find it difficult competing against their twin: “Oh no, neither of us becomes too invested in winning. In fact if she wins, I feel as if I win too.” This notion of “sharing” the wins and feeling as if both are victorious sets the stage later on for being ill equipped to manage life’s inevitable inequities. The breakdown in the apparently seamless arrangement is illustrated in the following scenarios:

  • Which twin is “abandoned” when her twin finds a romantic interest?
  • Which twin enters a profession that is more lucrative?
  • Which twin is thinner, richer, or more socially successful?
  • Which twin has the bigger home, more children, or better vacations?

The list of inevitable comparisons is quite extensive, and the havoc it may wreak on a twin’s psyche may last a lifetime.

Life changes and transitions threaten and eventually topple the ways in which the younger twinship functioned. This is especially transparent in the caretaking dynamic that characterizes many twin relationships. For instance, some twins grapple with the following dilemmas:

  • How can I be there for you without your concerns taking over my every thought and feeling?
  • How can I care for you without making you feel as if I am being controlling and intrusive?
  • How can I regulate my feelings so that sharing a professional identity does not annihilate me?
  • How do I learn to rely on myself for the things you used to do for me?

Having a safe space to be honest and forthcoming about each other is an important factor in attempting to sort out a jumble of old and new feelings connected to being a twin. When issues of competition, identity, and accommodation are not confronted, each twin is left feeling that her twin is denying and distorting the reality of their shared childhood. If they do not have the capacity or willingness to hear about each other’s perceptions without blame, they will have mounting difficulties attempting to find common ground upon which to build a healthier relationship.

Photo by Gareth Williams, CC BY 2.0

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