Twinship Sometimes Feels Like a Scary Roller Coaster Ride

Insight into extreme anger, loneliness, and longing for twin closeness.

Posted May 08, 2020

 Johanna Keogh, used with permission
Source: Johanna Keogh, used with permission

I have devoted many hours, days, weeks, and years trying to understand the love and loyalty, rage, guilt, and humiliation that twins have for one another. Fighting and even estrangement can make a twin relationship unbearable. At the same time, twins want to agree and get along in order to work together.

Twins want to recreate their childhood closeness, which in my personal experiences and in my work with twins, seems to be impossible. Here are some facts that have helped me come to my conclusion that a mature adult closeness for twins is very, very hard to achieve. Truly, insight and desire to resolve differences can be very helpful. Unfortunately, sometimes getting along for twins in a deep and meaningful way is nearly impossible.

Here are some facts that I have learned in the span of my career.

  1. There is 100% agreement among the twins I have spoken with that the experience of being a twin is misunderstood by the general public and our culture. This fact makes twin fighting and rage invisible, ignored, or discounted.
  2. Twin fascination based on idealization of perfect twin closeness is a fantasy. Although twins have become icons of ideal relationships, this iconic myth, which is rabid among non-twins or onlookers, is not actually what is fascinating about twins. Rather, the twin capacity for empathy and nonverbal communication and the longing for closeness is what is most interesting about twin relationships.
  3. Twins have a double identity: as a twin and as an individual. Based on deep developmental attachment, there is an ostensible conflict between both identities that makes separation and independence from the other twin (aka co-twin) frustrating and painful. There seems to be very little awareness of this developmental uniqueness and how it affects twin communication and fighting.
  4. Social development in twins is very different than social development in non-twins. One hundred percent of the twins I have known agree that loneliness and feeling misunderstood by non-twins is a very serious developmental issue that is very hard to overcome even with the support of close others, including twins, and even with the support of psychotherapy.
  5. Loneliness in twins is more intense than loneliness in singletons because of the in utero attachment that is the foundation of their identity and that grows as a part of their roots and structures of identity. In other words, being lonely is a frightening and dangerous state of mind for twins, which makes them too eager to get involved with others or to ignore others who easily disappoint them in comparison to their twin.
  6. Twins do not know the psychological meaning of being a twin until they are interested in exploring this part of their identity. In exploring the effects of being a twin on their life choices, a sense of calm and peace helps the twin accept their struggles and joy more easily.
  7. Separation from your twin is always difficult. Developmentally, there are different challenges at different times of life that are related to separation. Twin loss is unbearable and can create a very serious depression.
  8. Fighting and jealousy in childhood and adolescence continues on throughout the lives of twins.
  9. Parents, through their interactions with their twin children, design the attachment that twins share as they grow older and have more experiences outside of the twinship.
  10. Altering the dynamics of the twin interpersonal attachment can be done with great attention to detail, the positive help of the other twin, and successful psychotherapy.
  11. Estrangement from your twin is more common than most twins and singletons would imagine and can be very difficult to resolve if anger and fighting get out of control.
  12. Parenting is crucial to the development of individuality and a trusting twin bond.
  13. Talking with other twins in a group setting helps put the twin experience into perspective.
  14. Knowing what it means to you to be a twin creates calmness and focus for those who feel strong enough to try.

Healing from your rage and disappointments

“Why are there so many emotional ups and downs?” is the most asked about issue in my twin groups and from people calling for help with not seeing their twin and being unable to tolerate their loneliness. Healing from fighting and disappointment with your twin is, unfortunately, a difficult struggle, which is based on a development of unique individuality from your twin that is not focused on competition with your sister or brother or self-righteous indignation.

There are many, many steps to climb as you deal with your distance and differences with your sister or brother. The following are useful steps that I and twins with whom I have worked have taken to heal the pain of guilt, loneliness, and shame that are common aspects of adult twin relationships.

  1. Acceptance that you and your twin are not able to get along comfortably or maybe not at all.
  2. Taking a break from talking with or seeing your twin.
  3. Communicating with your twin about what is going wrong with your communication and continuing to keep your distance.
  4. Dealing with family issues of disbelief and anger that you cannot get along.
  5. Finding close friends and relatives to support you and encourage you.
  6. Developing your own distinctive identity and friendships.
  7. Creating adult conversations with your twin that may lead to mature interactions.
  8. Protecting yourself from falling into the negative embrace of your twin’s criticism of you.

In conclusion, developing a calm and reliable relationship with your adult twin takes time, thoughtfulness, and a great deal of humility. Arrogance, self-righteousness, and endless fighting will create serious obstacles to creating a working relationship with your twin.