Posts tagged ‘Depression’

Dark Nights of the Soul: Spiritual Transformation or Clinical Depression? Part 2 ll By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

Dark Nights of the Soul: Spiritual Transformation or Clinical Depression? Part 2
By Rev. Mary Coday Edwards, MA.

As I said in my last blog, dark nights of the soul result from the pressures building under the oceanic tectonic plates of our unconscious worldview, readying to propel a tsunami that will forever rearrange our surface lives.

But before we proceed further, more definitions are in order, including spiritual transformation, soul from a religious perspective, clinical depression or Major Depressive Disorder, and sadness.

In an earlier blog I discussed spiritual , and basically it’s what brings meaning to our lives, usually through our sacred practices, disciplines, and rituals. Dark nights of the soul occur when that meaning fails us.

Our psyche is pushing for an upgrade to our operating system

We then work harder at our sacred disciplines, blaming ourselves for the fact that what used to bring us a measure of peace doesn’t anymore. Advice from well-meaning people increases the pain: “You must not be mediating right or long enough. You need a retreat.” Or “Well, God doesn’t change, so it must be you. What are you doing wrong?” And more.

What’s happened is that we’ve outgrown our world picture, our worldview—it’s not working anymore. AND THAT’S OKAY. Our psyche is pushing for an upgrade, time to update that old operating system or maybe jettison it in its entirety. Crudely summarizing John of the Cross’ reasons for a dark night: we have incomplete and inadequate ideas about ourselves and/or God—however we define Ultimate Reality. The box we’ve put ourselves in can’t contain us anymore, and it’s not meant to.

This upgrade comes in the form of spiritual transformation, which will leave us with a greater sense of who we are and our purpose in this world. Perhaps our outdated meaning was passed onto us by our parents, our teachers, or our culture. We’ve never consciously made it our own, but unconsciously let it rule our lives. And when it’s time for these unconsciously appropriated beliefs to shift, along comes those dark nights.

It’s time to examine our motives and the foundation of our values, ideas, and belief systems. These drive our actions and determine what’s still serving us.

That’s what being an adult means. We take responsibility for our lives and the choices we make. We are not under the control of unexamined beliefs and values anymore. We may decide to return to those, but we will do so consciously. Our psyche refuses to stay an adolescent.

Linking soul with genuineness and one’s true nature

I defined soul in my last blog from a Jungian perspective. What follows are from major world religions. Keep in mind these are basic definitions—and subject to controversy by various schools of thought and accredited meaning inherent in each spiritual tradition.

• Hindu: Ātman is a Sanskrit word that means inner self or soul. In Hindu philosophy Ātman is the first principle, the true or real self or essence of an individual (Wikipedia).

Buddhism subscribes to an Anatta doctrine, translated variously: No-soul, No-self, egolessness, and soullessness. The Buddha regarded soul-speculation as useless and illusory (Wikipedia).

Judaism: From the Hebrew scriptures, Genesis 2:7: God did not make a body and put soul into it, like putting shoes in a box, but God formed the body from dust and then by breathing divine life into it (nepesh, or breath), the body of dust became alive, it became a living being. Nepesh refers to the principle of life in any living organism, just like any other living creature. A tree does tree things; an elephant does elephant things. A doctrine of an immortal soul in Judaism developed later through the interaction of the Greek philosophies of the separation of soul and body (1).

•The Christian scriptures use the Greek word (psūchê), or psyche, for soul, translating the Hebrew word nepesh for the Greek. It kept the original meaning, however, of nepesh, or breath, or of a living, breathing, conscious being, which initially did not have an intent of an immortal soul. Later, the Biblical Patristic writers would adopt the Greek interpretation for soul as a separate, immortal entity (2).

Islam uses the Arabic word which includes several definitions, one of which is a person’s essential, immortal self (Wikipedia).

