I couldn’t be happier with the Mad Men finale! I’ve been captivated by the artistry of the show and the suffering, flawed, creative and optimistic characters. During this last season, the characters are each struggling to find freedom from the demons of old patterns and memories.
Having spent the last 13 years facilitating a model of group therapy called Yoga and Talk®, I was elated to see Don Draper approach healing and integration of his past through the ancient practices of yoga, meditation, and group therapy. In my weekly Yoga and therapy groups, I witness people getting in touch with different parts of themselves, healing old pain, and overcoming shame through connection. Suffering that seems permanent begins to shift and transform. Like Don Draper, members begin to integrate their shadow and pain and are no longer running scared.
Physical pain, uncomfortable sensations and emotional panic are part of living with constant PTSD from early attachment trauma. These characters drink and use drugs constantly in order to quell their internal feelings of shame and inferiority. Letting go of the impulse for escape and reaching out for help is extremely difficult to do, especially when historically help was denied and escape enabled survival. They have affairs and neglect their families to distract themselves and momentarily forget the discomfort of grief and longing for a healing that doesn’t come.
Don suffered loss and family rejection from the moment of his birth (when his mother dies) and throughout his childhood as a physically and emotionally abused and neglected child. In early adulthood during the Korean War, he witnessed and participated in violence and was responsible for the death of his superior officer, perhaps accidentally. He flees from this mistake and assumes a false persona because he thinks this will allow him to move on and avoid his shame, fear and self loathing. It works beautifully from the outside – his genius and talent, good looks and charm get him far.
How many of us develop a false persona in order to avoid feeling shame for our imperfections or mistakes? And how desperately will we cling to it, even as our family members and loved ones bear the brunt?
Don’s early attachment wounds and PTSD run deep. He faces the meaninglessness of his false self whenever he stops numbing out or distracting. All the adoration from peers and his career accomplishments cannot fill the void of feeling unloved or keep him from abandoning relationships and running from his sense of inferiority, fear and shame.
Leading up to the finale, he again takes off on a journey to nowhere, giving away his money, time and possessions until he is facing the ultimate question of whether he wants to live or die.
What saves him? A stranger reaching out with empathy and clarity . She doesn’t see him as the pathetic loser he feels he is, but sees his humanity.
Don has found himself at a yoga retreat on the Pacific Coast of California! And they are doing Yoga and Group Therapy! Here there is the possibility of authentic connection and because he is bereft, he allows it.
In the climactic group therapy scene, I initially felt a moment of disappointment when Don does not volunteer to tell his story and start the healing process. But then the unpredictable magic and beauty of group therapy kicks in. It’s actually better not to spin out his old story of what has happened to him and the bad he has done. Instead, he has nothing to do but listen and recognizes himself in the pain of an “every man” character (whom he surely would have ignored and disdained in another context). Having lost all his emotional defenses, he is finally able to show his true vulnerability and embrace and sob out his pain with another as an equal.
I don’t believe Don Draper became an enlightened guru. Instead he began the slow, sometimes painful, sometimes joyous, but greatly rewarding process of integrating his shadow and his shame. The combination of yoga, meditation, and group therapy greatly supports and accelerates healing , self understanding and acceptance.
Presumably, this allows him to return to his life, his children and his creative work. Perhaps he will ultimately be able to build himself “a home and furnish it with love,” like in the famous Coke commercial we presume he creates upon return to NYC.
Yoga, meditation and group therapy (Yoga and Talk®!) offer Don Draper a path to integration of his past and his fear so he can live more fully in the present. He suffered and has made terrible mistakes and hurt people with his bad behavior. He also has many gifts and much to contribute. He’s not beyond repair and neither are any of us.