The Dark Night of The Soul

St. John of the Cross

Part of the “life experience” is the ability to endure hardships, difficult situations, loss, and painful emotions. This difficult issue is often clearly highlighted when clients engage with Life Coaching. While such things are a part of the human experience it is a rollercoaster that no one wants to get on, but as life so clearly demonstrates, we will all have our turn on the ride of pain and suffering. Sooner or later we will all go through our “dark night of the soul”, whether it’s by losing someone we love, a difficult divorce, job loss, mental issues, illness etc. St. John of the Cross, the 16th-century Spanish mystic and poet coined the term “the dark night of the soul”. His particular expression of the term was related to the purgations (or spiritual crises) on the path to the divine union with God. He experienced many dark nights during his imprisonment and torture.

Since then many authors, artists, and musicians have used the concept of the dark night of the soul to make sense of, and express their experience with difficult and challenging life experiences. I, myself work with it symbolically in therapy with my clients to help them better understand what they are experiencing. I have realised that the more one tries to hide from, run from, or suppress the thoughts, emotions, and manifestations of the dark night of the soul, the more overwhelming it will become. It’s never easy or comfortable to face the darkness of the abyss, but if you find yourself falling into it, the only thing that you can do is to let go and fall until you stop.

I feel, that if this is a natural part of life then we must learn how to manage these experiences as best we can. We must understand that when we get thrust into the dark night that it probably won’t feel fair; it will be an incredibly difficult personal experience; it will keep us in that space until it is over, and not when we want it to be over, and it will often severely disrupt your sense of normality and routine.

Viktor Emil Frankl. Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor.

Furthermore, I feel, that if these intense life experiences are going to take so much from us then it is important for us to get something back from it. These will come in the form of lessons we have learnt or our ability to find meaning in things that feel utterly meaningless. The famous psychologist, Victor Frankl conceptualised “Logo Therapy” during his time in the concentration camps during world war 2. During his time in the camps, he felt it was a matter of life and death (because it was) to find meaning in his experience. He knew when someone had given up when all hope was lost. They would simply refuse to get up in the morning. That would be the start of the end for them.

There have been countless people who were imprisoned and tortured that held onto the memories of their loved ones that helped them get through such things. They realised how important their “old” lives actually were. They discovered a deep sense of appreciation in even the most mundane moments of their lives before they were imprisoned. They laughed at how serious they took themselves. Some of these people were able to forgive their captors and gain a level of understanding of human behaviour that would go on to revolutionise human rights. In this case, I am referring to the late Nelson Mandela, but there have been many imprisoned hero’s throughout the ages.


One does not need to go through massive trauma to endure a dark night. If you are haunted by depression, anxiety, mood swings, rage and anger, loneliness, lack of purpose, demotivation, and many more issues, you may be experiencing your own dark night of the soul. If this is you then your first priority is to have some compassion for yourself as you go through the confusion, frustration, sadness, suffering, and pain. You will need you to be there for yourself more than you can imagine. The next thing is to understand that even the darkest nights eventually see the break of dawn. You will get through this because you are stronger than you realise. People often wish they had the bravery and courage to face a powerful foe, not realising that courage and bravery are the one’s that get them through the dark night of the soul.

So if you have read up to this point I can imagine you have gone through probably a few dark nights of your own soul and I commend you for your bravery, courage, inner
strength, and resilience.

And if you are still going through one and need a light to shine in the darkness, I can be that light for you.

Thanks for reading,
Donovan

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