Recently I received an email from a despondent adolescent who was depressed and angry over the fact that no one seriously believed that being an identical twin might in any way account for his dissatisfaction with his life or himself.

He expressed that he felt odd, misunderstood, and sad because he believed that he had never had any opportunity to develop, create, or shape his own unique self. He said that his angst over these issues was dismissed as foolishness and self pity by his mother and his therapist. The teenager’s attempts to differentiate from his brother by doing separate activities were thwarted by his twin brother who ended up copying and mimicking his actions. There was no parental intervention to stop this interference or sabotage.

This boy feels adrift and isolated with his frustration and sadness because he is trapped in the “idealized” world of being a twin. Certainly, those people who have fantasized about being a twin or having a twin might readily dismiss this twin dilemma and understand the boy’s state of mind as reflecting expectable adolescent struggles. However, this is far from the emotional reality of many adolescent twins.

Imagine how troublesome it must feel to want to be your unique self and yet feel terribly unsure and conflicted about your own identity. Throw in the additional variable that the price of being your true self might come at the expense of the most significant attachment that you have. How does a conflicted adolescent cope with his or her longings for separateness and self-definition if it means the loss or alteration of the most important attachment figure? So often the twin who dares to separate is perceived as bad or wrong, and this projection creates enormous guilt and struggles for the teenage twin attempting to wrest himself into some sort of individuated person.

Do not underestimate the impact of a twin relationship on your adolescent twins.

While identical twins often have a harder time given that they have been treated as an indistinguishable unit for most of their lives, fraternal twins also have difficult obstacles to overcome. Fraternal twins frequently differ significantly in terms of their sociability, academic successes, and athletic prowess. While some sets of twins find a workable balance, many struggle needlessly because their parents do not acknowledge that the twinship can create difficulties.

One mother I worked with was exceedingly reluctant about considering the option of putting her fraternal teenage girls into different high schools. While it seemed perfectly obvious to me by virtue of the mom’s reporting that each girl was suffering tremendously by being compared and interdependent, she appeared reluctant and uncertain to provide each twin with what she needed because of the sanctity of the twinship. Reluctantly, she adhered to my advice on blind faith since she could not bring herself to acknowledge that the twinship had become a toxic attachment.

The girls are doing beautifully in their separate schools and she is forever grateful for my advice and counsel.  Again, this is another instant which substantiates my belief that parents of twins have to make important decisions for their children - the twinship cannot be such a powerful entity that decides how lives should be lived.



3 Comments

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My 17 year old daughters seem to be moving closer instead of separating as they grow. We tried to do spend individual time with them, dropping the dress alike as soon as they were 4, seperate classes in school, etc. In high school they seemed to grow closer. They ended up in their junior year having to take the same classes as they are also gifted and there were very few honors classes available. They seemed to have dropped all their friends and just rely on themselves in the last 2 years. In planning for college they are very adamant they they must go to the same school and room together despite our pressure for them to separate. I am not sure if this is a reaction to the twinship or because they are gifted (another isolation factor) or both.

Comment by Kathy Casali on January 25th, 2010 @ 3:21 pm

Hi,
I’m a 25 year old female identical twin. My sister and I went through periods of being independent, different circle of friends through high school. Towards the age of 16-18 we began having the same group of friends and involved in the same sport. While we have very different career paths, that seems now to be the only thing separating us now. We live at home an plan to move out next year. I’m starting to worry if this will be the best idea. This is the first article I have found that relates to my situation. Unfortunately there isn’t much out there for “twin issues”, so thank you! I’m at a point know though were I fear moving in together would result in us becoming too dependent on one another. Yet I don’t think I could move out alone, both because I my own feelings and worried hers might be hurt too. While I know only myself can know what decision is right for me, suggestions would help!

Comment by Amy on January 2nd, 2012 @ 1:31 pm

Hi,
I’m a 16 yr old female fraternal twin. I have recently been feeling very upset and insecure about being separated from my sister as we are attending a summer school programme where we will be separated. We have been in separate classes since 7th grade but we do share similar friends. My sister doesn’t feel the same way and is very independent and outgoing. I am the quieter one and we do have very different interests and passions. I feel i’m the only one dealing with this as she doesn’t seem to have any problem with being away from me and gets angry with me if i get upset. I feel very confused and upset and I just want to be confident enough to step away from my sister and make friends by myself but I don’t think i can. :(

Comment by Choumie on April 26th, 2012 @ 6:50 pm

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