Dark Night of the Soul: What It Is and How to Cope

Dark Night of the Soul: What It Is and How to CopeIf you’re going through a life crisis, you’re having what’s called the Dark Night of the Soul. Learn about what it is – and how to cope.

Oh, the Dark Night of the Soul. It might sound like the title of an Edgar Allan Poe poem.  But if you’ve been through it, you know what I’m talking about.

This is a challenging period in life, when you’re questioning everything. You feel overwhelmed, lost, confused.

We all experience a “Dark Night of the Soul” at some point. It can come after a big loss, like the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship. Or it might follow a major life change.

During the “Dark Night of the Soul” you grapple with big questions like…

  • “What is my purpose?”
  • “Who am I beyond the roles I play?”
  • “Is there a lesson to be learned from my pain?”
  • “How do I move forward when I feel so lost?”
  • “What truly brings me joy?
  • “How have my challenges shaped the person I am today?”
  • “What values do I want to live by going forward?”

The Dark Night of the Soul: What It Is

Dark Night of the Soul: What It Is The term “Dark Night of the Soul” isn’t just a catchy phrase. It comes from Saint John of The Cross – a man who knew a thing or two about life’s ups and downs.

Saint John of the Cross was a Spanish mystic and priest. He lived back in the 16th century and wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo – to help people find a deeper connection with their faith.

Unfortunately for Saint John of the Cross, his quest for a deeper, purer form of spiritual practice didn’t please everyone, which is often the case when you stir the pot. And stir he did. So much so that he ended up imprisoned by fellow clergy – who weren’t too keen on his ideas for reforming their order.

But it’s precisely there, in a dark, lonely cell, that the concept of the “Dark Night of the Soul” was born. In those moments, when the rest of the world seemed to have abandoned him, Saint John penned a moving poem – all about about what it feels like when everything you believe is tested, and you feel utterly lost.

What does a 16th-century mystic have to do with your life today?

More than you might think.

Just as Saint John turned a time of literal darkness into an opportunity for profound insight, you can can too.

How To Move On From The Dark Night Of The Soul

How to Cope Dark Night of the SoulMaybe right now you feel like you’re in The Dark Night of The Soul – like the ground beneath you has given way – and your beliefs – or your relationship – or your career  – or your identity – has now suddenly crumbled without warning.

And now you feel lost and uncertain about what comes next.

No worries. I’m here to help you to emerge from this challenging time feeling more resilient and experiencing a greater sense of clarity.

I am sharing this article because I am a leading behavioral change expert and recognized expert executive coach for the last few decades.

I’m committed to helping people to navigate through their dark times and find the light of hope, inner peace, and growth. With this in mind, I also founded the The Tweak A Week Online Course.

7 Tips to Help You Cope with A Dark Night of the Soul

Here are some healing tips for surviving your soul’s dark night so you feel there’s a soul sunrise in your future.

1. View this time as a Personal Boot Camp for Your Soul.

Right now your life feels tough and uncomfortable. But you must remember: This path is leading to a more fulfilling life.

So, try to think of this chapter in your life as your own “Personal Boot Camp for the Soul.” And similarly to leg day at the gym, this time might be painful. But it’s actually building your strength.

Basically, this discomfort you’re feeling is a sign of growth. It’s a signal that you’re breaking free from auto pilot mode. You’re no longer sleep walking through life.

You are beginning to realize that you’ve been chasing shadows — goals and aspirations set for you by faulty inner programming – not by the deep yearnings of your own soul.

This revelation can naturally lead to feelings of depression and resentment – because you’re mourning for the time lost chasing things not meant for you.

But the good news is: You’re now awake and ready to see things more clearly.

You are poised to make meaningful changes and live a life that’s really you, full of purpose and deep connections.

It’s like you’re getting a second chance, a new start, and that’s actually exciting.

Assignment: Practice Mindfulness Meditation

As part of your “Personal Boot Camp for the Soul,” incorporate mindfulness meditation into your routine. But do it with a twist. Add intentional reflection.

Find a quiet spot every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes, to sit in peace. Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and let your thoughts float by without holding onto them or judging them.

