Joan Friedman uncovers the deeper discourse of twins in what is a uniquely frank discussion of what twins often feel when dealing with each other and the world. It is true that others, including parents, can idealize the twin reality and this can impart unrealistic expectations. To be sure, being a twin can represent a hidden struggle in which the ideal of a soul mate does not always allow for twins to be their own person, carve out their particular destiny and even in certain situations leave the other twin behind. Ultimately, all individuals, twins included, must become their own person.
The Same But Different by Joan A. Friedman, Los Angeles, Rocky Pines Press.
The author writes from several perspectives. She has a twin sister although it is not clear whether they are mono- or dizygotic twins (I suspect Monozygotic though). In this regard, she felt that she participated in a false closeness with her sister to mask their actual individuality. The author also writes from a social work and psychoanalytic perspective from her practice in which she has specialized in twin issues. This provides the book with a rich and unique depth.
My concern with many of the issues that Dr. Friedman describes in detail, however, is that she describes them in overly broad terms. For instance, it is true that twins can feel disloyal and hateful if they want to be different but there are many that manage their lives without these pulls and underlying tensions between togetherness and autonomy. I wonder whether she takes her cue from a psychotherapeutic context, which is shaped by the population she is seeing. In this regard, Dr. Friedman articulates that most of her twin clients call her because they are having difficulty with their twin relationship. Hence, it is a biased group.
Perhaps society in some way considers twins to be special, idealized or romanticized. This did not stop the government of Canada, however, from turning down an application from the parent of twins to double the parental leave to handle the demands two babies simultaneously were causing. In other words, although multiple births, especially in the higher range, are cause for special attention, this idealization might not be such a general conclusion. Thus, I do not agree that the mystique regarding twins is as pervasive as the author describes, especially as more are born now that during any previous time in history due to fertility treatments.
It is not surprising perhaps that the author sees the “sameness” in twins as a special burden. On the other hand, I noted that when she spoke about the Winklevoss twins who sued Mark Zuckenberg that she quotes one of them as saying that they focus on what differentiates them not how they are alike. Yes, the media emphasized their sameness but the twins themselves did not follow suit. Her general point though is that the obligation of symmetry, especially in identical twins, could well create a conflict that interferes with identity. This is certainly a risk and makes sense from what she aptly describes.
I found myself often debating with the cultural norms Dr. Friedman describes until I thought that perhaps she is really describing parental expectations and not society in general. For example, certain parents might consciously or unconsciously expect their twins to walk through life in lockstep in a way that exceeds expectations placed on singleton siblings. This might not be the case, however, across the board. This “ultraclose” relationship would of course be stifling and might well lead to a request for therapy. Hence, she sees a parallel between certain twin relationships and a co-dependent married couple in a dysfunctional relationship. This might be true in some cases but to consider it a widespread phenomenon might pathologize the twin situation too much.
Hence, the book has many applications for therapists seeing twin problems in psychotherapy. The book offers a wealth of clinical examples that help explain just how complicated and difficult the twin experience can be. Implicitly, she underscores how important it is for parents of multiples to dig deep in their own self reflection and make sure that they uncover attitudes and expectations that will only burden their children and leave them less likely to develop into healthy individuals.
Dr. Freidman’s observation that caretaking siblings might be filling in for gaps created by parents is extrapolated to the twin situation. Obviously this has personal and professional relevance for the author. She makes the point that caretaking is different from caring, which is an important distinction. Loving another does not have to mean taking responsibility for their lives.
The Same But different is an important addition to the literature on multiple births and the psychological problems and challenges twins can face. The premise of the book is that twins must work through the myths of being a twin in order to facilitate individuality Succumbing to unconscious expectations and conflicts regarding being a twin can complicate their lives. My own impression is that boy-girl twins are less likely to fall into some of the traps the author portrays. How this pertains to triplet and quad situations would also be interesting to explore.
I would recommend this book not only for twins who are suffering in ways the author describes, but also for parents of twins. In addition, professionals who work with this population will be well served by reading this book. My only concern is that the book generalizes from the specific situations Dr. Friedman has faced personally or with her client sample to the general situation. The role of parents’ expectations is an often implicit or hidden factor that runs through the book. Whatever its few limits, however, the book is fascinating, moving and at times disturbing. Dr. Friedman has shared her wealth of experience, which is a real contribution to the multiple birth literature.
Lynda P. Haddon