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Understanding Twins

What Twins Have to Say About Missing Their Twin

For twins, this profound identity experience can be understood and coped with.

Key points

  • Losing one's twin is the loss of a part of one's psychological self.
  • For twins, loneliness can be a symptom of too much time apart or too much time together in childhood.
  • Having opportunities to be on their own as a child helps twins develop social skills.

In the 40 years that I have researched, written about, and consulted with twins about what it is like to be a twin, many meaningful and useful ideas have come to my attention. I learned that missing your twin is a focal self-experience that can never be emotionally avoided without serious damage to a twin’s overall sense of self. Losing your twin is the loss of a part of your psychological self. Obviously, you need to process your feelings of missing your twin so your own sense of self can avoid depression and identity confusion.

Remarkably, some twins pretend or convince themselves that they can deal with the loss, or just absence, of their sister or brother, intellectually (by the intellect alone). But practically speaking, dealing with twin loss alone or ignoring your pain is a short-sighted approach that creates serious emotional vulnerabilities. At worst, not dealing with twin loss can be dangerous or detrimental to mental health, to developing present and future interpersonal relationships, and to self-actualization.

In my experiences working with twins, it is extremely unusual for a twin to ignore a sense of loss when they do not or cannot see their twin. I believe acknowledging that there are many different reasons for twin loss is extremely necessary. A few of the most obvious causes are illness and death, estrangement, separation at birth, and the necessity to live far apart for economic or professional reasons.

Unfortunately, very little is known about missing your twin because so much mainstream focus has been put on idealizing the power of twin affirmation. Said differently, twin loss is so counter-intuitive to the fantasy of the closeness that twins share that twin loss and estrangement is easily ignored by the non-twin public. Truly, the mirror aspect of twinship that provides idealization of one another is coveted by twins and non-twins. Idealization of closeness covers up the difficulties of being a twin. Explaining the challenges of being a twin to non-twins is very difficult, complicated, and, frankly, frustrating.

I have never met twins who have not spoken to me of their loneliness and missing their brother or sister. Even twins who are estranged miss each other profoundly. A side effect of missing your twin is longing for twin closeness or a twin replacement. I know that many twin researchers (whom I agree with) believe that twin loneliness begins at birth. Enlightened parents, grandparents, MDs, nurses, and social workers know that twins calm down physically and emotionally when they are placed in close proximity to one another at birth and continually throughout their early lives. As well, paying close attention to how much separation young twins can handle emotionally is taken very seriously by informed psychologically minded professionals and caregivers.

The developmental experience of twin separation is always discussed when twins are reporting their life history as it applies to identity development and mental health in general. Many twin specialists believe that twin separation early in life is very difficult for twins and may cause emotional issues related to loneliness, which could lead to depression. While the trauma of separation too early in life is easy to understand, I believe these traumas are hard to prove because adequate speech is not developed in young twins. Still, the sadness and fear that is seen when twins are separated is an important way to look at that pain caused by lack of physical and emotional contact.

While separation early in life is full of distress for twins, later in life, anger and estrangement are very difficult to cope with when deeply conflicted issues arise between the pair. For example, one twin feels ignored and mistreated and the other twin feels enraged that her sister or brother cannot understand her/his behavior. “Who is at fault” can become a war-like fight that continues on and on. Missing your twin creates a heartfelt loneliness that continues to sadden and even emotionally torture twins.

Childhood Separations Turn Into a Sense of Emptiness for Twins as They Mature

Loneliness is a symptom of too much time apart or too much time together in childhood. As twins mature, loneliness can be controlled by regular times apart and different interests. Twins who are allowed or encouraged to be together all of the time will be devastated when they are apart. Twins who learn about who they are as individuals as well as who they are as twins suffer less from loneliness. Obviously, there are different types of separation anxiety and loneliness that create anxiety for twins, who are trying to relate to non-twins without their twin being present. Parents who pay attention to how their twin children share friends and try to let their twins have their own friends will raise children who are not subject to feeling deeply lonely.

Still, there is no way for twins to avoid missing their twin and feeling lonely. I wish there were a trick; I would have used it when I needed it through all the stages of my life. I can think of and recite what has helped me most of all. Firstly, learning to deal with being separated from my sister as a child was extremely important.

In general, the following ideas help to prevent loneliness:

  1. Parents and twins need to understand their feelings about twin loneliness.
  2. Do not rely on twins to entertain themselves.
  3. Plan separate time with each twin.
  4. Discuss separation issues with your twins openly.
  5. Try to avoid comparisons from family, friends, and outsiders.
  6. Separate twins at school.
  7. Help twins make their own friends. Sharing friends can become a problem in adult life.
  8. Make twin loneliness a normal topic of conversation with each twin alone and with your twins together.


In most situations, loneliness for twins is more intense than for single brothers and sisters. When this reality is taken into consideration, there are more options to avoid the fear that twins feel without their twin. In other words, practice really helps. When being on your own as a twin child is an opportunity, twins will develop social skills to cope and catch up with single children.


Barbara Klein, Stephen Hart, Jacqueline Martinez. New Understandings of Twin Relationships: From Harmony to Estrangement and Loneliness. Routledge. 2020.

More from Barbara Klein Ph.D., Ed.D.
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