While you’re in this calm state, ask yourself the big questions – like :

  • “What parts of my life am I ready to let go of?”
  • “What lessons am I willing to learn?”

believe beautiful life for yourself no matter years lostYour mission: Recognize and release the parts of your life that are not truly serving you.

For example: You might realize you’ve been working so hard at a job just because everyone said you should. But it doesn’t make you happy. Maybe during your quiet time, you understand that you want to let go of worrying about what other people think and instead focus on what you love, like starting to paint or play music.

Studies, like those by Jon Kabat-Zinn, show that regular mindfulness meditations can reduce psychological stress and improve emotional well-being.

Healing Questions: “In this moment of mindfulness, have I been living the way I truly want, am I being true to myself, and what parts of my pain am I ready to release?”

2. Embrace Shades of Grey and Learn to Tolerate Uncertainty

dealing with uncertainty

When you’re in the midst of the “Dark Night of the Soul,” it might seem like your world is entirely bleak, devoid of any light.

However, life’s events are rarely absolute; they’re not just black or white, dark or bright.

For instance, a career setback can seem like an all-consuming failure (black), or it can be viewed as a detour leading to new opportunities (white).

Embracing the shades of grey means acknowledging that the setback is temporary and has elements of both challenge and opportunity.

This balanced perspective allows you to handle uncertainty with more grace and see beyond the present darkness, understanding that this difficult phase is a temporary state, not your final destination.

Assignment: Cognitive Flexibility Practice

Commit to exercises that broaden your perspective, allowing you to see beyond a binary viewpoint. Practice something called “cognitive flexibility” – which is when you intentionally challenge black-and-white thinking and try to develop multiple viewpoints on a situation.

For example, you might challenge yourself to list several positive angles of a seemingly negative situation.

This mental agility can help you see the light at the end of the tunnel of your darkness.

Embracing “cognitive flexibility” has been linked in research to greater tolerance of uncertainty and improved mental health outcomes.

Healing Question: “How can changing my thought patterns from “black and white” to “shades of gray” help me to see my current challenges not as permanent obstacles – but as evolving stages in my life’s journey?”

3. Your Ego Is Not Always Your Amigo

Think of your ego like a well-meaning but overbearing friend who gives you advice that often isn’t right for the moment. When you’re in the midst of a difficult time, such as a “Dark Night of the Soul,” this friend—the ego—might try to boss you around with ideas about how you should feel or act. Maybe it’s pushing you to be perfect or to keep your struggles to yourself. But here’s a secret: You don’t have to listen to everything it says.

For instance, if you’re trying to solve a tough problem, your ego might insist you do it alone to prove your strength. But what if, instead, you reached out for help? Maybe you talk to a friend or join a community group. That’s you taking charge, not your ego.

Assignment: Ego-Quieting Exercises

Carve out some quiet time for yourself to do things that help you feel grounded and less self-focused. This could be deep breathing, yoga, or even getting lost in a good book. These activities turn down the volume of your ego’s voice, allowing you to hear your own more clearly.

Healing Question: “What unhelpful beliefs do I have about myself that I can let go of to find peace and healing within?”

4. Seek Philosophical or Spiritual Meaning

philosophical and spiritual meaning during spiritual crisisYou don’t have to become a meditation expert, but discovering a philosophical or spiritual belief that resonates with you can offer comfort and clarity amid confusion.

For example, you might find strength in the resilient philosophy of Stoicism, which teaches you to focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t.

Or, you might find solace in the compassionate teachings of Buddhism, which encourage you to embrace life’s impermanence and find peace in the present moment.

You could even draw inspiration from the resilience and courage of characters in your favorite novels or films, whose journeys reflect your own struggles and triumphs

Assignment: Learn and Write Diary

Every day, find a little time to listen to a helpful podcast, watch a good movie or documentary, or read a few pages of a book that makes you think. Choose things that make you feel something or give you new ideas.

After that, grab your diary and write about what you learned or felt. It could be a quote that sticks in your head, a story that feels a little like your own life, or an idea that makes you see things differently. The point is to find little bits of wisdom that shine a light for you when things seem dark.

