2018 “Fascinating Twins: Siblings of a Particular Kind”

2018 “Fascinating Twins: Siblings of a Particular Kind”

Fascinating Twins: Siblings of a particular kind

This paper is about twins, who they are, their internal world, their development, and their place in all our lives. I propose a unique understanding of twins, from a psychoanalytic perspective


Twins are siblings of a particular kind with their own unique dynamics that begin before birth and that create an indelible twinship. The prenatal               and early postnatal preverbal somatic experiences between twins will endure in the twin relationship as a binding unconscious element in their relationship. Twins share a deep psychic bond that forms the core of their twinship, but they are NEVER identical. Many factors will affect their development, including the early mutual resonances and sensate experiences between them, parental attitudes in raising them, and the fascination with twins we all seem to share, that originates in our own early sensory experiences. We all long for the prefect soul-mate we felt we once had at the breast, and twins seem to have found it. Our fascination with twins is based on deep unconscious factors within ourselves emanating from our earliest experiences, and that we project onto twins.

 Our perceptions of twins dictate how twins are treated in their families, in society, in various cultures throughout the world, modern and ancient, and this will be reflected in literature. Twins may be idealised and regarded as gods, or despised as evil harm-bringers and murdered. They may be viewed as two parts of one person, or their uniqueness and individuality would, more hopefully, be recognised. Understandingthe roots of these perceptions of twins will affect how we work with a twin psychoanalytically. It will also inform us about the core of intimacy and the dynamics of sibling relationships in general.

Many books have been written about twins, about their psychology, and how to bring them up. Some books focus on behavioural aspects of the twin relationship, some on research using twins, often focusing on the oddities linked with the twin relationship, their likenesses and differences.

So what am I offering that is different?


I have seen a number of patients who are a twin in my clinical practice, and early on it became clear to me that there was something I was not attending to, something I had not understood. I found I was caught up in very controlling dynamic in the analytic relationship that seemed to create an impasse. Not much had been written about psychoanalytic work with twins, and what there was came from the 1950s and 1960s, mainly in the USA. There was also Dorothy Burlingham’s (1952) study of twins at Hampstead Nurseries, beautifully detailed records of observations of twins and their development. While some aspects of the core of the twin relationship had been discussed, there was very little written about the transference relationship.

I began to realise that what I was dealing with was the twin transference, and that this had to be worked throughalongside the other transference relationships. This led me to further research and in 1994, I wrote a paper on working with a twin, and with the twin in the transference:

“The relationship between twins is based on primitive mechanisms which need to be mitigated by a containing and processing mother for adequate     emotional development to take place. Where this fails, the twins remain in an arrested state of development dependent on splitting and excessive projective identification, and unable to separate. This is reflected in the transference relationship, the psychotherapist being experienced as a twin, a reflection of the patient, rather than as a container. Through intervention in the twinship via interpretation of the transference relationship, the patient may be enabled to find the psychotherapist as a processing mother and to develop a sense of self, a separate identity.” (Lewin, 1994, p499)

Uncovering the twin dynamics in the consulting room changed my understanding of the transference relationship with my patients, and my interpretations. I started attending to the twin in the transference and this unlocked the puzzle of the impasse. The work started to change and a creative psychoanalytic dialogue resumed.

Looking for a more theoretical understanding of what I was doing, I did a great deal of research, and 10 years later I published my first book about twins based on my clinical experience of working with more twin patients, my research, and my new understanding of twin dynamics (The Twin in the Transference, 2004, 2014). It seemed to me that the subject of the twin in the transference had been largely neglected in psychoanalytic thinking, despite Bion’s early paper on The Imaginary Twin (1967), in which he raised the issue of working with twins and examined twinning processes. He regarded twinning as a special form of dissociation and personification. Bion did later change his view of the pattern of imaginary twinning, and wrote that it was “very often a particular fact of the more general pattern of splitting” in an only child (Bion, 1967, p 127).

As I wrote in “The Twin in the Transference”, I think his original thinking about twins and the processes of twinning, and his clinical work in this area, is vitally important to our understanding of human nature, and most importantly of the twin transference and of twinning processes in all of us, based on our early personal experiences. I felt Bion had erroneously discarded his early ideas about twinning dynamics, especially in actual twins. I was gratified to read recently, that the late James Grotstein, in his last paper (2015, in Reiner 2017, p.252), expressed his deeply informed view, “it can be argued…that his [Bion’s] first published formal psychoanalytic contribution, “The Imaginary Twin” (Bion, 1950) convincingly reveals an individual, complex and unusually creative mind that precociously adumbrated a major feature of future psychoanalytic practice, that of internal psychic twins in ‘the here and now’” (my italics).

Since writing my first book, I have gone on to explore other factors in relation to twins and our relationship with them. My second book, “The Twin Enigma. An Exploration of our Enduring Fascination with Twins” (2016) explores new developments in research, and wider issues relating to twins and our relationships with them.


 Genetic factors:

Zygotes are fertilised eggs from which the foetus develops, containing genes from both parents. Twins develop when either one zygote splits into two, creating two embryos of very similar genetic makeup – monozygotic twins; or from the fertilization of two separate eggs – dizygotic twins. In fact the genetic story may be more complex than this, but I cannot expand on this here.

A great deal is made of the zygosity of twins – whether they are so-called “identical” or “fraternal” twins. While it is true that monozygotic (“identical”) twins have in common a great number of their genes, they are never identical. I therefore prefer to refer to them as MZ twins and to dizygotic twins as DZ twins.

The fact of genetic similarity alone does not tell us much about who each twin is as a person. Many factors will affect which genes become activated both in utero and after birth, which genes are altered by environmental influences like hormones, other chemicals, the position in utero, and which combinations of genes work together to create the possibilities for a unique individual. Much work has been done on Epigenetics (the study of changes in the way genes are expressed, as a result of external factors – chemical, hormonal or environmental – rather than changes in the underlying genes per se) and its effects on our personal genetic makeup.

Genes alone do not decide who we become and much research using twin studies has misused or ignored this fact. Furthermore, the environment is never the same for any two individuals, including twins. The many environmental factors in our lives have a profound affect on the expression of our genes and our individual development, and this continues throughout our lives. Each twin in a pair is a unique individual with a particular personality and experience of life. But they share a deep and particular bond.


Twinning dynamics:

How can our deeper understanding of the twin relationship help us deal with twins in a way that enables healthier development for each of them? What factors influence how we see twins? I will look at the origins of our perceptions of twins and how they are reflected in the way we raise them, in practices relating to twins around the world, and in literature.

