In Defense of McDreamy: How Celebrities Protect Their Hearts from Hurt

By Marilyn Kagan, LCSW, and Neil Einbund, Ph.D

You know him as the star and sex symbol of the hit TV show, “Grey’s Anatomy.” Now in his early 40’s Patrick Dempsey aka “McDreamy” has been starring in movies and television since he was a teenager.

When we had our breakfast interview with Patrick for our book, Defenders of the Heart: Managing the Habits and Attitudes That Block You from a Richer, More Satisfying Life, we asked him to speak about the time in his life when people in the entertainment industry where dismissive and cold to him, despite his many previous successes. His story is honest and surprising as most don’t realize that the celebrities we admire day in, day out have their years of intense highs and lows. They use defense mechanisms just as normal folks do to protect themselves from being hurt.

    “Ignorance was bliss. If I’d known how much unemployment and rejection goes with the life of an actor, I might never have had the guts to do this.

    “Heading into my mid-20’s, I had a strong film career going. But with more attention being paid to me, I started to doubt that my acting abilities were completely solid. Tied into that doubt was the realization that this profession was my job and my livelihood. I couldn’t really do anything else. I needed to figure out a way to quell these self-doubts. I began to study with a lot of great teachers. I was attracted to the teachers who gave me the power to make choices on my own, not those who told me how to do it.

    “Coincidentally, at the same time I was starting to question myself I was also beginning a ten-year cycle of being out of favor with producers and casting directors. For a time I got offered everything, like I was the wonder boy. Suddenly I was going into rooms filled with producers, directors and casting people who—because I may not have fit their bill—were either blasé or chock full of animosity.

    “So now what? I’d had this great run. I’d met all my goals and exceeded my expectations. I became depressed. I thought that being a successful working actor was a goal that would give me a sense of who I was. Now I realized that I had no new goals to meet. I’d gotten sidetracked and was just drifting. I didn’t know what these new goals should be. I only knew that I was beginning to understand that the outside world wasn’t gratifying me. I thought that maybe something inside me needed to shift.

    “Especially between the ages of 25 and 32, life was really tough for me. All those auditions, those failed hopes for work. I worried that I’d become like those embittered actors I’d met when I was on the rise, someone that lived his life grumbling about lost opportunities. At the same time, I started to notice that I was losing the arrogance of youth. I was discovering my flaws and that shook me up. My confidence was really faltering. If I wasn’t defined by who was going to hire me, could I find my self-worth and value within myself? After all, the teachers and mentors who I seemed to be most drawn to were those who inspired me to figure out the world for myself.

    “Ever since leaving home at 17 my dream was to return to Maine someday a success and find a home of my own. This was as good a time as any, success or not. My mom had just been diagnosed with cancer. I was in a blossoming relationship with my soon-to-be wife. And my acting career sucked.

    “We found an old ship captain’s home that needed a lot of work. Ironically, through rebuilding this old home with my mom’s help, she and I were also able to reconstruct a relationship that had been strained for years.

    “As my Maine home took shape, so did I. It was becoming clearer that I was who I was, looked the way I looked, sounded the way I sounded. I was making peace with that. I continued searching deep down inside myself for what I thought and felt. I sought more understanding through my friends, mentors, and therapy. I was realizing that if I only put energy into getting the next acting job, I would have nothing else to pull from. I would remain rudderless and depressed. I needed to believe in myself. I needed a life with a loving partner, a life with other passions besides this fickle business. I needed a life with meaning for me. I was more painfully aware that acting was my choice for life. I needed it not only to fill my pockets but also to feed my soul. I needed it for sustenance, but I knew that I couldn’t be a slave to it.”


To help steer him through the highs and lows, Patrick depended on his healthy defender Sublimation. Using Sublimation he learned he could be self-reliant during his greatest disappointments. Patrick chose to focus his unused creativity into another creative space.

By going back to his childhood home, beginning a restoration project, rebuilding an adult relationship with his mother, and being fully invested in the relationship with his future bride, he used his defender wisely. He didn’t allow this part of his life to over take and replace what he knew he desired to do as a career. But he used Sublimation judiciously by using other forms of expression that channeled his disappointments and frustrations.

Marilyn Kagan, LCSW, and Neil Einbund, PhD, are co-authors of Defenders of the Heart: Blocking the Habits and Attitudes that Block You from a Richer, More Satisfying Life.

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