Psychology of twins relationships has proven that twins share a intimate bond emotionally and physically. When a time comes that twins have to separate either by in control or out of control issues, they may experience excessive anxiety, depression and separation syndrome as a result of being away from their twins. Not all twins experience separation anxiety but maternal and fraternal twins are at a greater risk of experiencing such anxiety.
Twin separation anxiety is not only contextualized as separation between twins. It can also be viewed as separation between a parent and a twin. We will focus more on the context of the separation of twins.
Nancy Segal, in her book, Indivisible by Two believes that, “it is an adjustment for any child to leave the security of their homes, parents and familiar surroundings, cutting them off from their twin can only add to their anxiety.”
Why is it difficult for twins to separate?
They shared a bond from the moment they were conceived. They grew up side by side and after delivery, twins shared experiences, understood each other and formed automated language that only they could understand. Their bond is unbreakable and if broken, then anxiety and depression ensues. Twins who have separated at one point in their life have admitted to have suffered long periods of loneliness even when they were around other people. Why? Because no one could understand them as much as their twin could.
Children who grow up in a home with a lot of parental stress and conflict will develop a twin interdependence with their each other. The relationship can be so intense such that one twin cannot function without the other. Separation at this point can become a daunting task for the children and one which they rebel.
Reasons why twins separate
Like any other relationship, twins may be thrust into situations which may result in a separation whether wanted or unwanted. Separation may arise from conflict- Even from a young age, children’s’ personality start to show. Different personalities and preferences cause conflicts and eventual separation. Parents should take keen interest in their children as they grow to ensure that the twin issues resulting in conflict are solved before they evolve into something precarious.
As the twins get older, they may discover that they have different preferences in their circle of friends further putting a crack in their separation. Their skills and education preferences differ and they are forced to take different classes’ further putting distance between them and increasing the chances of separation anxiety.
How then do you recognize Twin separation anxiety in your child?
According to the adoptive parents of the triplets- Eddy Galland, Robert Shaffran, David Kellman-separated at birth, often displayed moments of distress by banging their heads against the bars of their cribs at a young age. At that time, the link had not yet been made but years later, through files retrieved from Yale university, it was understood that this was a sign that the three were dealing with separation anxiety. It was not known to the parents of the three but they had lost a connection with their other twins and hence the behavior.
A case study by, Henry A Doenlen, published in the Jefferson Journal of psychiatry describes a case where one of his patient, a nine year old female would pull out her upper eyelashes in an effort to quell the repressive and regretful emotions coursing through her. After an argument with her twin, the nine year old would have thoughts of wishing her sister dead. She would deal with the guilt of these emotions by pulling out her eyelashes or biting her fingernails. The argument stemmed from longing for the interdependent relationship the twins had shared while at the same time having a desire to be identified as a different individual. She wanted to be a girl who happened to be a twin and not a twin who happened to be a girl.
The patient describes to have had a language only her and her twin could understand. She longed for the experiences and the intimacy they had shared. Due to school and other contributing factor, the two had separated on an emotional level and could not connect as before. Henry A Doenlen goes ahead to say that Twin interidentification is a defense against the pain of separation from their parent by trying to increase the intimacy between them. A child might do things such as pulling her hair to compete for a parent’s attention with her twin. Twins want to compete but they do not want to gain superiority over the other. They do this to communicate their desire for the twinning reaction they shared with a twin.
Below are other signs of a child suffering from twin separation anxiety
1) Excessive worrying of the other twin unreasonably.
2) Insistence of doing a task only when the other twin is around and throwing tantrums when this demand is not met.
3) Tailing a twin/ parent everywhere- clutching hands and tagging on their cloths.
4) Panic attacks and mental breakdown.
5) Other symptoms of anxiety disorder.
Separation anxiety can impair the social life, skills and confidence of affected children. Parents are advised to be keen with their twins and manage anxiety when the signs start showing. Twin separation anxiety can prevented when recognized from a young age as this will ensure action is taken a smoother transition for the twins in their older years
Role of parents in managing separation anxiety in their children
1) Parents should gradually introduce the concept of identity to the twins as they grow older. Due to the public stereotype regarding twins, children with the same DNA may face an identity crisis. Fraternal twins have it easier when developing identities as they do not have complete DNA resemblance. Identical twins on the other hand will struggle more on their quest to developing their identity in the heat of all the stereotype surrounding them.
“My brother and I are and still are constantly confused for each other. Even our parents and friends, some who have known us for 27 years still and do confuse us from time to time.” David Manly admits and he goes ahead to explain that developing an identity as a twin can be hard especially without the support of parents and people close to them.
2) Enrolling the twins in different classes- This will not only help them outgrow any dependency behavior they might have picked but it will be a great way to ensure there are no future instances of Twin Separation Syndrome. When children learn to function without the other, they will learn to better cope with the anxiety arising from separation. There has been reported cases by parents and day care managers of twins facing comparison based on their abilities which has resulted in fierce competition and one twin trying to outdo the other.
3) Dressing the twins in clothes of different color and style to suit their preferences. This is you as a parent supporting the growth of your child’s identity. Understanding that they are different individuals with separate personality and nurturing them in that manner will lessen the impact of separation anxiety and depression. As early as when children start to become aware of their roles and existence, encourage them to pursue a journey on self- discovery to forge their identity.
Dr. Barbara Klein, having 35 plus years’ experience in research of patterns of twinships – a twin herself- states that twin separation anxiety will diminish with age and experience but it can never be taken out of their lives. There will always be that longing and loneliness whenever you are away from your twin.