What is usually the first question an onlooker asks when confronted with two people, particularly babies, of the same age?

“Are the identical?”

I will try to address the roots of this question.

The deep unconscious issues that affect the twin relationship and our perception of it lead to both our fascination with twins and the sense of disturbance they create (as expressed in so much of the literature about doubles). We tend to attribute special qualities to the relationship between twins. We idealise the twin relationship, and we project qualities onto them that are our own, and are in fact based on our own early experiences in life. We all long for a soul-mate, for someone who can offer us perfect understanding, and resonance, and we seem to believe that twins have this.This perception will of course affect development in twins as well as our relationships with them.

The roots of our fascination with twins and the raw excited feelings they arouse, lie in our own very early experiences. Melanie Klein (1963) suggested that there is a universal longing to be a twin that originates in our first experience with our mothers. It is based on the deep unconscious understandingbetween a mother and her newborn child. Even when circumstances are not optimal, the mother is usually attuned to her baby in a way that enables her to understand unconsciously the baby’s needs and wants without words. She is able to take in from the baby the raw experiences that upset or even terrify the baby, and process them in a way that makes it possible for the baby to re-absorb the altered experience in a form with which it can more easily deal, helping the baby feel understood and contained. This helps the baby begin to develop its own capacities for dealing with life, and so makes the ordinary exigencies of life more manageable to the infant.

In the early days of an infant’s life before he has developed a clear sense of his own identity, there will be a blurring of what the baby imagines is himself and what is mother. Within mother’s care he creates mental images that represent that experience, images that are dynamic and interchangeable according to the variability of the care he receives. These images or unconscious phantasies develop within the interactions between baby and mother, and it is only much later in the infant’s development that he can begin to distinguish what is his own. The baby will learn to recognise his own bodily and mental stimuli, what comes from outside himself, and what that outside source might be. So there is a confusion, not so much of identities, but as to the source of the satisfaction, frustration, pain or pleasure that the infant experiences.

Thus the mother who feeds, cleans and loves her baby, will initially be felt by the baby, unconsciously, to be part of himself, a twin of himself. I say “twin” because before the infant develops a capacity to distinguish clearly between himself and others, he will see others in his own image, as a twin. As Winnicott wrote in 1971, the mother’s face is the precursor of the mirror. When the infant looks at his mother, he sees himself. Thus the baby creates a “phantasy twin” of himself in an unconscious process.

The experience of so profound an unconscious understanding between mother and baby,the apparently perfect unconscious understanding that is provided by the attuned mother, creates a bond of togetherness between her and baby. It not only lays down the blueprint for all future communications and relationships in the infant’s life, it also leaves each individual baby with a longing to regain this perfect understanding – a longing for the twin that so perfectly understood at a time of his greatest vulnerability and dependency.

It is this longing that forms a deep inner core and pervades our psychic lives, leaving us either seeking the kind of relationship that we hope will again provide this perfect understanding, the perfect soul-mate, or alternatively, we may cut off in frustration as we lose hope of ever finding it.This developmental process is the source of our fascination with twins.

When we encounter twins, we resurrect our own early experiences of at-oneness and longing, and project this onto the twin pair. The twins seem to have achieved what we long for, and the sight of them stimulates our excitement and perhaps our envy. As a result of these projections the twins seem to acquire a rather magical quality. Thus, the phantasy of having a twin forms the core of the idealisation of the twin relationship, and in this ideal phantasy the twinship is perfect, devoid of feelings of rivalry and jealousy, or the anxiety about being trapped in a deadly twinship where separation would arouse a fear of annihilation. We believe that twinship provides a relationship of continued deep understanding and sympathy. In reality we know how very far this is from the truth – that twinship creates not only unparalleled companionship, but also vehement rivalry, even hatred, between the twin pair.

So, twins appear to have what we most long for, and they represent an embodiment of our life-long search for a twin soul of understanding and resonance. However, the reality of the twin relationship is much more complex than this, as is our perception of twins. In the early experiences with mother as a twin of self, the nature of the phantasy twin will depend on the experience of the moment – loving or hating. This is reflected in our varied perceptions of twins as, for example, good/bad, clever/stupid, and how they are represented in the literature on twins and doubles.


 The development of the twin relationship:

There is often considerable confusion between twin babies, particularly those that look very alike. Literature offers numerous such examples. Audrey Niffenegger captures this in her book (2009, p 371) when she writes:

The layering, the intertwining. When someone looked at her and saw me.”

But Penelope Farmer (1996), herself a twin, writes about the erroneous impression that twins provide perfect understanding and companionship, the myth of twin souls, a pair to be envied.

 Twins have virtually identical ages and this has physical, physiological, psychological and emotional consequences for each of the twins in their development. Each twin will experience the other twin as ever-present in the minds of mother and father, and also in the minds of each of the twins themselves. Mother’s attention can never be wholly focused on one baby as she also always has another baby in mind, even if the other baby is elsewhere. This may affect the development of the relationships between the babies and the mother.

As Sigmund Freud said in 1933, “A child’s demands for love are immoderate, they make exclusive claims and tolerate no sharing” (p123). Alessandro Piontelli suggested in 2002 that each infant is highly attuned to the level of age-appropriate attention offered, especially from the mother or primary caregiver. Observations indicate that the infant’s jealousy and disturbance at not having mother’s exclusive attention is more acute when the rival is of the same age, and is more tolerable when the other child is a toddler or of a different age and requiring a different sort of attention.

Twinning processes that are part of the dynamic between twins include mutual identification with the other twin, projective and introjective processes between them, confusion of identities, and seeing the other twin as an embodiment of the unconscious phantasy twin. These processes will play a prominent and distinctive role in the development of actual twins. The presence of a twin, whatever the zygosity, same or opposite sex, offers the opportunity for the unconscious twin phantasy to become concretised – for the phantasy twin of infancy to be projected into the other twin, where it is then assumed to reside. The other twin will be seen as the embodiment of the idealised phantasy twin, as the ideal twin soul who will alleviate loneliness, be a perfect companion, provide perfect understanding, and become a part of the self that cannot be given up.

Conversely the other twin may come to represent the split off, unwanted aspects of the self. This projection and concretisation of a phantasy is likely become a permanent feature in the personalities of the twins, to a greater or lesser degree. It is one of the factors that lead to twins’ experience of intense closeness or, alternatively, a vehement insistence on their total separateness in their struggle to establish their individuality – united in love or hate. The nature of the relationship between twins has a profound and enduring effect on the development of a sense of self in each twin, but it is important to note that pathological development in twins is not necessarily attributable to the twinship per se.

