Even Mad Men Don Draper Can’t Escape the Past


No matter how successful or attractive he is, one thing becomes clearer and clearer, even Mad Men Don Draper can’t escape his past. Flashbacks in Season 6 of Mad Men reinforce the fact that Don’s behaviors in the present are a result of the past. By showing us a young Don’s experiences surrounding sex, we gain clarity on why Don continues to find sexual intimacy outside of his committed relationships. We’ve always known that Don struggles with monogamy, but why exactly? Why does he continue to make problems for himself by engage in infidelity? For the first time, we have a better understanding of what sex means to Don and how the past creeps in on his present. Emotionally we then can identify with Don more deeply, as we connect to the pain of the man through the feelings of the child.

Listening to an interview with Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, I realized something; the unfolding of information about Don is similar to what I experience as a therapist. Much of why we do the things we do as adults are unknown to us until we start therapy, the job I have as a therapist is to make this clearer. Both the client and I have to learn the story. By piecing together present day’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors with the memories and sensations of the past my client and I are creating a story. Each week we understand more about my client’s true self and the ways in which their past creeps in on the present. And each week as I get to know my clients child self, I connect more to them as adults.

This process of unfolding and piecing together is equally engaging to me as watching Mad Men. For just like I don’t know where Don is headed, what choices he will make next, or his full childhood story, my client and I don’t know that either. Sure we both get frustrated at times; the defense mechanisms get in our way. But unlike most of my clients who feel judgment towards themselves about this, I do not. I understand this to not be a fault of my client, but more of a reality of the human experience. So I encourage my clients to understand why they are judgmental of themselves, so we can incorporate that also into their story.

Many people in the beginning stage of therapy tell me they don’t think the past is affecting them. They want to talk about the present and only need help in solving a specific problem. Many get frustrated when I search for information about the past, and many don’t understand the value of putting the pieces of the past together. I often wish I could wave a wand to help someone understand their story, but alas the complexities of a human make this impossible. The fact is, is that the past is important; Don Draper is surely showing us that.