Mad Men's Don Draper - the CLASSIC Counterdependent Wounded Hero
Written By: Mark Smith
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You haven't heard of Don Draper? In 2009 the fictional character from the highly touted show 'Mad Men' was named the most influential man in the world by 'Ask Men', beating a guy named Obama! He is a cross between James Dean, James Bond, Hugh Hefner and poet Robert Frost in a dark suit in early 1960's Manhattan. A cool, handsome stud who can also turn a beautiful phrase. He is the most fascinating character that I have come across since Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs. He is pretty close to Hannibal the Cannibal's emotional health level as well in a very sneaky manner. He is the prototype Counterdependent. You haven't heard of Counterdependency either? It is grandiosity and arrogance on the outside driven by deep insecurity on the inside. It is independence and unaccountability on the outside and voracious neediness on the inside that is expressed through sex without boundaries, not through emotional intimacy. It is obliviousness, self-absorption and work/sex/alcohol addiction. And it is about maintaining control at all times. Do you know anybody like that?
Underneath all the cool and all the control is an extremely wounded little boy. He is like us, just more cool and more wounded. He is a con man. He was born as Dick Whitman in Illinois, and his birth mother was a 22-year-old prostitute who died giving birth to him. He was taken in by his biological father Archie Whitman and stepmother Abigail. When Dick was ten years old, Archie was killed by a spooked horse that kicked him in the face during an electrical storm; Dick was a witness to this. Subsequently, Abigail, Dick and his half-brother Adam moved to coal country in Pennsylvania. His father "beat the hell out of him" on a regular basis, and he "fantasized" about the day he could murder him. It is unclear if Abigail also abused him, but she made no effort to conceal Dick's past from him and referred to him as a "whore child." When told of her death from stomach cancer by Adam, he simply commented "Good." He appeared to be close to his half-brother Adam, who was eleven years younger than he. When Adam seeks Don out simply to meet him after all these years, Don rebuffs his attempt and walks away. When Don later decides to speak and possibly reconcile with his younger brother, he discovers he is too late after Adam commits suicide by hanging.
Dick runs away to the Army where he finds himself in Korea under the command of one Lt. Donald Draper. When the real Don Draper is killed in the explosion, his face burned beyond recognition, Whitman removes Lt. Draper's dog tags and switches them for his own. Whitman, now believed to be Draper, awakens in the hospital, and is awarded the Purple Heart. He then builds a staggeringly successful career built on lies, manipulation, acting and a profound talent for the advertising business. He eventually became Creative Director, and then a junior partner, at Sterling Cooper. He is considered a great asset to the company as he has considerable talent for understanding the desires of others, and for effectively pitching and selling ideas. Although his true character remains mysterious and heavily guarded, almost everyone at the firm respects his talent.
I am only in Season 2. Don's life hasn't come crashing down around him yet. I have a feeling that is coming. He is able to con everyone, though not completely. His wife Betty knows that he is cheating on her every chance that he gets. She said to her entirely horrible therapist "Don doesn't know family. He doesn't have one." When Don's walls do crack temporarily he runs like a needy child to the arms of whatever woman/mommy is closest at the time. He doesn't know how to love. He only knows how to use women. He is too wounded to truly love his children. In spite of his lack of moral character, Don still comes across as a very likable character. He has some redeeming qualities - he is loyal to his clients, he is loyal to his firm and he is loyal to the very few people he truly connects with. He is also likable because he is so wounded and sad inside. He breaks down, cries and exposes his true self about twice a Season, usually to a woman who is not his wife.
His life is 99% about taking over the world with his intelligence, wit, creativity, courage and sex appeal and 1% about tearfully seeking a mommy who will finally love and accept him. He is lovable in both roles. We love bad asses who who always get the girl, close the deals and punch bullies in the nose. Joe Montana threw touchdowns in the 4th quarter of Super Bowls and he got the gorgeous model in the shaving lotion commercials. Don Draper is the Jack Kennedy of his profession. We loved Jack Kennedy! Don's assassin's bullet was the truth of who he was, where he came from and how he lived his loveless life.
So many men are junior Don Drapers. They are wounded deeply in their childhoods. Their dad's abandon them. Or someone sexually abused them. Or their mother was mean and crazy. There are so many ways that a little boy can be wounded. It hurts too much to feel all of that. It is much more fun to be Supermen, to be a Don Draper, a Tiger Woods, a Michael Vick. With hard work, education, drive, intelligence, ruthlessness, thick skins, confidence, workaholism, ego, manipulation and the power of a big personality the wounded little boy builds a kingdom of power, money, sex, possessions, respect and image. The problem is that they are cut off from the truth about themselves. They always have to be right. They can't take criticism. They substitute the trappings of success for a genuinely happy and healthy life. They pick beautiful passive women who put up with way too much for way too long. The best thing in the world for guys like that would be dire consequences, true brokenness and heart wrenching humility. Unlike the clueless 'therapists' of his day, there is a lot of help for men like Don Draper these days. In character, in my office, Don Draper would eat my lunch. But I could help the broken, sad little boy inside Don. I teach modern Betty Draper's to bring the big men down without reactivity and hopefully without lawyers. If you know a guy like Don Draper send him the link to to our website where you can download my E-Book 'A Punch in the Mouth (from a friend)' for free. Men at times need verbal 'punches' shared out of concern; interventions launched upon destructive, stubbornly defended blind spots. The E-Book hits on accountability, obliviousness, workaholism, sexual addiction and marriage. The book is all about understanding and dealing with the Don Draper's in your life - whether he is your husband, your father or your self.
Check out Mad Men. But let me warn you, it is sort of addictive!
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