Although distinctiveness theory has a wide arena of applications for small groups in terms of their members’ social identity, and these implications present ample opportunity for empirical and applied research into media, social media and advertising avenues, I simply cannot write about this without trying to work out ongoing issues I have with my identical twin girls.
Identical twins are formed when an egg is fertilized to be one child and that egg splits after fertilization making what was once one, two. Can you imagine having to live your entire life with a second you always right there? Self-definition becomes cloudy because while you define yourself, and you understand your own tastes, groups, and etc., there is a continual other force acting upon you, and when it is there from birth, it becomes part of yourself. My kids, for instance, fight all the time. But they fight as if they are fighting themselves. It’s creepy to watch, to be honest.
Vignoles et. al (2000) adapted a 1985 definition of identity as follows: “the subjective concept of oneself as a person, and therefore a form of representation” (340). Despite my best efforts against this (I dress them differently, their names are not similar, etc.), and although I’m sure it will lessen as they age, my twins, at five, subconsciously define themselves as DulceandNatalina. Therefore, if Dulce wants to do something, Natalina must also do it. If she decides not to do it, Dulce is distressed, not because she doesn’t have a companion, but because she can’t understand why her own self doesn’t want to do what she wants to do. If one of them is having a snack, the other must. If the other is not hungry, the first will opt to forego the food as well. And these are tame examples. Falling not far from the proverbial tree, my kids tend to be extreme.
So that I can see firsthand what Vignoles et. al mean when they state, based on research by Apter (1983), “developmental studies have suggested that the distinction between self and others arises very early in life in association with other dimensions of identity. Furthermore, the absence of this distinction is experienced as a loss of self in some forms of psychosis” (341). I’m not calling my kids crazy, mind you, I’m just saying. When observed in the moment it appears that an intense battle over their mismatched identities (self identity vs. identity as a twin) takes place, and very rarely does the self win out. Because of this, confusion and irrationality can reign as they constantly try to pull their twin into themselves. This draws upon another statement in Vignoles’ paper: “I cannot have a sense of who I am without a sense of who I am not, which entails distinctiveness” (340). Without a sense of who they are not (the other twin), my girls can get easily lost in everyday decisions.
Vignoles says that distinctiveness is imperative to a meaningful sense of identity. As my twins attempt to attain this, the road becomes ever more winding. As a parent, I am not allowed to spend more time with one than the other. In fact, I cannot even compliment one with a bland “good job” without the other one throwing a fit. As they try to come to terms with the fact that they are separate human beings, rather than accept their uniqueness and individuality, they seem themselves as opposite sides of the same pole. So that a compliment to one is a disparagement to the other. Saying “you’ve done a good job” to one means “you’ve done a poor job” to the other. Saying “good girl” to one means “bad girl” to the other. The refrain “you’re different girls” has been repeated in this house thousands of times in the past few years, to no avail, of course.
However, there is obviously some form of self-identity within the twins. Vignoles uses individualism vs. relational orientation to explain differences between Western and Eastern cultures and retain the cohesive value of the theory when taken globally. I’d like to very unscientifically take those (individualism being where distinctiveness is determined by separateness from others and unique qualities, and relational being where distinctiveness relies on position within your social sphere) and apply them to two (tiny) individuals as opposed to vast cultures. Because my twins may very well still have retained some form of distinctiveness at this point in their lives, simply a more relational type.
While my kids may not show differences in physical characteristics, they do clearly display differences in terms of traits, abilities and opinions, despite their denial of this. What they are truly lacking at this point is separateness. They cannot separate one from the other in terms of their very selves, and yet, as a unit, they see that this categorization of twins separates them from everyone else, further entrenching their combined identity issues. The easiest path to distinctiveness within them would be to concentrate on position, perhaps. By emphasizing that one is the sister or the twin of the other, maybe it will further imply that because the sister is the object in that sentiment, they truly cannot be the same person. In this way, perhaps Gao was right in 1996 when he said “self is defined by a person’s surrounding relations which are often derived from kinship networks and supported by cultural values” (83). Of course, since this is Confucianism meant in the context of Eastern cultures, as a parent, I’ll probably have to find another way.