Estrangement is a subjective emotional experience that makes twins afraid to be together. Estrangement also causes deep shame because twins are supposed to get along. These dark feelings seem to be deep seated and often have a traumatic element to them. Estrangement—serious avoidance of each other—between twins can be permanent depending on what triggered the anger and resentment. For example, if one twin sleeps with the brother’s or sister’s sexual partner this will lead to longstanding problems reuniting. If the anger between twins is not acted out but just fought about, twins will take long breaks and come back together over serious life-threatening situations.
I have worked with twins who are deeply estranged from one another after many years of heartfelt fighting, which turns in some cases to enormous fear or hatred of their sister or brother. Tension cannot be resolved. There is no compromise that is acceptable to both. There is no available negotiator or therapist that can deal with this deep and entrenched bond that has been fractured. In my experience psychotherapy cannot effectively reunite twins. Often twins seek out individual therapy as adults to feel better about themselves as individuals. Insight into your estrangement from your twin is a very healing possibility if the therapist understands the idiosyncrasies of twin development.
Twin Estrangement Has Many Faces
Twin estrangement that grows out of unresolved anger, disappointment, and resentment is very emotionally complicated and confusing. Obviously, there are many distinct and intensely sad and forlorn faces of twins who are estranged. I know of this particular kind of pain because I have dealt with being estranged and then connected and then disconnected from my twin sister for over 45 years. Professionally, I have worked with twins who need help understanding the challenges of being a twin, which includes getting along with your twin. I will bring to life some diverse images of twin struggles in words. I’ll mention the factors that contribute to estrangement as well as what might be an inevitable outcome of these conflicts in adulthood.
Fortunately, twins who manage to “get along” and resolve their differences do not suffer from being estranged from one another. Because their parents have attended to their individual development and twin attachment, “get-along twins” learn to honor one another’s differences and accomplishments. Supporting one another is not treacherous or burdensome as it is with estranged twins. However, deep trust and easy communication makes meeting new close friends very difficult for twins who really do get along. Loneliness can be a serious side effect of being separated for “get-along” twins.
Fighting is obvious between “on-again off-again twins” who vehemently disagree about serious and minor issues. Dependent and needy twins who share this type of attachment ignore each other’s feelings and don’t talk about the deepness of their suffering—what is upsetting them—in a productive way. “On-again off-again twins” make up when they need each other for support and insight. Telling one another and often agreeing that their fighting is normal and expectable is seen as a solution. Understanding their animosity is not as important to them as just being on the same side of the fence. Estrangement from one another can be intense in spite of a lack of an ability to move forward.
Hidden from cultural stereotypes, try to imagine the “leave-me-alone twins” who only talk when there is a very dire stress to contend with, such as a wedding or a funeral or a serious illness. “Leave-me-alone twins” are too careful with one another’s feelings. Valuing harmony over the real practicality of life they form a deep attachment based upon superficiality with each other. While they do feel disappointed and resentful of one another and seek out therapy for their own unhappiness, they are extremely reluctant to really work on their relationship. Estrangement is less prevalent with these twin pairs because they fear the side effects of loneliness and anger at each other far too much.
And then there are the “afraid-of-one-another twins” who never talk no matter what because of a series of serious arguments that cannot be resolved. Treated as “halves of a whole” they each see life very differently. They are judgmental and ashamed of one another because they received negligent parenting. Although outspoken and well-spoken, these twins use up all their words fighting to change the other’s point of view and to finalize who is right and what is wrong. Seeking out individual therapy they develop a good sense of themselves outside of their twin relationship. As they grow into older years they can accept that they are disconnected. Regret about estrangement is less profound because of insight and acceptance.
Estrangement that is most disastrous are “twins with murderous rage” who cannot tolerate being with one another because they have been totally pitted against each other as young children. The favored twin has to be right. There is no room for argument from the victimized twin who has to take the abuse or disconnect completely. Their roles of opposition are so strong that any closeness is very short lived. Movies and news stories usually reflect this totally difficult and dangerous form of estrangement.
Common to all estrangement is an underlying anxiety, a loneliness, and a longing for reparation from painful separation. All twins long for the closeness that they shared from conception and into childhood. The bond twins share is primary; like the mother-child bond it cannot be replaced. Misunderstood and mistreated by each other, twin communication can be destroyed because of fighting and unrealistic expectations.
There is no one solution that will reduce estrangement. What does not help estrangement is endless fighting. Acceptance of the complexity of the twin attachment is also critical.
I am accepting new members into my national and international Skype group which supports twins who are suffering from feeling estranged from their twin. If you are interested contact me at estranged twins.com.