The malign twin syndrome

Published on 5 February 2023 at 14:02


Over many years of clinical psychotherapeutic practice, I have noticed a recurrent syndrome that I call that of the malign twin. In this constellation, one sibling, driven by primitive envy, rivalry, greed, and malice, seeks to manoeuvre another sibling into the role of container of all that is bad, vulnerable, or sick. The result is that the victim is rendered invalid, and typically becomes excluded and relegated to a very limited life and role – yet must be maintained in that position in order to continue to function as a container for unwanted aspects of the perpetrator sibling. Such interpersonal manoeuvres are partly, but not completely, unconscious. Sometimes other members of the family are unconsciously recruited to collude with these processes of projective identification. The unwanted aspects of the perpetrator are projected into the target sibling but must then be controlled – the target must not be allowed freedom to live her own life and fulfil their potential.

This process does have some similarity to that of coercive control, a dynamic in a couple relationship that is now a crime in the UK and might indeed be considered a variant of this. There are a number of such patterns in which a person is coercively recruited to function as a means of regulating the emotional economy of another person - at great cost to the victim's mental health. In families, the malign twin syndrome seems to occur more frequently with female perpetrators, possibly because of their greater capacity and sophistication in covert emotional combat (male aggression and rivalry tending to be more crude and direct).

The grooming of the victim occurs over a matter of years, often exploiting the goodwill and innocence of the victim, who does not perceive the malevolence of the perpetrator. The latter will show some signs of psychopathy, but this may be very hidden. To some extent, the motives are banal – a wish to triumph and accrue material benefits such as money and resources, to enhance influence and power within the family, and other attractions and compensations that appeal to the impoverished soul.

At a deeper level, the process follows ancient patterns of sacrifice to the gods, and scapegoating – the literal selection of a goat to carry the sins and potential misfortune of the tribe and be driven out – and certain forms of black magic, all of which are intended to divert karma and misfortune away from the perpetrators and displace them onto the victim. These processes are both psychological and energetic. The intense envy and hatred, sometimes largely unconscious, can bring about real energetic and physical changes in the body and life of the victim.

The malign twin syndrome is not of course restricted to twins but can be found in sibling dynamics more widely, and also within couples, organisations and social groups. The perpetrator will generally be perceived as good and kind, and will believe their own carefully curated self-image. This is narcissistic pathology at its worst (Mollon, 2020).

Energy psychotherapy interventions might include the following three key components: 1. achieving enhanced awareness and understanding of these dynamics; 2. psychically and energetically returning what has been projectively installed, and taking back what has been stolen; 3. installation of healthy energetic boundaries.

Phil Mollon

Psychoanalyst and Energy Psychotherapist


Mollon, P. (2020). Pathologies of the Self: Exploring Narcissistic and Borderline States of Mind. London. Confer.