We Still Look Alike, but What Else Do We Really Share?

Thoughts on how adult twins can deal with being different from one another.

Posted Nov 19, 2018

I went to a family party and my twin sister was there. She was wearing the same style as me and I was so embarrassed. I am 50 years old and I still hate it when we look alike and people compare us mercilessly. How do I get over these feelings?   ~Sandy

Barbara Klein
Source: Barbara Klein

Separation from your twin and the anxiety and confusion being apart creates begins at birth.

Parents can see how attached their twins are by the crying and discomfort they demonstrate being physically apart. In fact, twins don’t know that they are separate from each other until at least four months of age. Separation anxiety and the loneliness related to missing your twin ebbs and flows throughout the lifespan, but never is it totally resolved. Loneliness reminds twins that part of themselves is incomplete.

            Learning how to communicate with each other, and with parents and siblings and relatives—the world at large—always involves issues of separation and individuation for twins in childhood and adolescence. Developing partnerships with new friends and career mates increases individuality and the personal choice to be different. Individuality creates tension between the twin pair but fulfills the quest for independence.

            Hopefully, in adulthood as twins separate more completely and go their own way, their inner worlds change rapidly even if they still look like twins. Without a doubt, aging changes how all twins view themselves and their twin. I remember and still worry that I look like my twin sister, especially if my hair is straight with bangs. I feel that I have spent a lifetime trying to look as different from her as was actually possible. But the ghosts of my childhood remind me that we came into the world as two peas in a pod. Parents and outsiders marveled at how adorable we were together, which profoundly affected who we were to become as individuals. Longing for the attention and understanding together is a fire inside that is hard to contain. Seeing myself as alone in the mirror still creates conflicts. I want my freedom to be myself, and then I feel guilty for wanting to be accepted as an individual in my own right. Consciously and unconsciously I wonder: Will I get as much attention alone as I did as a twin?

            The indelible physical identity of twinship is very exhausting to overcome emotionally and creates serious difficulty in terms of a personal sense of self that is authentic to each member of the partnership. In other words: Are you different because of actual differences or are you different from your twin because of your deliberate choices? Who is who and what belongs to whom creates chaos and confusion and blurred boundaries between twins. Differences can be shameful and create tension and estrangement. Trying to look the same and act the same can be a stifling and unrealistic solution.

            No matter what, and by this I mean whether twins get along or do not get along, they are very different from birth because they are competing with each other for the basics of life: food, love, holding and attention. Competition moves individuality forward and creates anger and resentment. Sharing and caring, the marriage between twins has to be. Once a twin always a twin. But what if you don’t want to be a twin and see twinship as an obstacle to overcome? If there were more understanding of guilt and shame—the side effects of wanting to be only yourself and the estrangement that follows—twins could live healthier lives.

            Here are my thoughts on how adult twins can deal with being very individual from one another even if they look alike and others presume they are or should be two peas in a pod.

            1.  Understand the power of onlookers who think you should still be alike even in adulthood. When questions or remarks are made about how different you are, have a prepared answer such as, “We enjoy being different. We have so much more to share because of our different interests and lifestyles.” “I find your questions intrusive and troubling. Please respect my privacy.”

            2.  Talk to your twin and other twins about how they feel about being compared all the time with their brother or sister. Whether you are being compared about who is prettier or fatter or smarter, your identity as an individual is being compromised. Ask other twins for strategies to ward off this type of intrusiveness.

            3.  Give up your secret troublesome feelings about being a twin. Growing up I have found being compared to my sister was very painful, humiliating, and guilt- and shame-inducing. Talking to others about my feelings helped to diffuse my pain, whether or not anyone I talked to really understood. For sure twins could relate to my feelings very easily.

            4.  Embrace your individuality. If you are comfortable with yourself, the opinions of others will have less power.

            5.  Avoid events where this type of superficial talk about twins goes on. Look for authenticity with others instead of superficial conversations. Respect and value individuality and people who respect what you respect.

            6.  Try to establish authentic mutually fulfilling twin-like relationships.

            In conclusion, as a grown-up twin who has thought endlessly about twinship, I still feel conflicted when I see my sister. On a scale of 1 to 100, my anxiety is at 20 percent compared to my youthful unexamined life and my mission to make everything all right between us. I feel that I should have helped her more than I have. I feel like a bad sister and then I come to my senses. I accept that we have tried our best to get along as adults. I know that we have had some success and a lot of disappointments. I can live with our estrangement as the healthy way to proceed as we get older.