Think of it like this: You’re picking up different pieces of advice from all over, like finding shells on the beach that are pretty or interesting. You’re not just watching or reading. You’re really thinking about what these things mean for you.

Healing Question: “What’s something new I learned that makes me see my tough times a bit differently, and how can that help me grow?”

5. Let It Flow with Stream of Consciousness Writing

express yourself through writing spiritual crisis

Stream of consciousness writing is like talking to paper without filter or pause. You write down everything that comes to mind, no matter how small, strange, or insignificant it may seem.

It’s about letting your thoughts flow freely, capturing every twist and turn of your inner dialogue as it happens.

Assignment: Keep a Stream of Consciousness Journal

Devote a block of time each day where you just write nonstop. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, or whether it makes sense.

For example, you might write: “It’s dark today, inside and out. Why did I snap at Sam? I’m lost, like I’m walking through fog. Oh, I need to buy milk. But what’s the point? Life’s a circle. I remember grandpa saying…”

Just let it all out, one thought after another, even if it jumps around.

This can be particularly therapeutic during the Dark Night of the Soul, allowing you to illuminate and confront your fears, hopes, and everyday reflections – without judgment.

According to research by psychologists such as James Pennebaker, engaging in this kind of uninhibited writing can lead to improvements in both mental and physical health by helping to manage deep-seated emotions and stress.

Healing Question: “What surprising thoughts and feelings are popping up as I let my mind roam free on the page, and how could this stream of consciousness writing help me to navigate through my healing?”

6. Lean on Your Humans

Humans are social creatures. Yes, even the introverts. Reach out to friends, family, or a therapist for support.

Imagine you’re lost in a forest—wouldn’t you want a search party? Those closest to you can be just that, helping you find your way back.

Assignment: Chart Your Support Network

Think about creating a “support map,” a visual diagram where you jot down names of people in your life – each of which can offer their unique form of support.

For instance, there’s your friend Alex, who listens without judgment. Or your aunt Maria, who always has wise words.

Draw lines between you and these names, seeing the tangible network you have.

This is a strategy to remind yourself of the community you have to lean on during tough times. Studies by experts like psychologist Sheldon Cohen have shown that having a strong support system is key to coping with stress and building emotional resilience.

Healing Question: “Who in my life offers the understanding and support I need, and how can I open myself to receiving help from my community?”

7. Do Something—Anything—Different

healing and coping with the dark night of the soulWhen you’re feeling stuck, doing the same old things – over and over – can make you feel worse. It’s like listening to a sad song on repeat.

Basically, if you want to start to feel better, try getting out of your usual patterns. Dive into a new hobby, new breakfast routine, new travel route to work, etc…

When you start to shake things up a little, you not only have an easier time snapping out of an obsessive negative thought pattern.

You also start to believe that if you can make small changes, you can make big changes in your life too.

Assignment: Behavioral Activation

Challenge yourself to explore a new hobby or activity each week. It could be as simple as reading a new book, attending a pottery class, or even just changing your jogging route.

This isn’t about becoming an expert at something. It’s about stepping out of your comfort zone – to stimulate your mind and emotions differently.

Therapists call this “behavioral activation.” It’s a technique often used in treating depression. By actively engaging in new experiences, you can disrupt negative thought patterns.

Healing Question: “What new activity can I introduce into my life that may shift my energy and perspective, and how might this change help my healing and growth?”

Conclusion: Coping With The Dark Night of the Soul

In essence, the Dark Night of the Soul is akin to a chrysalis. Inside, it feels like disintegration, an undoing of everything you were.

Yet, it is from this place of dissolution that the potential for a new, transformed self can emerge.

This experience, harrowing as it may be, carves out space for growth that might not have been possible in the comfortable confines of your former certainties.


The Dark Night of the Soul might not be what you think you need. And it sure as hell isn’t what you want. But it might just be what’s necessary.

If you’re navigating through your own Dark Night and need guidance, book a free Mindset Mastery consultation here to see how I might help.

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