The primary bonding between twins based on the early resonances and twinning processes in relation to the other twin, is an essential element in the twin relationship. It develops through many factors: the creation and projection into each other of a phantasy twin, the psycho-biological resonances between them, the twinning processes linked with identifying with each other, and external sources such as confusion between the babies by parents and others, the perceptions of others of the twin pair, etc.  This primary bonding will form a central aspect of the twin relationship at an unconscious level, an indelible core of twinship.

In utero, twins will share bio-rhythmic resonances, as well as sounds, smells, and taste, with each other, as they do with mother. At a later stage, they will touch, push, or caress each other – when the space in the womb has become more confining. Although in general each foetus will be in a state of sleep for most of the pregnancy, they become reactive to each other in the later stages. These intrauterine experiences lead to the creation of unconscious sensate memories, memories that cannot be articulated, but nevertheless exert a powerful influence on the twins. These proto-mental, pre-verbal experiences will contribute to the indelible twin core.


Babyhood and growing up:

Twins are always a pair, in fact and in mind, and this is so even if one has died. Whether together or apart the other twin is always present in the mind mother, father, the twins and those around them. Therefore twins never have the full attention that single babies can have.

This fact has developmental consequences, for example possible, but not inevitable, language delay. The quality of pre-linguistic interaction betweenmother and each of her twins is likely to differ from that of a mother with her single baby. Research has shown that the mothers were less focused on their twin infants, talked to twin babies with shorter bursts of speech, were less responsive to the infants’ non-vocal cues, and were less attuned to nuances of each twin baby in their vocal communications. This difference may affect language development in twins and may result in an initial delay in language acquisition. (Sue Butler, Catherine McMahon and Judy Ungerer , 2002).

Mothers of twins have less opportunity to learn the meanings of their young infants’ more subtle behavioural cues. The differences in language delay in twins were found to be greater in situations in which mother needed to understand and interpret the infant’s internal states from the baby’s noises and non-verbal communications. A mother of twins will have less time to spend individually with each of her infants in focused dyadic interactions and less time to develop a unique language with each of them. She may also be influenced by her concern about the wellbeing of the other twin.

The lag in language development for twins is about three months, once overt handicaps as a result of early birth or perinatal issues have been taken into account. Where language delay does occur, twins usually catch up with single children by about three years of age.

Another topic that has gained much attention is the private language between twins. There are two aspects of this – a shared verbal understanding common to many children, talk that is understandable to them but not to others, but where the talk is not focused exclusively on the other twin; and on the othehand a private language between twins in which communication is directed exclusively towards the other twin.

Elizabeth Bryan (1992) noted that twins pass through the stages of speech development in a way that is different from singletons. They have a much more complicated interaction to deal with, as they have to learn early how to communicate within a triad, and when to engage and disengage in discourse. There are always two recipients and two responders to any communication within the triad.


Twins as Siblings:

Twins have a particular closeness that generates both great companionship and heated rivalry. They are always aware of the other twin, their position, what they are given or not given, what they will share or not. Twins may also turn to each other for both comfort and learning, and when they do so this may not always be beneficial to development and maturity. The other twin is an immature container/teacher and cannot provide the transformative experience that an attuned adult or even older sibling, with more life experience, can. Adequate parental input is essential for each baby to grow emotionally and develop a unique sense of self, alongside the pleasures and the difficulties of the twin relationship.

Central to understanding the twin relationship is the fact that the horizontal relationship with the other twin is highly significant and with its close unconscious emotional psychic and biological resonances, it may also be regarded as a primary relationship, alongside those with mother and father. In twin relationships there is always, to a greater or lesser extent, a narcissistic core, created in the closeness of the twinship, the shared early resonances and sensate memories, the twinning processes between them and the mutual projective identifications. The bigger this narcissistic core is, the more problematic will be the development of each twin.

As a result, it is not uncommon to find twins who are locked into an enmeshed relationship with each other, in a rigid structure that results in the impairment of individual development of each twin. Even where there has been a greater degree of individual personality development in each twin and a sense of separate identity in each, there will always be a shadow of the other twin deep in the psyche of each.

The interaction of the internal twinning and external factors in the relationships between twins and their carers will create in twins an indelible internal twinship that will affect all relationships that each twin encounters, and will be a central part of their identities. It often remains unrecognised and may cause real difficulties in intimate relationships such as marriage, where the other partner comes to be regarded and related to as a “twin”. It will certainly be active in the intimacy of the psychoanalytic consulting room.

A situation in which parents attend to each baby as an individual would create a better environment for development towards maturity and object relationships, rather than a lack of differentiation between them that promotes a predominance of narcissistic connections in their twinship and other relationships. The need for separateness in each twin baby runs alongside their wish to maintain aspects of the twinship that offer a sense of security, solidarity, companionship, and strength in numbers. These diametric pulls are always present in twins’ developmental relationships. In more problematic situations, where there is not sufficient adult attention available, this clinging to the twinship may lead to a sense of a joint or shared identity – a “we-self” instead of an “I”.


Twinning as a narcissistic state of mind:

It is important to recognise and distinguish two aspects of the twin relationship. There are the ‘special’ aspects of the relationship between twins like the healthy unparalleled closeness and companionship between them. But there are also the more narcissistic elements of the twinship that may result in the idealisation by the twins and others, of the twin relationship. In this aspect the twinship seems to exemplify and embody the longed for understanding without words, the pair of perfect soul-mates.

Where the narcissistic aspects of the twin relationship predominate, the unconscious phantasy of an ideal twin-breast of infancy becomes concretely identified with the other twin. With this merging, the ideal phantasy twin becomes identified as embodied in the other twin rather then relinquished. The recognition that the longed-for perfect understanding cannot be regained, and has been lost, is evaded. This may lead to an enmeshed twinship in which each twin feels dependent on the other twin not only for his identity, but even for his survival. This sort of twinship creates a relationship in which the twins feel trapped, suffocated in a deadly tangle.

Where the idealised phantasy twin is recognised for what it is, and is relinquished, its loss can mourned, in order to develop a companionable type of relationship in which separateness and individuality in the twin pair can be achieved. Mourning for this lost ideal twin object is, however, never complete, hence our ubiquitous longing for a twin of perfect understanding.

