Are you experiencing a “Dark Night of the Soul”?

In 1974, a book by Frederic Flach, M.D., The Secret Strength of Depression, was important to me in understanding how to move through what was seemingly the unrelenting chaos of a “dark night of the soul”. In his later book Resilience, he is focusing on the necessity of developing resilience to deal with our world, where disarray and change is constant, and how we can learn to cope with it creatively, which is exactly what I teach my clients caught in their “dark night” of career chaos.

Flach emphasizes that: “The psychological changes that accompany stress reaction should lead to a new, more complex and adaptive structure that is qualitatively different from that which preceded it.” (p. 5) In other words, he is saying that we should have learned something valuable from the “dark night” we have been through. We should emerge better put together and more qualified to deal with life’s continuing challenges because of our experience.

He points out that these shifts when we are forced to “forfeit absolute perceptions and ways of viewing things in favor of new, more complex homeostasis more suited to our present and future survival.” Flach calls these points in life bifurcation points (from contemporary physics) representing extreme changes when we become severely destabilized, which may set the stage for regeneration into a new and more effective level of coherence (p. 14). As for complexity – “We have the potential to reorganize ourselves and our lives after a period of stress, a capacity attributable to the fact that as human beings, we are self-organizing systems” (p. 20).

Dr. Flach underscores that the law of psychobiological disruption and reintegration has serious importance during all of our lives. We must fall apart in order to learn and to experience meaningful change. We are at varying degrees of chaos and risk, since we do not know what direction our future will take (p. 7). Each period of chaotic disruption and reintegration prepares us for more that lie ahead, if we stay on an adaptive learning curve. Failure to pass successfully through any stress cycle leaves us crippled, with no strengths to meet future bifurcation points (p. 20).

Flach emphasizes that “Nowhere, perhaps, are the challenges of chaos triggered by stress and the strength to survive it more vividly exemplified than in the experiences of men and women subjected to the trauma” of a sudden job loss after a number of years in an organization with expectations of remaining there until traditional retirement. (p. 20)

The onset of middle age is a great deal more than numbers. “It’s a major bifurcation point where everything is up for grabs again” (p. 83). Health may become an issue. “The stresses of entering mid-life can be enormous. It is a time to reorient oneself to one’s work.” “The death rate among retirees during the first few years after retirement is remarkably high; this statistic must be attributed in part to being unprepared for the disruption that normally accompanies this transition, the loss of work that gave meaning and identity to one’s life” (p. 94).

Are you in a “dark night” right now? All of my career clients have a “dark night” and it’s essential to face it and move forward for success in your career. If you have had a “dark night” and came out on the other side, share with us some of your strategies for accomplishing this. If you are still in your “dark night” and fighting through it, what are you doing?

In group workshops sharing your “dark nights” and major accomplishments are essential in moving forward.