Highly Sensitive Refuge
A highly sensitive person and her twin sister

Double Sensitivity: What It’s Like Being a Highly Sensitive Twin

I’m a highly sensitive person and my twin is not. Sometimes I wonder if I have double the sensitivity for us both!

Whenever I tell anyone that I’m a twin, I invariably end up answering lots of enthusiastic questions. Twins are a source of intrigue, and I’ve answered the same questions so often that I no longer need to think before giving the answers.

My sister and I are fraternal twins, which means we’re not identical. We don’t share a psychic bond or feel each other’s pain, although we are very close. We share 50 percent of our genes, and both have brown hair and pale skin, but we are two distinct personalities. I’m a highly sensitive person and my sister is not. (Sometimes I even wonder if I have double the sensitivity!)

When you grow up as a twin, people treat you as though you’re special and different. Despite not being identical, very often people would treat us as if we were the same person. They’d assume we liked the same things and would even refer to us as “the twins” — yet we were quite different.

I remember struggling with my twin identity. When I was very young, I sometimes wondered why I was so different to my sister when twins were meant to be the same. At the age of seven, I even asked my mother to stop dressing us in the same outfits; I didn’t want to be recognized as a “twin,” but as my own person. And when I had sensitive moments growing up, my twin was dismissive more than anything, puzzled by my strong reactions. I was so caught up in believing that I was weak for behaving the way I did, that after sensitive moments we’d just avoid each other if we could and not discuss it any further. I couldn’t ask for support at that stage because I didn’t believe I deserved it! These were the primary struggles I had as a highly sensitive twin.

3 Struggles I Had as a Highly Sensitive Twin

1. I preferred a calm bedroom environment while my twin did not.

I shared a room with my twin sister until I moved out of the family home in my 20s. Looking back now, I wonder how I’d lasted so long. I grew up without my own space and struggled to have alone time, both of which are vital to an HSP’s well-being.  

In my teens, for example, after a full day of exams, all I’d want is to retreat into a book. But my twin would have a computer game console hooked up to the TV and she’d play diligently for hours, working through the game’s levels. Highly sensitive people have a nervous system that processes sensory input very deeply. Sharing a room fanned the flames of my heightened awareness of — and attention to — subtle stimuli, which is common among HSPs. 

We did each have our own side of the room, although it didn’t really help. My twin’s side was crammed full with cartoon figurines, books, and makeup. She’d roll her eyes when I told her that her neatly stacked piles of books were still clutter to me. All the stuff would overwhelm me: I felt on edge and would struggle to sleep whereas my twin never failed to sleep deeply. And we highly sensitive types need more sleep than the average person due to the nonstop stimulation we experience all day!

2. Birthday parties were a challenge, from the noise-makers to the excess number of guests.

As a twin, people assume you’re two of a kind in every way. Consequently, when it came to birthday parties, up to the age of 10, we’d be given a joint party. Picture a huge communal table to seat 20 children that’s loaded with tiny sandwiches, cupcakes, and fizzy drinks. Think of party games, pop music, balloons, and noise-makers and you’ll get the picture: a highly sensitive person’s nightmare.

My twin coped quite well with the parties, content to spend her time with a small group of her closest friends, whereas I just wanted to be with one friend and play with my presents. I’d muddle through the first half-hour of the party, beyond which the sugar would take hold of my friends and make them boisterous and loud. Suffice it to say, these “happy birthday” parties didn’t make me too happy.

After I turned 11, instead of having a party, I’d go to the movies with a small group of friends to celebrate my birthday. Without the unpredictable external stimuli, I could enjoy the film and dissect the story afterwards with my friends over a burger and fries.

3. While my twin had no problem navigating her friendships, I struggled with mine, absorbing every friend’s emotion.

I had a small group of friends who shared my love of pop music and film. When I reached my teens, I struggled with my friendships; we’d often break up and make up. In an unconscious effort to avoid drama, I found myself acting as the neutral person in the middle who was left to field the quarreling and shoulder the angst and tears.

During the rifts, my energy levels would plummet, as though I were a sponge that had absorbed my friends’ upset. I’d also ruminate over every word in every argument and would think about it long after the event, also something HSPs tend to do.

I couldn’t help but compare my reaction to friendship drama with my twin’s approach. She’d calmly recount similar arguments between her friends and brush off the conflict as though they were errant children whose attitudes she could always adjust. She struggled to grasp why I was so overwhelmed by my friends’ problems, which made me feel like I was overdramatizing all the time (and I swear I wasn’t!).

I’d wonder why I couldn’t be more like my twin, who was unaffected by her friendship ups and downs. I now understand that HSPs absorb the emotions of others due to their empathic qualities, which can leave them feeling drained.

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Finding Common Ground With My Twin

After struggling with a stressful period in my life, I told my twin I’m an HSP and she was the only person who didn’t demand anything of me, she just listened. At that stage, I wanted to share the ways being an HSP affects me and was desperate for her support. My twin was so accepting, was nonplussed really, and took it in her stride. She asked why I hadn’t said something before and said, “It must be a relief to understand what works for you and what doesn’t.”

As I’ve gotten older, and especially since learning more about my highly sensitive qualities, I’ve gained self-knowledge that has helped me to understand my relationship with my twin.

We accept our differences. When we were teens, my twin and I would often spend Saturday afternoons together over summer vacation. When it was her turn to decide how we should spend our time, my twin would always choose bowling when I would choose going to the movies. I dreaded bowling, from the openness of the lanes to the way everyone would watch as I tried aiming for the pins. Rather than be fun, I’d spend most of the time worrying and feeling exposed.

In her book The Highly Sensitive Person, Dr. Elaine Aron explains that performing a physical skill in a group is challenging for HSPs because the arousal from being watched can affect coordination. My bowling ball would roll interminably down the lane’s edge or shoot clear past the triangle of pins. Knowing what I know now about my HSP qualities, I wonder how much of my substandard performance had to do with being highly sensitive.

Over the years, I’ve become more comfortable being open with my twin about situations that cause me distress, and she has been more willing to listen. Although she still can’t understand why I hadn’t said something back then about the bowling, she admitted she hadn’t made it easy (like by suggesting a different event once in a while).

As we’ve matured, we’ve been able to view our differences with acceptance and tolerance. With the distance that comes with leading our own lives, I now understand that our personality traits aren’t wrong or right, they’re just different and that’s OK.

We embrace our common interests. There is one thing that my twin and I have always shared and that is a love of animals. (If you’re highly sensitive, you probably know we HSPs have a special bond with animals!) We’re fortunate that the largest zoo in Europe is a short journey away; every summer, we head out to see the animals.

We still do this, even to this day, although now we work together to accommodate our differences. We’re both introverts, so we like to arrive as soon as the zoo opens in order to avoid the large crowds. My twin will be the one to get in line to order our lunch, knowing that I’ll feel less stressed by grabbing a table for us (far from other people).

We still laugh at the antics of the chimpanzees and marvel at the stealth-like movements of the big cats. My sister will still feel bored watching for the elusive otters and we both know I’ll invariably cry at seeing the baby elephant with its mother. (Because, of course, highly sensitive people can tear up at the littlest thing!) 

Learning about my highly sensitive traits offered explanations for why I reacted the way I did to situations — and still do. 

My HSP tendencies are not the weakness I presumed they were. Instead, they make me who I am: the intuitive and creative twin who values her logical, funny twin sister (even if she has stacks of books everywhere). And, most importantly, I’ve learned that my role in the world isn’t tied to my identity as a twin. Rather, it’s supported by the closeness and perfect differences that we share.

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