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Identity Real Estate in Twins

A Consequence of Inadequate Parenting

Barbara Klein
Source: Barbara Klein

A widely believed cultural fantasy is that all twins get along and love each other. The real truth is that not all twins are alike. Twins who hold on to loving and needing each other desperately share a deep enmeshment because parenting has been very limited. Life without one another is very difficult, even treacherous. A visit to the Twins Days in Twinsburg, Ohio every August is normal and affirmative for twins who are interdependent and cling to their similarities. Twins who have a separate sense of themselves find the Twins Days Festival uninteresting or “creepy.”

In actuality, twins can be angry with one another and unable to be in each other’s company. Estrangement between twins can be very painful because of their deep feelings of loss and loneliness. The depth of twin estrangement is related to the degree of abuse and chaos in their family of origin. Indifferent overwhelmed parents often see their children as halves of a whole because this is an “easy” way to establish differences. Parenting that splits twins into opposites of one another creates a twin identity that is manifested in struggles and ownership of certain personality traits. Who is who? Dominance, intelligence, attractiveness, slenderness, creativity, and self care are common ways that twins define themselves and are compared by others. I use the term “identity real estate” to mean a label based on parental perception of personality traits and the ensuing twin interaction, which creates often indelible personality problems.

Identity issues in twins are complicated to understand and explain. Ego boundary issues related to who is responsible for whatever conflicts are ongoing between twins can be truly puzzling, More often than not, which twin is in charge of a problem, responsibility, or a friend is overwhelming and confusing for everyone involved (parents, siblings, friends and husbands and wives). What can be described as chaos or “nonsense” when twins fight over who is right and who is wrong is a function of sharing thoughts, feelings, parents and extended family, clothes and toys. As twins get older the fighting or competition and comparison get stronger and more volatile. “Twin Monopoly” can become a vicious game.

Competition for identity is natural and “good” because it avoids drastic enmeshment and developmental arrests that are almost impossible to unwind in adulthood. In other words, when identity issues are ignored the development of individuality will be stunted and can be debilitating. For example, there are twins who actually need each other to function in the world and cannot break their dependency on one another. However, if differences between the pair are taken too far a split identity over-defines the self and makes each twin vulnerable where they have relied on the other too strongly. The bad twin is the caretaker. The good twin does nothing wrong and always goes first. Eventually these labels are traps to developing real relationships with other people. “Identity real estate” can damage or destroy the twin attachment.

Creating and endorsing opposite strengths in twins cements the development of “identity real estate” as twins grow. The perceived fortunate twin gets to buy Boardwalk on the twin monopoly board. The unfortunate twin always lands in Jail. Identity real estate, once purchased, is hard to dispose of no matter how obvious and necessary the sale is to the owner’s mental health. I share my life experiences with identity real estate as an example. Getting over the label and role enactments as the bad twin who was responsible for my good and smart twin sister was extremely difficult. Years of psychoanalysis, the attainment of two doctorates and publication of five books was not enough for me to overcome my sense of self that I was not smart and was incompetent. Feeling like I was important and competent developed in my fifties. I began to work with estranged twins and their camaraderie helped me put up for sale my unnecessary identity real estate. As I looked back on my accomplishments with a perspective in comparison to what other professionals in my area of expertise had accomplished I felt more worthy of praise for my accomplishments. As well, the support and encouragement of my close friends and mentors allowed me to sell my bad twin identity to the garbage collector. I no longer feel less than my sister and brother. And I am hoping that you believe my frankness and honesty about my journey of consciously ridding myself of my negative self perceptions.

Working with twins who are estranged from one another has shown me that I am not alone in my struggle to see myself for who I am. So many of the twins I work with struggle to take on a new and more realistic and adaptive personality. It is hard to do and frightening. The payoff is freedom to be yourself.