Shame and the Origins of Self-Esteem: A Jungian Approach

Shame and the Origins of Self-Esteem: A Jungian Approach

Shame and the Origins of Self-Esteem: A Jungian Approach

Shame and the Origins of Self-Esteem: A Jungian Approach


Shame is one of our most central feelings and a universal human characteristic. Why do we experience it? For what purpose? How can we cope with excessive feelings of shame?In an elegant exposition informed by many years of helping people to understand feelings of shame, leading Jungian analyst Mario Jacoby provides a timely and comprehensive exploration of the many aspects of shame and shows how it occupies a central place in our emotional experience. Jacoby shows a lack of self-esteem is often at the root of excessive shame. As well as providing practical examples of how therapy can help, Jacoby draws upon a wealth of historical and cultural scholarship to show how important shame is for us in both its individual and social aspects.


It was none other than Georges Simenon, creator of the master detective Maigret, who brought home to me why I care to share with others my struggles with the “shadow” theme of shame. The realization came as I read the following:

Everyone has a shadow side of which he is more or less ashamed. But when I see someone who resembles me, who shares the same symptoms, the same shame, and the same inner battles, then I say to myself, so I am not alone in this, I am no monster.

Simenon, a master psychologist and consummate author of suspense, thus helped me to see that a book about shame could even be a type of “psychotherapy”—not only for the author, as is usually the case, but perhaps for his readers as well. Now, I am skeptical of books that sell themselves to their readers with the alluring promise of making them happier, healthier, or wiser. Such achievements require real psychotherapy, which presupposes an encounter between two persons in the flesh. Even so, as I read the lines from Simenon I found myself thinking that perhaps individuals who are plagued with shame might find some liberation in hearing about others who suffer similar torments or take some consolation in knowing they are not alone. Certainly the wish to hide one’s shame—and what one is ashamed of—is a universal human characteristic. Shame makes us want to sink through the floor, crawl into a hole and die. And then we really are alone.

I have long wondered why so little has been written on the subject of shame from the perspective of depth psychology. Hultberg expressed the same perplexity in 1988 in an essay tellingly entitled, “Shame: a Hidden Emotion.” But with more research, I have discovered that a number of relevant publications have appeared in English, especially in the United States. These seem to me of great interest and worthy of mention in my bibliography (Kaufman 1989, Lynd 1961, Tomkins 1987, Lewis 1971, 1987a, 1987b, Miller 1985, Nathanson 1987, Izard 1977, Sidoli 1988, Wharton 1990, and others). A psychoanalytic monograph by Leon Wurmser titled The

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