Ogden (2005), in examining the processes of mourning as described by Freud (1917) notes that mourning involves living with the pain of loss in order to do genuine psychological work with it. In this work, the loss can be symbolized by a process of “dreaming”. Ogden bases his understanding on Bion’s idea that the work of dreaming creates the unconscious and conscious mind, rather than the other way around. In other words, the work of dreaming is to translate the raw sense impressions into unconscious elements of experience that can be linked, and this generates unconscious dream states in which psychological work can be done and understanding gained – a personal narrative of the experience.

The alternative – evading the pain of loss – leads to a psychotic state of mind where reality is also evaded. If the object is not relinquished and mourned, the internal objects remain in a fused state in which “…pathological bonds of love mixed with hate are among the strongest ties that bind internal objects to one another in a state of mutual captivity” (Ogden, 2005, p 43/4), leaving the person unable to “dream” himself into existence as an individual.

This describes the sort of pathological relationship in which some twins are caught, a psychic retreat (Steiner, 1993) that provides apparent shelter but traps the twins in a bound immature state of mind. Ogden (2005) also notes that, “…psychic pain may be defended against by means of the replacement of an external object relationship by an unconscious, fantasized object relationship” (p. 43), like the phantasy twin that becomes embodied in the other twin through projective processes. Enmeshed twins will cling to their twinship which is based on the fusion of their mutual internal omnipotent phantasies, of each twin as an imagined embodiment of the other’s phantasy twin.

It is as if the boundaries between the enmeshed twins are particularly permeable, in contrast to the thick psychic membrane surrounding the pair. As a result, emerging from the psychic retreat of the enmeshed twinship would be experienced as an unbearable anxiety including a fear of annihilation of the self. The primitive anxieties associated with emergence from the retreat may be experienced as a sense of fragmentation of the self (see Chapter 8 in Lewin 2004 – “The Twin in the Transference”).

This sort of maladaptive twin relationship may develop when there are difficulties in the early environment. It may be that there has not been enough attention and containment by the parents. The lack of containment may be the result of inadequate resources in an inherently difficult situation; of the emotional fragility of maternal and paternal care; or of inherent unmanageable anxieties in the twin babies themselves. Where the babies have difficulty tolerating frustration, they will seize on any avenue or opportunity to help them cope, and this may mean clinging to the other immature twin for a sense of security. Whatever the cause of this retardation in emotional development, it would be a potent factor promoting the use of the twinship as a psychic retreat.

Thus we see that it is vital for twins to have space to be individuals within the twin relationship, and neither lose themselves in the twinship, nor deny its importance to them.

As I have already said, twins are siblings or a particular kind. Like other siblings, they will play a part for each other in social development, in developing peer relationships and in finding a place in society. I have already outlined why the developmental task for twins is more complex. While lateral relationships between siblings are important in development in specific ways, twins are closer than other siblings. They try to carve out individual space for themselves and differentiate from each other, at the same time as hopefully using the twinship as an advantage rather than a hindrance to development.

In twins, engaging in the processes of horizontal differentiation in order to establish a unique personal identity, and to find one’s place in the world, will be affected by the more narcissistic aspects of the twin relationship including the deep sensate bond between them and the idealisation of the twinning processes. The idealisation will occur both internally in each twin and between the twins, and in the perceptions of their parents, other siblings and outsiders. As a result, twins may have to work harder to establish a rich individual personal identity. Where they do not sufficiently achieve this, this will affect all their relationships in both vertical (parental) and lateral (sibling, peer, marital partner, etc.) dimensions. The processes of differentiation and individuation will affect both the individual twins and their twin relationship, so each twin will always have to take into account the other twin.

All children have to negotiate a realisation that one is not unique, that there are other children, and one is just one amongst others, in what Juliet Mitchell (2000) calls the “crisis of non-uniqueness” They have to struggle for recognition of their unique self among similar others.  How much more difficult this would be for twins, especially where they look and are treated as similar. Ideally, siblings resolve this non-uniqueness as they find and accept their place in a social series, as equal but different. This too is what we hope for twins.


 Diverse Cultural treatment of twins:

The idealisation of twin relationship, and its opposite, the denigration of twins, are both evident in the way twins are treated within different cultures around the world. This idealisation is based on the longing for a twin, but it is also affected by the fear and disturbance created by doubles. [1]

In many countries in the world, a special social significance is attributed to twins, and, as such, twins are often integral to social, religious and cultural systems in the beliefs of those people.

Among the different cultural responses, we find twins treated as gods or as demons – that is, they may be seen as good or evil, two sides of the same coin. Depending on the prevailing view, twins may be idealised, given special treatment and protection, or they may be murdered at birth.

The idealisation of twins is thus tinged with fear. It is common for elaborate rituals to be performed when twins are born – rituals to cleanse and keep safe not only the new babies and family, but also the group of people into whom the twins have been born. The rituals are designed to appease the gods, so as not to anger them, as the twins are believed to be linked with either gods or devils.

Some facts about the rates of twin births:

Monozygotic twin births occur at a constant rate of 1 in 286 all over the world.  The figures for dizygotic live twin births range from low rates of 1 in 150births in Latin America, South Asia and South-East Asia, to the highest rates of twinning across Central Africa in Benin, where the national average rates of twin birth are about 1 in 18. In West Africa, the rate amongst the Yoruba in Nigeria is high, 1 in 25 twin births.

Currently in the Western world, the rates of dizygotic twin birth have increased from 1 in 80 to 1 in 40 as a result of

  • older maternal age at conception as women tend to delay pregnancy
  • the increasing use of fertility treatment in which more than one embryo is implanted
  • fertility treatment also increases the possibilities of embryos splitting because of the hormones used in the treatment.

Given the frequency of twin births in some groups of people, it is obvious that the performance of elaborate rituals in relation to, or the idealisation or murder of twins, is not linked to their rarity, and therefore suspicion or fear of twins must have another source. This source is the unconscious phantasies about twins and doubles, longing tinged with fear. In ancient Egypt, twins were regarded as sacred. As Ruth Benedict (1935, p.28) noted (quoted by Jeffreys 1963 p. 105), “There are always two possible aspects of sacred: it may be a source of peril or it may be a blessing”.

Hastings, 1921, has written a comprehensive account of the varying practices relating to twins around the world. Amongst some African tribes, the twins and the mother are killed immediately and cleansing rituals are performed to protect the village. Both twins may be killed or just one. In some, the female or the weaker twin is buried alive in a big pot. A fowl will be cut in two as an offering, and one half will be buried with the condemned twin so the spirit of the buried baby will not avenge itself on the survivor. (Hastings 1921).

