The Twin in The Transference – Introductory chapter

The Twin in The Transference – Introductory chapter

The universal phantasy of having a twin originates in our earliest relational experiences. This book is about twins and twinning processes. The existence of an actual twin, alive or dead, may be experienced as an embodiment of the phantasy of having a twin, with developmental consequences. Twinning processes in twins lead to the creation of an internal twin relationship that is enduring. The twin relationship may be at the narcissistic end of the spectrum leading to an enmeshed twinship, or it may be a more mature object relationship. All twin relationships will be manifest in the transference relationship with the analyst. The twin transference has been largely neglected in the psychoanalytic literature, to the detriment of our understanding of dynamic processes in twin patients. In this book, case material is used to explore the nature of the twin transference relationship and the necessity of analysing the twin transference, as well as maternal and paternal transference relationships.

Introduction: – Why study twins?

Twins both fascinate and disturb us, and we tend to attribute special qualities to their relationship. In this book I will explore what lies behind this special interest.

Our fascination with twins is linked with the universal urge towards twinning. The phantasy of having a twin is ubiquitous and is based on developmental factors linked with essential loneliness, a longing to be known, and the creation of a sense of self within a primary object relationship. The specialness with which we regard twins stems in part from our narcissistic wish to be totally understood and merged with an object, as well as from a sense of the un-canniness of the double. I believe that an examination of both the general nature of twinning and of twinning processes as experienced by and exacerbated in actual twins, may lead to a greater understanding of developmental processes in both singletons and twins.

Twins excite all sorts of feelings and responses in others and are a source of considerable interest both scientifically and in everyday life. There are many books about twins. There are those written by a twin either to celebrate twinship, or to commemorate or compensate for the loss of a twin, either pre- or post-natally, at any and all ages. Parents of twins write about their experience of bringing up twins, both the pleasures and difficulties that they encounter. Scientists of all descriptions have studied twins for decades in the hope of learning the secrets of inheritability and the progress of both individual development and diseases. Children’s books explore the many facets and functions of a phantasy twin through the twinships of the children in the story.

In one sense I am writing this book as an outsider &endash; I am not a twin, nor am I immediately related to one. However, in my analytic experience as a transference twin, I am an insider with an outsider’s perspective. As a psychoanalytic psychotherapist I have worked individually with a number of adult patients who have a twin, and through this route I have discovered the impact of the twin relationship on the analytic transference relationship. As a result, I have become particularly interested in twinning processes in both twins and singletons. The analysis of the transference twin seems to have been largely neglected in the psychoanalytic literature. This book is about the creation of the twin in the transference and its implications for psychoanalytic work.

While the parents provide a developmental framework for each infant, relationships with siblings offer an opportunity to negotiate and manage peer social relationships. In fact, the existence of siblings propels us into having to confront issues that are not encountered in the parent-child relationship (Mitchell, 2000). The tensions in sibling relationships and between children and their parents are more intense in twins because of the absence of an age gap between the twins. While the twinship lacks the developmental advantages offered by the age difference between non-twin siblings, the twin relationship does provide an opportunity for unparalleled companionship and for an understanding without words reminiscent of the earliest relationship with mother.

The existence of a twin may even ameliorate developmental difficulties in situations of maternal unavailability or neglect. However a sound ‘friendship’ is not necessarily a feature of the twin relationship. Many factors will affect how the twin relationship develops, and the extent to which each twin within the relationship develops a companionable rather than a narcissistic relationship with the other twin. Siblings and others may envy the closeness of twins, and the twins may use the twinship to create a barrier between themselves and the parents. I will trace some of these factors through this book.

This book is based on the premise that no two people are identical, not even monozygotic twins. To believe that they are identical is a defence against difference and separateness, whatever the genetic make-up of the twins. There are, to a greater or lesser extent, genetic, psychological and behavioural differences between twins, as well as similarities. However, each twin has to struggle with his/her own processes of development to carve out a personal sense of identity. For each twin, this individuality will overlap to varying degrees with that of the other twin, and this may lead to aspects of a shared identity.

