It is widely accepted that the causes of obsessive-compulsive disorder involve both genetic and environmental factors, and this theory has been supported by research. While OCD has been known to “run in families,” this doesn’t really tell us whether genes or environment plays a more prominent role in the development of the disorder. Studying twins who were separated at birth affords us the opportunity to separate these two factors. Unfortunately, as far as I know, OCD has never been studied in this manner.
There is no shortage, however, of twins with OCD who’ve been raised together, and I find their experiences fascinating. While their stories might not give us the answers we are looking for (in fact, I think they raise even more questions), they highlight the agony of OCD – times two.
In this YouTube video of identical twins who have undergone deep brain stimulation (DBS), they share how OCD tormented both of them in the same way. At one point the interviewer is trying to understand why they felt compelled to perform their painful compulsions, and one of them said, “It’s like listening to someone who is holding you at gunpoint.” They both felt they had no choice.
In this heartbreaking but ultimately heartwarming story, young twins Ella and Olivia quickly spiraled downward when they developed a sympathetic case of OCD. While initially they had to do everything at the same time, they eventually ended up having violent tantrums and physically hurting each other, as well as their parents. Thankfully they received proper treatment at Child Mind Institute. While they are still working on their treatment, Olivia says, “… we have mostly a normal childhood now.”
As I mentioned above, these examples raise many questions. Does OCD in twins typically appear around the same time, with similar obsessions and compulsions? Is it more common for twins to “work together” or turn against each other when dealing with their OCD? Is it helpful to tackle ERP therapy as a pair? These are just some of the many questions which I believe have yet to be answered.
And as a mom whose son suffered with severe OCD, I can’t help thinking of the parents of twins who share the disorder. I know how overwhelming and frightening it can be to have one gravely ill child, but two, and at the same time? I can’t even imagine.
Thankfully, as I’ve said many times before, we don’t have to completely understand OCD and where it comes from to properly treat it. Whether we are talking about individuals, twins, or a whole house full of people, OCD is treatable. Thank goodness for that.