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“The Dark Night of the Soul” is a term that is commonly used to describe a period of spiritual transformation.
During this dark period, one may feel depressed, lost, and confused.
In this blog post, we explore the 9 main symptoms of the Dark Night of the Soul. But before we go any further, let’s have a deeper understanding of what the Dark Night of the Soul is from a spiritual perspective, its origins, and how it is different from depression.
The Origin of the Dark Night of the Soul
The term “Dark Night” is made popular in the 16th century by Saint John of the Cross, a Spanish mystic, in one of his poems, “Noche Oscura” (which means “dark night” in Spanish). The poem describes his spiritual journey and the hardships he faced in his union with God.
Somehow along the way, the term “Dark Night of the Soul” becomes more widely used instead of the term “Dark Night”. It is now being referred to as a period of spiritual crisis and transformation that one can experience during their spiritual awakening journey.
Most spiritual traditions have a concept of the Dark Night of the Soul, which can be seen as a period of intense emotional and spiritual struggles. The idea is that once we go through this difficult experience, we come out of it with greater wisdom and insight. It may even lead to profound changes in our lives.
However, this term can be somewhat misleading to the layman because it suggests that our soul is suffering.
But our soul isn’t dying. What’s dying is our ego.
Our soul is always full of aliveness, joy, freedom, and love. It’s always expanding and connected to the Higher Power. But the problem is most of us are not in tune with our souls. We act from the ego instead and therefore, we suffer. The phrase “Dark Night of the Soul” is used in modern spirituality to describe this suffering of the ego.
What Does the Dark Night of the Soul Mean Spiritually?
In spirituality, the Dark Night of the Soul signifies the beginning of a shift in perspective from our ego to our spirit. We realize that the ego’s perspective no longer works for us but we are not yet connected with our soul. So we are stuck between these two states and have no clear sense of identity or a stable home to reside in.
According to Eckhart Tolle, the “Dark Night of the Soul” is a term used to describe a collapse of a perceived meaning in life. What dies, in essence, is the egoic sense of self. This is also known as ego death.
Previously, when we act from our ego, we derive our identity from our career, our wealth, our relationships, our roles, etc. But once we realize that these things don’t actually make us happy, we lose our purpose in achieving or acquiring them. The conceptual framework that once gave us meanings and kept us going in life collapsed.
That’s why we experience an existential crisis and a loss of identity. We don’t know who we are, what we want in life, and what to do with our lives anymore.
Dark Night of the Soul vs Depression: What’s the Difference?
The main difference between a Dark Night of the Soul and depression is there is no spiritual evolution or component in the latter. This means that when you recover from psychological depression, you might have a healthier mind but you are still identified with your mind. You still think that you are your thoughts.
The Dark Night of the Soul results in a total shift of identity while depression doesn’t.
Someone who gets through the Dark Night of the Soul doesn’t completely identify with their ego anymore. You experience some kind of ego death and you know that you are not your thoughts. You are more connected to your soul, you have a new purpose in life, and you take on a different identity. There is some kind of transformation and spiritual awakening. Your old personality dissolves and you come out a different person.
The best way to describe this difference is to use the caterpillar and butterfly analogy. Recovering from a psychological depression makes you a stronger, healthier caterpillar but in the end, you are still a caterpillar. There is no change in identity. In contrast, a Dark Night of the Soul is like a caterpillar hiding in darkness in its cocoon and allowing metamorphosis to take place. The caterpillar has to digest itself, break down its cells, and regroup them before it comes out as a butterfly.
My Example of the Dark Night of the Soul
Before I went through my Dark Night, my identity was shaped by my career. I jumped from being an auditor to an accountant and then to an animator, trying to find my identity. Once I no longer want to be an animator, I became depressed and lost my sense of self. If I’m not my career, then who am I?
I felt lost and confused.
I’m not sure of what I want to do with my life anymore.
It’s only through my Dark Night that I am awakened and realized that I am not what I do. My whole identity shifted and I became more in touch with my spirit and my purpose. What’s amazing is that previously I hardly read any books on spirituality and have no interest in the topic. But once I’ve had an identity shift, suddenly I can understand all the books about spirituality with ease.
