Dear Director: Resiliency

We don’t get it. We adopted our 11-year-old identical twin daughters when they were 18 months old. We know they were exposed to the same trauma due to severe neglect. We see one struggling with trauma related issues so much more than the other. She always seems to need to be in control, gets easily upset, has difficulty sleeping, and has just started stealing from us. We have heard that some children can be more resilient than others. It’s hard to understand though since they are identical twins. How can we help our struggling twin to become more resilient, like her sister? 

Nature vs. Nurture

At a simple level, biology says you’re a product of your genes and your environment—or nature and nurture. But the explanation is trickier when you consider identical twins raised in the same home, even in an abusive and/or neglectful home.  Whether it be an orphanage that did not provide adequate care, or in a birth home where the parent or parents were unable to properly care for the children, each one will indeed react differently to the way they were treated. 

Identical twins, though they start with the same genes, likely develop different personalities in the same environment partially based on how they interact with their environment. This lived experience, in turn, probably changes their genes: Previous research has found that human identical twins accumulate epigenetic changes as they age, making them more dissimilar over time. In this way, small initial personality differences could snowball—changing behavior, which changes the brain.  They also may have experienced very different neglect up until the age of 18 months.  That is a long time to experience neglect as the brain grows extremely rapidly during this time of a child’s life.  

Embrace her difference

So instead of trying to help your struggling twin be more resilient like her sister, focus on helping her be resilient differently than her sister.  Listen to and observe her cues. Watch what she tends to do that calms her and helps her cope.  You may find that something that works for your currently more resilient twin does not and may never work for your other twin.  Watching, listening, and observing is the way to go.  Learn from trial and error and attune to your twin who is facing more challenges so you can find what works for her.  There is bound to be something different there that works!  The key word being different.  

Special thanks to Bryna Sherr for stepping into the Mighty Director's shoes this month. 
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