What if my twin falls apart and I am not there to pick up the pieces?
What if my twin never gets married?
What if my twin cannot forgive me for moving away?
What if my twin decides to quit running the business with me?
Many of my patients tend to be trapped by catastrophic thinking, which involves ruminating about irrational, worst-case scenarios that will result in disaster. Sometimes, persistent negative thoughts stem from old beliefs and core values. Helping an individual recognize that he or she is preoccupied with exaggerated perspectives and calamitous thoughts is the first step toward managing this anxiety.
I often encounter this particular cognitive distortion in twins who assume the role of the caretaker in their twinship. Since performing this function is so connected to their self-worth—sometimes leading to borderline grandiosity—they remain convinced that their twin cannot survive without them. Trapped in an ambivalent, interdependent web, they believe that disaster will befall their twin if they do not maintain their caretaking role. They are convinced that their twin’s well-being and competence are predicated upon their ongoing physical and emotional presence.
An identical twin man in his early thirties felt compelled to continue running a business with his brother. Despite believing he was wasting his talents and time, he could not fathom leaving his brother to carry on without him. Since this man believed that his expertise and talents clearly exceeded his brother’s capabilities, the notion of separating from his brother was unthinkable and terrifying. He was convinced that his departure would lead to disaster. He told me that his brother was too immature and ill-equipped to handle any business without his assistance.
This patient’s perceived role in his twinship led him to conclude that separating from his brother would generate irreversibly dire consequences. However, as we worked together to understand more about his upbringing and his twin bond, his thought process was revealed to be a cognitive distortion perpetuated by fear, anxiety, and guilt. In fact, as we worked through these feelings, we realized that his catastrophic thinking was also a defense against his own fears about being on his own. Understanding the feelings behind what if questions is important. Learning how to regulate anxiety will ameliorate a miserable cycle of hopelessness and futility fueled by catastrophic worries.