9 Revealing Symptoms of a Dark Night of the Soul
When going through a Dark Night of the Soul, it’s common to use the term “depression” to explain your experience to others. Sometimes, people even called it a spiritual depression.
While both may share similar symptoms and we may go through them concurrently, it is important to understand their fundamental differences. Below, we will explore 9 key symptoms of the Dark Night of the Soul and explain how they differ from psychological depression.
1. You feel that life has no meaning or purpose.
Going through a Dark Night of the Soul can make life feel meaningless. We know that the old egoic way of life no longer serves us and it is time to let go and move on. However, we have not found a new purpose yet, leaving us uncertain about life’s direction.
We may become overly philosophical, questioning our purpose on earth. This constant existential questioning, without inspiring answers, can lead to depression and apathy. It can also leave you with a deep sense of emptiness when you feel that there is no purpose in life.
People with psychological depression can also perceive life as meaningless but it is usually when something of significant value to them is taken away from them. For example, the loss of a relationship. Their depression is not due to an existential crisis, but their struggle to accept their loss.
2. You lose interest in everything you used to love.
When going through a Dark Night of the Soul, it’s common for our passions and hobbies to fall by the wayside. Our interests no longer excite us like they used to and we find it difficult to concentrate on anything for an extended period of time.
This can be different than depression, where people often feel a lack of energy. In the Dark Night of the Soul, our old passions may still have their appeal but no longer bring joy. There is something of a higher purpose that we are yearning for that we haven’t discovered yet. We are so focused on finding this new purpose that everything else feels unimportant. Without a new direction, we lack enthusiasm for life and don’t feel like doing anything.
3. You feel a strong desire to be alone.
Withdrawing and isolating oneself is a common trait during the Dark Night of the Soul. We may become exhausted by socializing and find it difficult to connect with others. We may also feel like no one understands us or our journey, making it challenging to communicate with anyone else.
Oftentimes, we feel a deep need to be alone in order to process and make sense of our inner turmoil. This period of introspection allows us to learn more about ourselves and what we truly need in life to be happy. In the Dark Night of the Soul, there is a desire to be alone with our thoughts in order to find clarity and peace.
4. You become overwhelmed with emotions.
The Dark Night of the Soul can be an emotional rollercoaster. Random emotions may surface. We may feel an overwhelming sense of loneliness, sadness, anger, anxiety, or fear that we have not felt before. We may cry uncontrollably or without any reason. These intense emotions can come and go without warning, making it difficult to stay balanced.
It is natural to feel overwhelmed with emotions during this time. Our egoic wounds are brought to the surface to be processed and released. We are letting go of limiting beliefs, traumas, and anything else that no longer serves us.
Unlike depression, where individuals may struggle to understand their emotions, those experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul are often more conscious. Even though we don’t know how long our suffering will last, we know it serves a spiritual purpose, guiding us toward transformation.
For a full list of emotions you may feel during the Dark Night, read my article on the dark side of spiritual awakening.
5. You find yourself consumed by thoughts.
The Dark Night of the Soul can be overwhelming mentally as well. We may question everything in our life, including our beliefs, values, relationships, and purpose. We may reflect on the past, pondering on the choices we made and how things could have been different. On the other hand, we may also think a lot about the future, contemplating our next steps and how to move forward.
Being too focused and obsessed over certain topics can make us feel lost, guilty, regretful, worried, and hopeless. The thoughts can become so intense that it feels like our mind is continually racing.
While individuals battling depression may also be consumed by their thoughts, their identification is mostly with their egos. In contrast, those experiencing the Dark Night of the Soul have some detachment from their egos. Rather than being driven by ego narratives, our racing thoughts are often a result of endless questions and seeking answers in life.
6. You experience extreme fatigue.
Moving through a Dark Night of the Soul can take a toll on our bodies. We may experience extreme fatigue, both mentally and physically. We may also have sleep issues. For example, we either sleep too much or too little or feel more tired than usual without any known cause.
The fatigue is exacerbated by the inner turmoil and confusion we are going through during this period of spiritual transformation. As we try to make sense of what is happening to us, we become drained and overwhelmed.
This symptom can be found in depression too. However, those who suffered from depression often experience a more severe case of fatigue. They are also less likely to take care of themselves when they experience physical pain and discomfort. It is as though they have given up on their lives.
