Lots of us with disabilities, hidden or not, feel as if we’re a burden. Needing assistance with basic tasks, like getting from one place to the other, feels like a loss of independence. Depending on our experience with that quality, a loss like that can be emotionally upsetting. Thus, we want and need to believe that relationships are unaffected.
In the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, swindlers were able to part a vain monarch from his money by appealing to his sense of entitlement. Only the very smart, the very gifted were able to see his new clothes. There weren’t any new clothes, but no one would say there weren’t for fear they would appear stupid.
Our partners and families are like the Emperor’s subjects. Secrets emanate from anywhere in the family system, usually set in motion as a way of controlling the environment and the people in it. Control like that often comes from feeling out of control; in other words, denial of something being wrong sends the message that, like the Emperor without any clothes, the subject is closed.
Imagine if no one had spoken up. Life would’ve gone along, albeit uncomfortably. After all, only a blindfold man could be comfortable in the regent’s presence. The Emperor may have become isolated as others began to avoid him. But it would only be a matter of time before someone from outside the kingdom was presented at court.
Pretending has its costs. Not just for the Emperor (who had to have been hugely embarrassed when that little honest kid called him out) but for the townsfolk who went along with the lie. Pity the poor traveler, too. There are always good reasons we can cite for living a lie, or for allowing others to live one. Call an Emperor naked and you spend your time knitting in The Tower. Or worse.
Feel sorry mostly for the Emperor. Another word for entitled can be delusional. When one of us wants to keep secrets about one side of a relationship, no relationship really exists. Thus, the Emperor was alone although he didn’t even know it. None of his relationships were truthful even as everyone in the relationship knew the truth. Living as if is the same as living a lie.
Everyone colluded in living dishonestly.
There’s a problem, of course. Feelings denied become corrosive; not just to the person swallowing them, but to everyone, especially an intimate partner. It takes lots and lots of energy to act “as if”; there’s always the chance of a slip-up. Maintaining a lie means additional lying and the exhausting need to remember the story.
Hard to put yourself in the Emperor’s place. He could’ve learned his lesson about separateness, about being entitled by disability to keep thoughts and feeling secret. Being outed may have made him a better man; more honest and willing to take part. Or it could’ve embittered him further; providing justification for putting lots and lots of people in The Tower. I choose the ending to this fairy tale.
The Emperor let go of pretense and chose honesty instead.
The Emperor looked for corrosiveness and sought to right it.
Intimacy took the place of separation, and destructive secrecy was banished forever.
Honesty was restored to the Kingdom, and that no punishment befell anyone who spoke up.
Vulnerability was again valued.
And that’s how everyone lived happily ever after.
Kathe Skinner is a Relationship Coach, Certified Relationship Expert and Marriage & Family Therapist in Colorado where she conducts communication workshops for couples, pre-married’s, the invisibly disabled, and the over 50 crowd. Kathe enjoys collaborating with other professionals in order to reach more relationships affected by hidden disability. She sits on the Executive Board of the Invisible Disabilities Association, is a regular contributor to Disability.gov., and is an ardent-and-natural-teacher-without-a-classroom. She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 30 years. More about Kathe at www.BeingHeardNow.com.