The mother may have severe restrictions placed upon her. If it is believed that the mother of the twins is unclean and will defile anything she touches, she may not drink from the same water as others in the community, and often will die of thirst and hunger, or she may kill herself (Hastings 1921). Where this sentence is mitigated, the mother may be exiled to a “twin town” with her babies, either forever or for a period of time until she is considered to have been cleansed, at which time the elders of the tribe decide it is safe for them to return.

Some newborn twins are seen as fetish children (Ball and Mill, 1996), inhabited by a spirit and the community must adapt to their special properties. One twin may be regarded as a “ghost” twin, imbued with the spirit of a god or a demon, while the other twin is human. We see many examples of this in Mythology, probably the most well known being Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri or Heavenly Twins. According to Greek Mythology, Castor was mortal, while Pollux was the son of the god Zeus. The twins were bound in a love that obliterated all rivalry between them and remained united even after death, spending alternate years in the heavens and the Netherworld. (Graves, 1992).

Sometimes the “ghost” twin is killed. The people who perform the killing of the twins may be professionals (for example a slave dedicated to this function (Hastings, 1921)), or it may be the grandmother or the father who kills one or both twins, by smothering or exposing them. They may be left out in the bush to perish, placed in a pot or a sack hanging from a tree to die, buried alive, or even burnt. The brutality of some of these killings and rituals is an indication of the level of fear that the birth of twins arouses in the people concerned.

In other cultures twins may be regarded as having a personal connection with particular apes, birds or a crocodile (Ball and Mill 1996). Among various tribes of the north-western coasts of North America, twins are linked with grizzly bears and other land animals, or to salmon or other fish. The twins are believed to be a reincarnation of such creatures rather than being directly generated by them within the mother. The twins are seen, for example, as grizzly bears in human form and, when a twin dies, his soul goes back to the grizzly bears and he becomes one of them.

Amongst people who regard twin birth as something that has to be dealt with in order to detoxify them or to appease the gods, newly-born twins and their parents are, as a rule, secluded from interaction with the world until various ceremonies have been completed. Rituals to celebrate the birth of twins or to cleanse them and the family of the evil that might ensue, may include the drinking of palm wine, hanging cowrie shells on the twins or the mother, rituals where the parents/mother are quarantined to the house for a period of time, or have to walk round the house in a particular direction. They may not be allowed to enter or exit the  house via the door, but only through a gap that has been created at the back of the hut (Hastings 1921). When a twin dies at birth or later, it is common to find that mourning is prohibited and that particular death rituals must be performed.

Occasionally a twin birth is seen as a joy and frankly welcomed, as in the Herero of Namibia, and amongst the nomadic Masai of Kenya. The Kedjom of Camaroon also welcome twins but the joy is accompanied by the view that twins are mercurial and can therefore be harmful if not treated properly (Ball and Hill 1996).

Amongst some communities, the birth of twins of different sexes is regarded as a serious because they are thought to have had an incestuous relationship in utero, having shared the womb. Their connection in the womb has been too close: it has been sinful, amounting to prenatal incest. I think these beliefs stem from the unusual closeness and intimacy of twins, linked to both our projections and their narcissistic binding to each other. This is also indicated in ancient beliefs about opposite sex twins.

The idea of prenatal incest is not always frowned upon in opposite sex twins. Among the highest castes of Balinese, opposite sex twins are seen as ‘betrothed’ (Glenn, 1966; Errington, 1987). This may have its origin from a time when there were no taboos against brother sister incest, and when such twins at marriageable age used to be made to marry one another.  It may also link with ancient Egyptian practices where royal brothers and sisters married. In ancient Assyria and Babylonia, opposite sex twins of lower class birth were regarded as a bad omen, foreshadowing the death of the king. However, amongst royal families twin marriage was permissible. The Mohave of Southern California believe that opposite sex twins have been married in a former life in Heaven (Hastings 1021).


Twins in literature:

Our current pre-occupations with identity and a sense of integrity of the self are reflected in the use of twins in literature. Juliana de Nooy (2005) has written at length about the uses of twins and doubles in the arts. But the pre-occupation with doubles goes back to earlier times too. The concept of a double was a feature of Romanticism in the 19thand early 20thcentury literature, and many of these writings illustrated fears about the threat to the integrity of the self and the dangers posed by splitting or fragmentation of the self, as seen in the works of James Hogg’s “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner” (1824), Edgar Allen Poe’s “William Wilson” (1839), Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Double” (1846), Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” (1886), and others. . The sense of uncanniness of the double is used to create excitement and intrigue, and sometimes to express the darker side, menace and death. In Dostoevsky’s novel about a double, the protagonist, Golyadkin, in a fragile state of mind, suddenly finds himself confronted with his double who is successful while he is failing. Eventually Golyadkin breaks down and ends up in a mental asylum.

Stevenson’s story focuses on the opposing aspects of the psyche, good and evil. Dr Jekyll is an admired member of the professional Victorian middle-classes. He conducts a series of scientific experiments which unleash from his own psyche the ‘bestial’ and ‘ape-like’ Mr Hyde, a sinister alter egoor double. In the story he shows the dual nature of man, with respectability doubled with degradation, abandon with restraint, honesty with duplicity. It demonstrates the hidden unconscious duality of man. In a similar way Oscar Wild (1890) writes about Dorian Gray, a beautiful young man who relegates to his attic a portrait of himself into which is projected all the dissolute, degraded, amoral aspects of himself. He appears as a blameless gentleman while the ageing and degradation happen in the portrait. Attempting to destroy this portrait of his evil self, he dies, aged and withered. These stories describe the dangers of psychic splitting aimed at denying aspects of the self rather than integration and modification of the more savage aspects of our personalities.

Earlier, Shakespeare wrote about twins in the 17thCentury, with an emphasis on mistaken identity and the deep sense of connectedness between twins. Shakespeare used the theme of “twinning” or doubling in many of his plays to highlight issues related to mistaken identity, but only two plays feature twins per seas a central theme, The Comedy of Errors (1590s), and Twelfth Night (1611).  In The Comedy of Errors there are two sets of twin brothers, Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus. They each have a slave called Dromio, again twin brothers. The twin pairs become separated in a storm and when re-united, confusion reigns.

Although the twins are very different in character, they look very alike and this creates chaos. The two sets of twins are repeatedly mistaken for each other. The comic absurdities expose the different values and concerns of each individual twin, and the nature of individual identity is explored as a central theme in this play. The dramatic tension is created around the two sets of twins, as the author plays with illusion and reality.

A more complex dramatic structure is created in Twelfth Night. Sebastian and Viola, are opposite sex twins, but they too look so alike they are mistaken for each other.