There are two central hypotheses that I plan to explore in this book:

1. Twins are fundamentally affected in their emotional development by the fact of being a twin.

I am taking as a base the Kleinian view that the phantasies of the breast and of the parental couple are innate and are central to the development of each individual. Where then do the other twin and siblings fit in? I believe that the indelible twin relationship is linked with the infant’s earliest experiences with both mother and twin, including during the prenatal period. The central internal structure that gives us a sense of identity would be developed through the infant’s relationships primarily with its mother and, later, its father, and its acceptance of an oedipal parental couple of a different generation. For twins, this internal structure would be more complicated.

The presence of the other twin leads to a situation in which mother and twins create a triad (prior to the oedipal triad), rather than the dyadic relationship that exists for singletons. As a result, for twins there would be three pair relationships: mother&endash;twin 1, mother&endash;twin 2, and twin 1&endash; twin 2. The initial developmental process, say for twin 1, would be shaped both by the relationship with mother and by the relationship with twin 2. The relationship with twin 2 could theoretically be on a continuum between sibling rivalry and merging, and would include twin 1’s perception of the twin 2&endash;mother relationship. It is through this complex structure that each twin will develop a sense of identity.

If the twin bond is strong, it will interfere with each infant’s relationship with mother. In addition, mother would be less available to each twin than she would be to a single baby. Whenever she relates to one twin, the other would be at least partially excluded. Placing father in the picture would create six pairs, and four triads, thus complicating the picture further. When mother and father are engaged as a pair, the twins would be excluded, and if awake, they would probably be an interacting pair. If the twins are together, even asleep, it is likely that they would still aware of each other. Awake or asleep, each twin is contributing to the formative experience of the other twin. Thus each twin has to engage with the processes of, and tensions between, separateness and relatedness to both the other twin and to mother, and later to father.

Separation from the other twin would be more problematic than separation from mother as the twinship offers a narcissistic refuge. At times when frustration may feel difficult to tolerate, twins would, to varying degrees, seek gratification from each other, thus filling the gap and avoiding the space that is necessary for the development of symbolic thought. The rather concrete nature of aspects of twin relationships may be linked with this area of lack of symbolisation. There may be a confusion of ego-boundaries between twins and a relative and variable lack of a separate sense of identity. For twins the twinning is not only an external phenomenon. The other twin would be a potent and active internal object, and would be a source of transference manifestations. The emergence of a transference twin in psychoanalytic work would lead to an intense and tenacious relationship between analyst and patient, echoing the internal twinship. This internal twinship is inescapable and lasts for the lifetime of each twin, even after the death of one twin.

The intense sense of closeness between twins is felt by twins to be a special and unique aspect of being a twin. The twin relationship may profoundly affect the resolution of both the early and later oedipal conflicts, thus having a lasting impact on the structure of the inner world of the individual twin. With the acceptance of mother and father as a couple that are not of the generational sameness as the twin couple, development towards the depressive position can proceed. Where such development is hampered, and where there is in any case an additional binding internal relationship with the twin, problems are likely to ensue. The twinship may be used as a ‘psychic retreat’ (Steiner, 1993).

The nature of the infant’s affectional bond with the mother has been shown to affect the development of brain structures connected with emotional relationships (Schore, 1994). I propose that differential brain development ensues as a result of being a twin. With the inescapable presence of the other twin, persistent psychobiological patterns will be created between the twins and in each twin in relation to mother. These psychobiological patterns would affect all their relationships, especially the close relationships such as that of husband and wife, and children.

The internal twinship is a representation of the relationship with an actual twin, alive or dead. The internal twin object is inextricably linked with the ‘self’, as are parental and other sibling imagos. However, the chronological closeness of the twin pair leads to the development of a unique bond with a consequent internal object relationship that is of a different order from other object relationships. Separation from the internal twin may therefore be experienced as a threat to the integrity of the self at a primal level. Analysis of the twin transference would threaten the unity of the internal twin pair and may be resisted by the patient, even when desirous of separateness from the actual twin.

