Why Is It So Hard to Separate from my Twin?

Many of the twins who call me or email me want to know why it is so hard to separate from their twin brother or sister. There are high-brow psychological explanations which support the reality that twin separation is difficult. I must confess that I have written theoretical books on how unique twin development is from that of single-birth children. My research and theories always highlight the difficulties twins have with separation. Personally, I have experienced intense separation anxiety when I was without my twin. When it comes to the “nitty gritty” of actually having to separate—to move away from each other—confusion and overwhelming feelings of loss can paralyze decision making. Twins can stay glued together even when they desperately want to break apart.

Deep anger at one another and intense fighting is another sign of the difficulties twins are having with separation. When separation issues are alive in the room between twins, calming down their angry intensity is very challenging or futile. I know that my children, brother, husband, psychotherapists, aunts, cousins, uncles and close friends would eagerly agree with gusto and exasperation that there was a lot of intense arguing between my sister and me.

I know that I have felt “crazy” and “confused” at different times in my life because I needed someone to understand me instantly, and often without words, the way my twin would get it. For me feeling misunderstood was the start of my awareness of missing my sister. Then I experienced being deeply and intensely enraged at her because we saw the world so differently. Trying to understand myself without her and as a nontwin individual was an endless journey in midlife. And trying to help other twins find peace with one another is an ongoing quest that is of great interest to me and brings me the rewards that come from helping others survive complicated emotional stress.

At this point in my understanding, I really want to normalize the problems twins have with separation. Twins are naturally locked into one another in deeply intense psychological ways. Interdependence from birth creates confusion for twins as they find their separate paths. “Whose path am I taking, mine or yours?” is always a question for twins to be conflicted about. Competition between twins is based on differences that cannot be accepted. For example, if you feel fat or poor, your twin brother or sister wants to fix you because they feel responsible for you and are overly invested in you. While you may appreciate your twin’s concern and support, you may feel like he or she is intruding on your space/ability to make your own decisions. “Why does my twin care if I am fat or poor?” is a question the criticized twin often asks.

Anxiety and depression about missing your twin is normal if you are a twin. Loneliness that twins experience is impossible for nontwins to understand. I believe that is why people see twin problems as pathological—a form of mental illness. But really, if you are a twin, you will understand the pain and emptiness of being left out of a conversation or feeling misunderstood. I have suffered from feeling different because I am a twin at different times during my entire life. I have decided that my issues  about adjusting to the world of nontwins are quite normal. I feel more self-confident when I see myself as normal in my struggle to survive in a nontwin world. When I feel abnormal about not being a single person—a nontwin—my life is harder.

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your state of mind, we as twins have to make other friends, find spouses and have children if we want to. What has helped me deal with my sense of loneliness and being misunderstood is to accept my fate. Twins are born married and divorce is not an option. I have gotten over being ashamed of my feelings of being a misfit by accepting that being separate from my sister is a normal struggle with loneliness.

Helpful Tips for Dealing with Separation Anxiety and the Loneliness That Ensues When Separating from Your Twin

1.  Prepare yourself to miss your sister or brother by talking about your separation anxiety with your twin. Labeling your feelings of anxiety or loneliness will contain and make more real your discomfort about being on your own without your twin. For example, you walk into a room alone at social event. How do you feel? Happy, scared, angry, relieved?

2.  Loneliness can be insufferable for twins if it goes unacknowledged. Talk with close friends and family when you become aware of feeling overwhelmed and misunderstood by others. The more you understand your feelings and express them the easier your life will be as a twin without your twin.

3.  Criticism and fighting can be overdone because twins are so reactive to one another. It is important to find a way to disagree without intensifying your anger at one another.

4.  As you separate from your twin make a great deal of effort to affirm his or her accomplishments and differences from you. Not only is criticism demeaning but it paves the way for endless resentments and battles over who is best or who is right or wrong. Self-righteous arguing is destructive and accomplishes nothing.