Count Orsino says of them:

One face, one voice, one habit and two persons,

A natural perspective that is and is not.

 (Twelfth Night Act5.1.216-217)

and Antonio says:

How have you made division of yourself?

An apple, cleft in two is not more twin

Than these two creatures. Which is Sebastian?

                           (Twelfth Night Act V scene 1, 233-4)


They too were separated in a ship-wreck and believe each other to be dead. The story revolves around mistaken identity and love and they are eventually re-united. It also deals with split off aspects of the self, especially those of masculinity and femininity.

The work to create a sense of self within the complex set of relationships with parents and siblings, especially in the early days with mother, raises questions for us all about who we are. Our identities, deriving from both genetic and epigenetic factors, and formed through the qualities of our early relationships, are forged throughout our continuing development through life. A sense of individual identity is constantly evolving and is never complete, though our “signature”, the way in which we and others recognise ourselves, is unique and identifiable to each of us. But we never seem to feel quite secure in who we are – it is as if there is always  something is missing, perhaps a manifestation of the longed-for twin!

These stories about twins play with this unease within ourselves. It arises in part from our complex mental, emotional, psychological make-up, in which we have to manage and integrate several layers of relatively known and unknown parts of ourselves. The unconscious aspects of our minds are crucial to our sense of who we are, even though we only get to know about them when something unexpected erupts into our conscious world, or in coded form in our dreams, and in unexpected symptoms that seem to arise from nowhere. It is not too surprising therefore, that so many authors employ what are often regarded as divided characters of twins and doubles to express and explore hidden aspects of people and life.

Thus fictional twins may be used to represent different aspects, conscious and unconscious, of a character, both as a concrete expression of a known or a knowable part, or to expose a hidden, darker side. They may represent desired alternative aspects of the self, or discarded unwanted characteristics. In our concern with identity and the fragmented nature of the self, we use the concept of twins to explore who we are or who we wish to be.

Very many of the twins in novels are monozygotic and apparently identical in appearance. They are represented as interchangeable and they create confusion about who they are. There is a vast literature using twins as an exploratory device. I will select a few examples to illustrate my understanding of this.

With fictional twins, the issues of mistaken identity and inter-changeability play with our real-life insecurities about ourselves. Where there is confusion between two people, as there is sometimes between actual twins and doubles, the central core of the self seems to be threatened. The three linked novels of Agota Kristof (1997) are examples of confusion between twins, rigid twin structures, merging identities, uncertainty and unease.

Twin boys Lucas and Claus live with their grandmother but are left entirely to their own devices. They think together, act together and follow a strict, though amoral, code of being. When separated at school, they felt the distance between them was unmanageable, the pain unbearable as if they half our bodies had been taken away and they lose consciousness. Later, they separate as Claus crosses a border into another country where he lives in mortal solitude. Lucas continues in his amoral code of living, killing without remorse if asked to.

As the story progresses, confusion arises for the reader. The twins have the same letters in their names. Are they one person with an imaginary twin, or two? Did one create the other to alleviate his intense loneliness? Reconciliation as adults does not resolve these issues – rather it complicates them. Another story emerges along with changes of identity of the twin brothers. Who are they, which is which? Questions of identity, self and other, the nature of relatedness and love are played with.  Belonging, empathy, morality, altruism are all explored.

Many of the themes in twin literature cover the oppressive nature of the twin bond alongside the terror of separation for, and perhaps damage to, one or both twins. One of the twins feels suffocated by the enmeshed twin relationship and feels a desperate need to escape, while the other suffers unbearable anxiety at this event. The anxiety generated when twins are separated may be so great that it is often expressed as if the individual self has been split, rendered apart – an experience also described by some actual twins.

Michel Tournier in his book, Gemini, (1975) creates dramatic scenarios in both the intense entanglement of the twin brothers, Jean and Paul, and their struggle to escape from, or cling to, the enclosing twin relationship.

In Gemini, the twin relationship is one of stagnation and the deathliness of an undifferentiated twin relationship. Jean and Paul are enclosedin thenarcissistic bubble of a homosexual and twin relationship, one thatis sterile, unproductive and glorifies itself against the ordinary productive relationships of individuals. The twinship is a “geminate cell” which is reconfigured every evening with rituals and exchanges of bodily fluids to cleanse them of the day’s contact with others.

“When one has experienced the intimacy of twinship, no other intimacy can be felt as anything but a disgusting promiscuity.”(p.190).“At night they had to strip away the residues of their separate days, an act of purification, stripping away all external influences, every alien accretion, in order that each might return to the sheet anchor that his twin brother was to him, and this effort, if we performed it together, at one and the same time was directed chiefly toward the other, each one purifying and cleansing his twin, to make him identical to himself… For the geminate night.” (p. 195). Jean felt imprisoned in this twinship and travelled the world to escape his twin, to free and to find himself. Paul tried to follow him but found himself undergoing a rebirth experience as a mutilated individual, again crossing the borders of a country. He was left feeling as if part of his soul had been amputated, as had his limbs.

A common theme in literature explores issues of sameness, and the way the fictional twins together embody an enclosed twin system. The authors describe the life of the twin pair as stagnant, sterile, lacking in development or direction of one or both twins. Sometimes the attempt by one of the twin pair to separate from the other twin will even lead to the death of the second twin, to enable the separating twin to be free and thrive. But sometimes the fictional separated twins both wither and die, as if they are unable to live as individuals.

Bruce Chatwin (1982) describes such MZ twins who remain trapped in their deathly twinship while their mother is alive, but become free to develop a little more after her death. Lewis and Ben look identical and are hard to tell apart. They are a sterile pair, bound to their mother on a farm. Any outsider in the relationship is regarded as a threat. They feel each other’s pain, even if apart. They are inseparable and have a secret language, “of the angels”. They are like two parts of one person. Lewis would like to travel but when he goes away, Ben finds it unmanageable. They finally manage to become like a productive couple only after mother dies and they share her bed. They become involved with a nephew who becomes a surrogate child to them, and they emerge to some extent from the crippling twinship into a pseudo-productive couple.

Patrick White (1966) writes of the deathly struggle of DZ twins, unable to separate and even in death the survivor feels fatally wounded. Walter and Arthur live together in the parental home after their parents have died. Waldo is clever and feels superior, while Arthur is considered a bungling fool. Waldo experiences his twin brother as a suppurating wound. Arthur is generous and loves Waldo. Unbeknown to Waldo, Arthur goes to the library and reads Dostoevsky and other great books. Arthur also manages to have relationships with women. “Arthur is the backward one.  That was the way the relationship had been arranged. Of the twins. The twin brothers. Waldo had wanted it. Waldo is the one who takes the lead. Joining them together at the hand. And because Waldo needed it that way, only the knife could sever it.” (p. 256) After Waldo dies, Arthur is lost, wandering around the city, feeling unable to survive without his twin.