2. Twinship is generally sidelined and treated as largely irrelevant in current psychoanalytic practice.

Despite Freud’s (1900) recognition of the importance and permanence of sibling relationships in our internal world, twins and siblings have been neglected in psychoanalysis. As a result the presence of the twin in the transference is largely ignored, or is paid insufficient attention by many analysts. I propose that there may be two possible explanations for this lack of proper attention to the transference twin:

a. It may be that analysts underplay the significance of the twin relationship because they are in collusion with the (twin) patient who feels driven to maintain and to defend the twinship against any interference in it, even when overtly seeking to separate from the twin. Separation from the twin may be experienced as extremely threatening, even catastrophic, as it exposes the patient to a loss of known boundaries, with the consequent fear of dropping into a void or ‘nameless dread’ (Bion, 1962a). This may result in a narcissistic collusion between analyst and patient, echoing the narcissistic twinship, and designed to maintain the ‘special’ relationship between them and to cover up the painful and difficult developmental matters that are being avoided by the patient. As I hope to demonstrate, the tendency of some analysts to justify this enactment supports the view that there is a cover-up of a state that is too painful to recognise.

b. It may also be that the analyst’s recognition of the central importance of the twin relationship and hence of the transference twin, would lead to an experience of the analyst feeling threatened with a loss of parental authority and power. To ‘actualise’ (Sandler, 1976) the transference twin involves the analyst in becoming, at least momentarily, a rivalrous clinging sibling rather than a more distant and powerful parental figure with enhanced capacities for understanding. Together with the twin patient’s anxieties about separateness and difference, recognition of the twinning and the creation of ‘sameness’ between the analytic pair may cause the analyst considerable discomfort.

There is another perplexing issue that seems to occur almost without comment or question by either professionals or the wider public. I have heard of instances, most commonly amongst monozygotic twins, in which the twins are regarded, and regard themselves, as interchangeable as mothers. Thus we hear of a woman suing for the custody of her twin sister’s child after the death of the twin (Nancy Segal, 2001) on the basis that they are assumed to be genetically identical and therefore interchangeable. This notion ignores the fact of difference in genetically similar (not identical) twins and suggests that we are no more than a product of our genes. It is genetic determinism gone mad.

Somewhat more frequently one hears of a mother giving her new infant to her twin sister who has lost a child. Perhaps the rivalry in the twin mothers is appeased in this way, but the ‘gift’ is made in the face of the fact that the infant is the child of one, not both mothers. Surprisingly it seems to raise little comment. The delusional belief in the idea that twins are interchangeable, notably as mothers, is based on a lack of differentiation in both the twin pair and in the public eye. The twin mothers are seen as having achieved the perfect, universally longed for state of at-oneness with another. It is as if twinship has been elevated to a magical sphere where reality is ignored and the ‘rules’ regarding relationships are unique.


For the sake of brevity and convenience, I will throughout this book refer to twins as MZ (monozygotic &endash; single-egg twins), DZ (dizygotic &endash; two-egg twins) and Dzo (dizygotic, opposite sex twins). I use the term ‘identical’ or ‘non-identical’ twin only in relation to the underlying dynamic processes that are active at any particular moment, and not to describe the genetic status of the twins. While there are certain to be differences in the development of each of these types of twins as a result of their zygocity, I have found that the emotional processes explored in analytic work do not particularly reflect this difference. Twinning processes go on in each type of twinship and are reflected in the transference relationships with the analyst and in many other relationships.

This book is essentially an analysis of the transference twin and its origins. I will therefore use the term ‘analysis’ when referring to both published descriptions of a traditional psycho-analysis by a psycho-analyst, and also to the wrk of both psychoanalytic psychotherapists and psycho-analysts who are analysing the twin transference. Thus I use the term ‘analyst’ throughout this book in a generic sense for any practitioner who works psychoanalytically. This nomenclature addresses the main focus of the book and avoids the clumsiness of having to distinguish between ‘psycho-analyst’ and ‘psychoanalytic psychotherapist’. My aim is to understand the processes involved in the twin relationship from a psychoanalytic point of view, whatever the training of the practitioner.

In Section 1 I will outline developmental processes in relation to twinning and twins. Section 2 examines analytic work wit twins and the associated transference phenomena. In section 3 I will explore the enduring nature of the twinship.