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The Shadows: Envy, Guilt and Shame


Carl Jung summed up the mind set of the suffering person: When one’s inner situation is not made conscious (when it remains misunderstood, or unexamined and untreated), it appears outside of one’s self as one’s troubled fate. 

Envy is one of the sufferings arising from holding a grudge (envy). For example, I don’t have something valuable that “they” have. Say–I did not get enough validation growing up, and I sure as hell feel it when I see others taking for granted their worth, and being Oh so self confident. 

Another source of envious grudge, according to an Adlerian interpretation, is that I might have an organic or psychological deficit, perceive this about myself, or feel I am being judged as having the deficit. I live in a gloom and shadow of shame, while others appear to be living in a world of sunny satisfaction and self determination. I, on the other hand, am disabled.

The Penguin

The most striking archetype of envious grudge I have ever seen in the movies is the Penguin in Bat Man Returns, played by Danny DeVito. The Penguin seethes with resentment that he has become an outcast of society because of his penguin-like hands. As a child, in his bassinet, he is literally thrown into the Gotham City park waterway by his confused and inept parents. He floats along and lands in the underground caverns of the Zoo’s penguin exhibit, where he becomes their feral adopted chick.

Having matured to adulthood carrying shame and hurt, he comes to public attention in his watery grotto. He masks his seething personality disorders with a claim that he finally wants to reclaim his family name and return to society and the world of regular people. But his real agenda, nurtured by his envy and hurt, is a “settling of scores” against all the current first-born children that he perceives having it so good in the city. The Penguin orchestrates a kidnapping and murder program that fails, and he dies unhealed. Destructive envy can be the other side of the coin of shame.


Guilt has been defined in the words: “I made a mistake.” If I don’t skulk and loiter along, guilt can be fairly well remedied by the postscript “… but I’ll make up for it.” Admitting a mistake is the first step towards balancing things out again, and once an act of service is carried out, life goes on. People at times use the words “I’m ashamed of what I did.” “Ashamed” is closer to guilt in connotation and nuance, than to shame. So let us go on to consider it.


Shame can be defined as a severe and drastic state of mind, much more painful than guilt. Shame has a deeper, more terrible nuance than guilt. Shame says “I am a mistake.” Compare this to “I made a mistake.” The person in shame ends up feeling worthless, hopeless, empty, desperate, discouraged, and doomed to total failure. Maybe they were told that they were worthless, and they believed it. There can be no worse state of mind. The person in shame is the walking wounded. Grief and dread follow on the heels of shame.

Shame, robbing a person of his self-defense shield, leads to belief that there is no joy in life because life cannot be expressed. This is life in the shadow, a term Carl Jung used to describe whatever we have lost, denied, or hidden.

The person full of shame wants to be alive, to enjoy and to express. He or she did not get everything they needed and wanted in the growing up years—who does?—not enough love, acceptance, honor, praise, healthy admiration, or validation.

Very few of us, if any, get through childhood unscathed. If people remain shameful, then at some crucial points in life when they could have, they probably didn’t have the guts, courage, or awareness to stand up for themselves. They weren’t savvy enough, for whatever reason, to say, “Here I am world! This is me! Take it or leave it. And by the way back off if you don’t like it.” There is no blame in this. It is just an all too common fact of life.

However, when at last people awaken to the problem of lost self-esteem, then their challenge is to claim and possess the powers on their own, by themselves.

At Last

And at last there is a self within each of us that is beyond envy, beyond being wounded or admired. If we can awaken to this self or soul, then we get in touch with our higher self and higher power. This is the self that accepts everyone and everything—the self that forgives all the wrongs and mistakes they themselves have made and that others have made. This is the self that is understanding, compassionate, and loving. This is the self brave enough to make amends for one’s misdeeds against self and others.

And here is a prayer that captures the intention to take responsibility, from the Sange (Contrition) Ceremony in the Zen tradition. 

All the karma ever created by me born from my body, speech and thought on account of my beginning-less greed, anger and folly, I now repent of it all.



Written December 16, 2004; Originally published August 2, 2013 at:

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