This theme of twins bound in the twinship as described above, represents the massive anxieties of a fear of annihilation that may threaten twins as they try to become their own separate persons, emerging form the psychic retreat of the twinship.

In some books, the twins remain stuck in their enmeshed twin relationship, more happily; in others there is a greater degree of resolution of personal identity for each of the twins. Themes of narcissism and incest are common in the literature on twins (as in Arundhati Roy’s “A God of Small Things”), and the search for identity both individually and as a twin is a potent theme throughout. Separateness and commonality are persistent dialectical dilemmas and are felt to be essential to the social nature of man. Twins incarnate these dilemmas and are thus a very useful tool in literature.

A major aspect in the use of twins in literature is the exploration of issues about to the possibilities life offers us and what we, individually, do with life events. Using the device of twins who begin life together within a particular (though not the same) environment, we see that for each of the literary twins (whether MZ, DZ or different sex) their lives diverge and differ. They may flourish or fail. We read what choices each twin makes, and how this affects the development of each of them as an individual person. As Ann Morgan (2016) suggests, “they [twins in literature] throw up questions about our uniqueness, and the chances and choices that make us who we are”. Twins show us how we might have taken different paths in life and may have been different. The issue of doubles or near-sameness is used to explore identity in terms of what we might have become. Two similar people (twins) born at the same time and perhaps sharing a high degree of genetic identity, take different paths. So given who we are, might we have made different choices, and would that other choice have led us somewhere different?

Finally I will describe an enmeshed and idealised twin relationship of a pair of MZ twin women who are performance artists.


Liesbeth and Angelique Raeven are MZ twins and are potent examples of an enmeshed and crippling twin relationship from which neither can escape. They were born in 1971, in Heerlen, the Netherlands. They work together as performance artists and collaborate under the name L.A.Raeven. L.A. stands for Liesbeth and Angelique and they perform together under one name. The focus of their art is their bodies and they call it “aesthetic terrorism”, as their art is directed at the perceived images of themselves. They focus on two aspects of themselves – their extreme thinness is used to address the way the fashion industry portrays women ideally as super-thin; secondly, their twinship and their similarity in appearance is used to draw attention to the way twins are perceived as “cute”. They both maintain and use their extreme thin-ness and their enmeshed twin relationship, to draw attention to these factors.

It is difficult to discern what belongs to their own pathology and what is created for their art as they try to draw attention to thinness and twinship as seen by others. Although both twins are unnaturally thin, they become angry at the idea that they are anorexic. Nevertheless, they engage in compelling eating rituals, keeping themselves emaciated to the point of being unhealthy/ill, and making sure neither one eats more that the other. I have seen a video of them actually counting out and matching up the pieces of diced ham in a shared packet of pea and ham soup. They are locked into the fact that they are twins, and seem to be unable to move out of the enclosed twin relationship into one that would allow them more separateness and individuality, and normal lives.

In their late teens they separated for six years. Angelique went to work as an assistant to the fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, while Liesbeth became a nurse,and then moved into the art world. The fashion world is notorious for its ultra-thin women and Angelique would have felt quite well placed amongst them. In contrast, Liesbeth felt that she became healthy at that time and she gained weight, and looked more normal. However, she felt so unhappy alone that she left and was reunited with Angelique in the twin relationship. With the twinship restored, she felt more at ease. She feels there is no friend or lover to whom she could feel as close to as she does to Angelique.

Thus, their attempts to create separate lives and careers failed, they say, because people still treated them as one person. Apparently they gave up the attempt to live separate lives in order to try to prove, contradictorily, that they were two individuals – an odd idea given that they now perform under one name and use their “freakishness” as grossly underweight twins, together weighing what one person would weigh, to prove this.

“We were so irritated by this twin image, but after 10 years of suffering, you know you are denying yourself what you really want [a telling phrase]. But you still feel: ‘Are they interested in me because I’m a twin or because I’m interesting?’” says Liesbeth. Angelique agrees. “After 10 years, we knew we had to do something to make our views clear, and it was more fruitful than working alone.”

Like the “Silent Twins” (Marjorie Wallace, 1966) – June and Jennifer Gibbons – Liesbeth and Angelique are engaged in a life-death struggle with each other in an attempt to deal with their impossibly enmeshed twinship. Their first important video installation (2001) was called, ‘You are me’, and it was based on the true story of the British silent twin sisters.  They both long for separateness but also fear it. They seem to be so entwined that the only way out of the imprisoning twinship would be the death of one of them, but as with conjoined twins, that would also feel like the death of the other. In videos, Liesbeth and Angelique watch each other intensely and move almost in synchrony. They believe that being twins gives them more power, and they are committed to being in total control, over each other and their viewers.

Their videos reflect how they feel bound in their love-hate twinship.  Liesbeth and Angelique exemplify an enmeshed twin state. They are edgy and argumentative together, and seem neither to be able to live harmoniously together, nor to separate and live apart. Together they support each other through a mix of love and hate. It seems that their anorexic eating rituals both bind them in a deadly relationship that offers no hope of development, but also keeps them both alive – just.

Some of this is reflected in their art videos, as when one seems to be trying to drown the other while swimming. Neither seems to have achieved the awareness of separateness that would be necessary for the development of individual selves and lives. It would involve an acknowledgement of the necessity of the loss of the enmeshed twinship, allowing them to mourn either their intimate togetherness, or even the death of one of them. Without the wish for a greater degree of separation between them, mourning would not be possible. Instead they cling to a stultifying world, making an art form of it, but their art seems to be rooted in a perverse depiction of life in an enmeshed twinship rather than based on creativity.

Despite their wish to depict themselves as “terrorists” against the desirable images of thin women and twins as cute, they treat their twinship and their extreme thinness like a fetish, to be admired, longed for, bound to, perhaps worshipped. Like any fetish, it does not provide an opportunity for growth and development. Rather, it binds the individuals in a deathly embrace.

