Familiar Sayings: Help or Platitude?

“It is always darkest just before the dawn” is a quote often shared during difficult times. Recently I became curious; where did this quote originate? Apparently the oldest reference is Thomas Fuller in 1650, although it’s not clear if he wrote it or was quoting someone else. Folks from a different generation attribute it to Harvey Dent, an ally of Batman who turns into his enemy Two-Face, in the movie The Dark Night.

When people bring this idea up in my office they tend to come from one of two places: hope or anger. Sally had survived a lot over the past few years. When she first came to see me her adult son had just relapsed and was using drugs again. She gained enough skills and strength to ask him to leave her house, and then her mother was diagnosed with cancer. While she was flying back and forth taking care of her mother her employer downsized and she lost her job. Sally desperately hoped she had finally reached her “darkest hour” because for her that meant the relief of dawn was just around the corner. Her biggest fear was that there was more darkness to come.

Dana came into her session enraged. She had been working on being more vulnerable with those closest to her and shared some very personal information with her sister over the weekend. Dana was hoping for a deeper emotional connection including empathy and some understanding. However all her sister offered was, “It’s always darkest before the dawn,” and then changed the subject to the weather. “So condescending! She completely missed what I was saying and covered it up with a platitude.”

I have learned this concept is difficult to use in the present moment, both as giver and receiver, and the potential truth of it can get lost. I think its best used in hindsight when there’s some perspective. This week take an experience from your past and try to identify your most difficult moment, when your overall experience began to shift from darkness to light, and when the light eclipsed the dark.