Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Potemkin Villages

During the late 1700’s in Russia, Empress Catherine II journeyed along the Dnieper River on her way to Crimea. As she traveled through it is believed that one Grigory Potemkin would erect fake and portable settlements along the banks of the river so as to impress the Empress as she would pass by. Supposedly this method worked and caused the Empress to believe that these villages were in much better shape than they actually were.

I find this story to be fascinating and find parallels to our society and to us as human beings. How often do we attempt to disguise our true intentions or pretend to be different than we really are? How often do we try to impress others by boasting, how we dress, or what car we drive? I think we all can relate with the concept of creating Potemkin Villages in our own lives.

I have a theory that the more congruent and authentic our lives are, the happier we will be. I like to study happiness. I like to ask happy people why they are happy. I find the subject fascinating. I find that one trait of most happy people I have met is they tend to be congruent individuals. What you see is what you get. They are the same person behind closed doors as they are in public. They do not try to deceive or present as they are not in order to get any perceived gain.

I believe that congruent and authentic people are confident people. They feel no need to artificially impress anyone. They are confident that their true self is adequate and acceptable. They are confident that they will achieve and succeed based on their true, authentic selves.

I have now had the privilege of doing therapy sessions with adolescents for nearly 20 years. Over that span, I have come across many personalities. I have found that adolescents who continually stretch the truth or sell out in order to get perceived acceptance, are generally pretty unhappy kids. My hope is that as adult role models, we can show our young people the benefits of being genuine and authentic. Young people are perceptive and notice how we act in public versus how we act in private. My hope is that we can strive to make our public and private self match fairly closely. I think most of us share in the goal to have positive relationships and be happy. This is truly one way to make this happen!

Matt Erickson, LCSW, Clinical Director