Liesbeth and Angelique are obsessed with their sense of identity. A few years ago they became engaged in dramatic events when Angelique became so malnourished that she almost died and had been sectioned by the authorities to save her life.  While Angelique was in hospital, Liesbeth was so stricken with the loss of her twin sister she too felt as if she was dying. As a result of Angelique’s malnourishment, her bones became fragile and her spine fractured. She is now 8 cm (almost 3 inches) shorter than she used to be. After this Angelique thought she was ugly and she did not want to work with Liesbeth in the way she used to.  This difference between them affected their working relationship.

Angelique and Liesbeth describe the way in which both live and work together, and have done so for the many years, as a “symbiotic relationship”. They do everything together. Their strange, almost synchronised, behaviour is as disturbing as their stick-thin physical appearance. Although they claim to be educating us about the evils of extreme thinness and idealizing twinship, the twin sisters refer to themselves as ‘twins gone bad’. Their enclosed twin world involves and is maintained by rituals and tiny constant power struggles that they publicise and call their art. Angelique states ‘Together we are strong and in harmony, apart we are like only half a person.’

One of their newer art pieces called “Mindless Living” reflects how enmeshed their twinship is. As quoted on their website (unfortunately no longer available),

“In their work they question and critique the idealized images of women advocated by the mass-media. L.A. Raeven displays the downside of the norms and values shown by these images. They demonstrate, in a way close to self-harm, the often thin line existing between being ideal or distorted….The exhibition ‘Mindless Living’ presents two symbioses next to each other. In ‘Mindless Living I’ the symbiosis in which L.A. Raeven has lived for years is shown by an installation consisting of a circular chair with a hypnotic film for adults.”

Liesbeth then had a baby (the paternity and details of this are not disclosed) and they have prepared a second art installation, now reflecting the “symbiotic” relationship between Liesbeth and her baby. She says she suddenly and unexpectedly found herself pregnant and they found this beautiful. This new work on symbiotic relationships is entitled “Mindless Living 11”. In it the baby will be placed in a womb-like cot with smells, consistency and sounds reflecting those of the womb, so the baby will feel it is back in the womb, still unborn.

Again from their website,

“With the new installation ‘Mindless Living II’ L.A. Raeven wants to conclude their former symbiosis and start a new one: the symbiosis between mother and child. Normally, this symbiosis has a positive meaning, but in ‘Mindless Living II’ it is carried on too far. In the installation the baby is reminded of his time in the womb. While lying in the womb cradle the baby will be brought into a minor trance, hearing a text which is undermining his confidence in order to stay into a symbiosis with his mother. The baby will be influenced in everything preventing him to find his own way. As a result the baby wants to stay in the save (sic) warm place of the womb.

 “Mindless Living II’ shows the friction between letting go and protecting a child, in which a healthy balance needs to be found in order to mature into a happy and independent individual.”

So Angelique and Liesbeth write as if they understand the malfunction that they are trying to illuminate, but they seem to be unable to actually deal with these developmental issues in themselves. What they call a “symbiotic” relationship (one that enables and is beneficial to both parties) looks more like a parasitic one, in which each partner is not only dependent on the other for survival but at the same time they keep each other in a relentlessly weakened state of mind and body, only just surviving.

These installations reflect not only the usual tensions as a baby develops into its own person, but also the experience of the womb-like twinship where both Liesbeth and Angelique remain unborn as individuals, and the way their lack of personal development has affected their view of the baby. It is as if the baby is no more than an extension of Liesbeth and must be the same as her, as the twinship has been projected into the baby and she twins with her baby.

Both these later works reflect the difficulties these twins face in finding and leading separate lives, their lack of growth and development as individuals, and their clinging to a narcissistic twin state. Likewise it seems that they hope Liesbeth’s baby will be kept bound to his mother instead of becoming a separate independent person. They feel utterly bound in their stifling twin relationship, but cling to it, as they fear that separateness would endanger their lives. Separation would arouse the fear of annihilation that is expressive of primitive, unformed states of mind where boundaries are too porous to enable the individual to have a sense of being safe in her own skin – a mature sense of self that is not totally dependent on a twin or mother.

Thus their latest works, as the early ones, exemplify an enmeshed, deathly twin relationship that prevents growth and development.

L.A.Raeven claim to be artists challenging our aesthetic values. If art represents a symbolic transformation of internal processes, then in contrast, L.A.Raeven could be seen as concretising their difficulties by making a display of their anorexic eating rituals, their mindless art works, and their deadly enmeshed twin relationship.


Concluding comments:

I want to draw together the main issues about twin relationships.

Central are the internal dynamics of twin relationships, their origins and the factors that influence them, and our enduring fascination with twins based on our own early experiences.

Twins have a life-long internal relationship which may shift from the narcissistic end of the spectrum where they feel enmeshed with each other in, and dependent on, the twinship; to the companionable area where they continue to regard the twinship as important but are able to find individual identities and separate lives.

The deep internal relationship between twins is based on early sensate experiences laid in preverbal, inexpressible memories, not only the early experiences with mother, but importantly the biological resonances and sensory experiences twins have with each other, beginning in utero. The inter-twin dynamics may be affected and sometimes re-inforced by external factors, starting with parental input, siblings, and the wider outside world. Our perceptions of twins will affect the development of the twins within the twinship.

Several themes that outline the factors that affect the development of twins have permeated the discussion

1.Between the twins:

a. early sensate experiences between them

b. companionship – an unparalleled companionship

c. rivalry – intense competition

d. complex early and later patterns of relating that are different fro other siblings

e. identity development as both twins and separate individuals, and the establishment of discrete boundaries between them


2. Between the twins and mother, father, siblings and others:

a. attention given to each twin

b. language development according to maternal speech patterns

c. individuality dependent on quality of personal attention to each

d. separateness and togetherness – a balance in the twinship in relation to their other attachments


3. The projections by all those outside the twin relationship based on our own early experiences onto the twin pair.



If we, as parents, siblings, family, society, psychoanalytic practitioners can deepen our understanding of the twin relationship and of how our perceptions shape and influence the worlds of twins, we can enable twins to develop more successfully towards maturity within the twin relationship rather than remain stuck in a narcissistic system of twinship. For psychoanalysts this must mean a central focus on the analysis of the twin transference as one of the primary object relationships in the lives of twins.



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(December 2016)

This is the English version of a paper that appeared in Geschwister, published in September/October 2017 under the title “Faszinosum Zwillinge: ganz besondere Geschwister”, Psyche – Z Psychoanalytic 71, 2017, 865-897


[1]There is a substantial amount of literature on the subject of doubles and the evil that may ensue from their appearance. Doubles are regarded as harbingers of death and are accompanied by a profound sense of the uncanny, as described by Sigmund Freud (1919) and (Otto Rank (1971).