7. You feel confused, disoriented, and out of control.
The process of spiritual transformation can be overwhelming and disorienting at times. Everything seems to be breaking down. Prior to our spiritual awakening, our egos are in control and we have specific goals established by society that we are told to achieve. Now, with the ego out of the way, everything that we once knew to be true is no longer valid. There is no script for us to follow anymore. You don’t know what to do or who you are anymore, and that is why everything seems so chaotic and out of control.
During a Dark Night of the Soul, it is common to feel like we are losing control. We may feel confused and unsure of which direction to take while trying to make sense of our inner worlds. We may become scared or hesitant to make any decisions because we are unsure if they will lead us closer or further away from our spiritual path.
People with clinical depression may also feel helpless and lost. These feelings, however, are often rooted in deeper and more personal issues such as self-esteem and family dynamics.
8. You feel a deep longing for something without knowing what it is.
The Dark Night of the Soul often involves a deep, insatiable longing for something that cannot be described or explained. It is an intense feeling that cannot be put into words. This longing comes from the depths of your soul and you may not know exactly what it is.
The longing is often for something more spiritual or something that lies beyond our physical reality. It is an intense craving for understanding and connection with the divine. People who experience this deep longing will often turn to meditation, journaling, art, and music to help them make sense of what they are feeling.
In contrast, people who struggle with depression may feel an intense longing for emotional connection or comfort. They usually yearn for something they don’t believe they can have or deserve to have.
9. You feel hopeless and may have suicidal thoughts.
Suicidal thoughts are one of the most serious and concerning symptoms of a Dark Night of the Soul. When we go through this kind of spiritual crisis, our minds can get overwhelmed by feelings like hopelessness, despair, and helplessness.
These intense emotions can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts. Not everyone experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul will have these thoughts though. But there is often a sense of something dying within oneself, known as ego death.
Suicidal thoughts are also common in individuals with depression. However, their intention is often to end emotional pain and suffering. In contrast, those experiencing a Dark Night of the Soul may want to return to Source. They struggle to connect with their purpose on Earth and find continuing life meaningless. They also feel a sense of hopelessness for humanity and the world in general, and there is nothing they can do about it.
Dark Night of the Soul FAQ
How long does the Dark Night of the Soul last?
A Dark Night of the Soul can last from as short as one month to as long as 10 years. It depends on the individual and the attachments they have to let go of. My first dark night lasts for 2 months and is very intense, while my second dark night lasts for more than 3 years but is less intense.
Can you have multiple Dark Nights of the Soul?
Yes, it is possible. Typically, each dark night has its specific theme and brings about a set of lessons and gifts. For example, my first dark night is about letting go of my attachment to my career, while my second dark night is about letting go of my attachment to my relationships.
What triggers the Dark Night of the Soul?
The Dark Night of the Soul is often triggered by a major life change or shift. It could be something as drastic as a death in the family, a divorce, or even job loss. These profound changes can lead you to contemplate what truly holds significance in your life. As we let go of our attachments to our old identities and roles, we can experience intense discomfort and feelings of emptiness or void-like states.
Does everyone go through the Dark Night of the Soul?
No, not everyone experiences the Dark Night of the Soul. It is one of the 8 stages of spiritual awakening and can lead to great personal growth. However, it is also possible that someone may have many awakenings without ever experiencing a dark night.
Why do people go through the Dark Night of the Soul?
The Dark Night of the Soul is an integral part of spiritual and personal growth. It helps us let go of our attachments, liberate ourselves from expectations and limiting beliefs, and open up to new possibilities. It also helps us come into alignment with who we truly are deep down, and gain clarity about our life’s purpose.
Who goes through the Dark Night of the Soul?
Anyone can experience the Dark Night of the Soul. It is a universal experience that affects all people, regardless of age, gender, or race. However, it is more common among those who are going through major life changes and spiritual awakenings.
The Dark Night of the Soul is a period of intense transformation where we have to dig deep and learn how to cope with uncomfortable feelings. However, at the end of it, we come out stronger, wiser, and more connected with our purpose in life.
If you need help with this process, I recommend reading my comprehensive article on navigating the Dark Night of the Soul. It will help you discover valuable insights and strategies to overcome this challenging phase and find inner peace.
Featured Photo Credit: Khoa Võ