And it’s not necessarily either/or

Clinical depression is the layman’s term for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), its symptoms laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (see Note 3, with the symptoms included at the end of this blog under Depression DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria). An MDD diagnosis for a mental health professional centers around determining for how long, and to what degree, these symptoms persist in an individual’s life and whether or not he/she still finds joy in everyday life. Can the sufferer still enjoy a good book? A good movie? A night out on the town with friends? Hiking in the woods? How is the individual functioning in life’s daily routine?

And it’s not either/or—we’re not limited to a dark night OR a MDD—but it’s often and/but. Sometimes life throws many stressors at us at one time—death of a loved one, a job change, a divorce, a cross-country move—and pharmacological interventions can help us get over the hump. These same events often then act as dark nights when they strike “you at the core of your existence. It’s not just a feeling, but a rupture at the core of your very being, and it may take a long while to get to the other end of it” (4).

Sadness or depression?

Sadness intertwines itself with depression. How to discern what’s going on? Sadness is a normal emotion, usually triggered by external life events, such as the passing of a pet, the moving away of a friend, or loss of a job. But one can still find pleasures and joy in everyday life. And with time, it will go away.

Sadness in depression, however, needs no external trigger. But it isn’t just the degree of sadness, but the combination of factors in a MDD as noted above: how long, and to what degree, these symptoms persist in an individual’s life, whether or not he/she still finds joy in everyday life, and is the individual able to function in life’s daily routine (see Note 5 for a link for more details on sadness).

As oceanic tectonic plate shifts wound the ocean skin with its tearing apart, dark nights of our soul do the same. Author Jean Houston writes, “The wounding becomes sacred when we are willing to release our old stories and to become the vehicles through which the new story may emerge into time.”

More on this in my next blog. Meanwhile, honor your psyche by paying attention to the energies moving in your soul. Watch for when your true essence buried within you is seeking a passage  out to the light of day!


Notes & Sources:

  1. 1. Atkinson, David. The Message of Genesis 1-11. Inter-Varsity Press. 1990. Pages 55-59.
  2. 2. Vine, W.E. An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Volume IX, page 55. Fleming H. Revell Company. 1966.
  3. 3. American Psychiatric Association. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the 2013 update to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the taxonomic and diagnostic tool published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). See also:
  4. 4. The best resource I have found on determining if it’s a dark night of the soul or a clinical depression requiring the attention of a mental health professional is Thomas Moore’s book, Dark Nights of the Soul, A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals. Penguin Random House. 2004.
  5. 5.


Depression DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria: The DSM-5 outlines the following criterion to make a diagnosis of depression. The individual must be experiencing five or more symptoms during the same 2-week period and at least one of the symptoms should be either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.

a. Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.

b. Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.

c. Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.

d. A slowing down of thought and a reduction of physical movement (observable by others, not merely subjective feelings of restlessness or being slowed down).

e. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.

f. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.

g. Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness, nearly every day.

h. Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

To receive a diagnosis of depression, these symptoms must cause the individual clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. The symptoms must also not be a result of substance abuse or another medical condition. For more details, see


About the Author: Rev. Mary Coday Edwards is a Spiritual Growth Facilitator and People House Minister. A life-long student of spirituality, Mary spent almost 20 years living, working and sojourning abroad in Asia, Southeast Asia, East Africa, and Latin America before finding her People House “tribe” and completing its Ministerial Program. Past studies include postgraduate studies from the University of South Africa in Theological Ethics/Ecological Justice, focusing on the spiritual and physical interconnectedness of all things. With her MA in Environmental Studies from Boston University, abroad she worked and wrote on environmental sustainability issues at both global and local levels, in addition to working in refugee repatriation.

Erasing Shame ll Rich Brodt

Erasing Shame

By: Rich Brodt

            The Oxford English Dictionary defines darkness as both an absence of light, and as wickedness or evil. I take the former to refer to an overall state of literal or figurative darkness. One might say that America is in a time of darkness. Trust in the system is at an all time low due to the actions of our leaders, and people are figuratively in the dark as a result of the media’s inability to consistently report accurate facts. The first definition is easy enough to take at face value, but the second definition gives me pause. Under that second definition, “wickedness or evil,” the Dictionary lists several sub-definitions such as “[u]nhappiness or gloom,” “[s]ecrecy or mystery,” and “[l]ack of spiritual or intellectual enlightenment; ignorance.”

            These definitions are fascinating. They explain the definition of darkness as “wickedness or evil.”

These definitions indicate that unhappiness, gloom, secrecy, and a lack of enlightenment are essentially evil or wicked. Some of the purportedly evil things are the same words we might use to describe mental health issues. “Gloom” or “unhappiness” could easily refer to a depressed individual’s state of mind – and this is how we are defining wickedness or evil. 

            The stigma of mental illness has improved somewhat over the years, however, these are still the messages that society sends to unhappy people. If you are unhappy, something within you must be flawed. The definition treats the negative feelings more like unwanted interlopers than valid emotion. Yet the definition merely reflects what is readily observable in American culture. We are taught to praise the image of a person who is ascending, succeeding, working hard, living a “happy” life. Depression is not depicted as a natural part of life, instead it is portrayed as a defect, a character flaw. I believe this is because we are made uncomfortable by another’s pain.

So on top of sending the message that it is not okay to be depressed, we are also asking depressed individuals to hide their true emotions in order to make us more comfortable.

            These messages force people into hiding, severing connections that are essential to individual growth and positive thinking. By avoiding these uncomfortable topics, we send the message that they are taboo. As a result, negative feelings are suppressed. It seems that this is often followed by detachment and aloofness. Our discomfort with another’s pain causes them to suppress further. Others, sensitive to these messages from an early age, may adopt a false persona to blend in with the people they perceive as normal. This can be dangerous. The continued effort of suppressing one’s true self around other people is exhausting. When an individual suppresses their feelings to this extent it eventually leads to worsening levels of depression, self-harm, and isolation.          

            As a culture, we want people to be “happy.” However, happiness is not meant to be a permanent state. If happiness was permanent, there would be no drive to grow or to improve one’s self. A state of bliss is a nice vacation, but if we stayed there we would probably have far fewer chances to evolve. Stress, anxiety, tragedy, grief and trauma are all a part of the process of becoming who we are. The more we shut ourselves off from the darkness that life challenges us with, the less we are able to accommodate and appreciate moments of light.

            This is largely why I feel that therapists need to spend time working through the taboo thoughts that their client may be having, normalizing them and allowing the individual to understand the reasons for them. For example, at some point, most of us will counsel someone on the verge of losing a loved one. Sometimes, the client will shamefully reveal that the relative’s suffering is so difficult to bare that they would prefer if their loved one would die already. While the statement is impactful, it is not bad or wrong. It can be shocking since the statement is inherently hopeless. However, this shows me that the individual is open to their feelings and not detaching from them. The individual usually feels shame and guilt around even having such thoughts. When they do, I try to remind them that what they are thinking is natural. The mind tries to find a way to relieve itself from suffering. Fantasizing that this person has already passed does exactly that – allows the mind to envision a situation where the suffering has ceased. It provides a comfort.

It is important to normalize this thought process, allowing the client to see there is no reason to feel shame.

            This process can be used to facilitate the processing of other similarly taboo thoughts a client may experience. I believe that there is a reason for every thought; for negative/dark/taboo thought, the reason is usually related to some kind of emotional or physical pain that the individual needs escape from. If that unwanted thought can be traced to something distressing, the individual can begin to understand why the dark thoughts started to emerge. This helps to relieve feelings of shame, and keeps the client moving forward free of judgment.


Darkness. (2017). In Oxford.  Retrieved from

About the Author: Rich Brodt is a Registered Psychotherapist and former attorney with over 7 years of mental health treatment experience. He is especially interested in working with trauma, grief, existential themes in counseling, and the link between psychology and philosophy. He is currently in private practice conducting group and individual therapy at Elevated Counseling, PLLC 2727 Bryant Street Suite 550, Denver, CO 80211 and can be reached at (720) 295-1352 for scheduling inquiries.

People House: a Center for Personal and Spiritual Growth