Why Nadir Experiences? What Do They Provide Us? 

Short Answer:

A peak experience is a fleeting moment of self actualization - one of life's highs (significant and positive.)


A nadir experience is unpleasant moments of stress, anxiety, anger, confusion, fear, paranoia, and even psychosis caused when consciousness descends into a physical unit that is unprepared, damaged, or embedded in a toxic milieu. (significant and negative). The opportunity for personal growth and development can be three times higher because of the nadir experience.


Duration and Intensity:

Nadir experiences can range in intensity from mild anxieties and fears through paranoia and confusion to full blown experiences of existential despair. Profound nadir experiences are often referred to as the proverbial “dark night of the soul”. 

More in-Depth:

The nature of nadir experiences is personal growth. These are experiences of emotional pain, loss, defeat, and other seemingly undesirable states of being. Maslow found anecdotally that some people grow tremendously from their negative, unhappy experiences in life. Many, of course, do not. What is involved here?


The nadir experience is the experience of one of the very lowest points of life. Unlike the peak experience, which brings with it a sense of oneness and integration, the nadir experience initially causes a sense of aloneness, pain and vulnerability. The crisis or trauma which initiates the nadir experience, the nadir event, marks a severance from everyday life. In the aftermath of this severance stage comes a transition period, the threshold stage, marked by a sense of disintegration, powerlessness, and emptiness. Often, though, this stage is followed by an important change. Surprisingly, those who suffer severe trauma are those most likely to experience positive change in their lives. Reflection also seems to play an important role in this process. As persons rejoin lives changed by the nadir event, they often experience a feeling of increased personal well-being, a sense of meaning in their lives, a deeper spirituality, an inner wisdom, and increased compassion – all essential for advancing a healthy “mind-set” for effective leadership. 


The short-term consequences of nadir experiences tend to be negative and include guilt, anger, or dread. The long-term consequences tend to be positive and similar to the long-term consequences of peak experiences. According to Michael Sharp, a nadir experience occurs when consciousness expands into the physical unit in negative (mental, emotional, physical, social, cultural, political, and economic) environments. In these situations heightened anxiety, stress, fear, paranoia, confusion, and disorientation may be the result of increasing consciousness in the physical unit. Nadir experiences can range in intensity from mild anxieties and fears to full blow experiences of existential despair, paranoia, and confusion. 


It is important to note of nadir experiences that while many people have them, and while they do represent an outcome of authentic spiritual awakening, nadir experiences are not a necessary feature of awakening or activation. Nadir experiences exist, but only because our societies are toxic and filled with violence, greed, poverty, pain, and anguish. When we undergo authentic awakening we see, confront, and maybe even (re)experience the toxicity and negativity that we grew up in, or that surrounds us presently. Nadir experiences arise as we become aware of toxicity. If there is no toxicity, there is no nadir experience.


I would also like to make a distinction between the nadir experience and the nadir event. The nadir event may be short-lived, but the nadir experience continues as a person deals with the aftermath of that event. Persons living through the same nadir event may have quite different nadir experiences. A person who perceives a nadir event as challenging core values is more likely to experience long-term positive change. Regardless of the nature of the traumatic event, however, nadir experiences share important characteristics. One of these characteristics is the way a nadir experience divides into three phases. I propose describing the nadir experience by including in it these three natural phases: 


the event, 

the adjustment, and 

the return. 


The nadir event cuts us abruptly off from our normal state of existence. It is as if our ordinary life and the ground on which we stand are no longer there. In the nadir event, we suffer ‘‘the loss of a predictable and safe world.’’ In some cases the nadir experience may be the result of an internal event such as the onset of depression, anxiety, addiction, or other ineffective mindsets. Although the result of a nadir event may be a profound sense of loss, the grief process may nonetheless be ‘‘one of the most meaningful tasks you will ever do.’’ Despite their devastating effect on a person’s quality of life, nadir experiences that challenge core beliefs and offer the opportunity for reflection can become opportunities for personal transformation and psychological growth. A person who perceives a nadir event as challenging core values is more likely to experience long-term positive change. 


Those who successfully leverage a nadir experience often experience a deepening of relationships, a desire for more intimacy, greater compassion, a sense of being strengthened by the experience, and a renewed appreciation for life. However, not everyone will achieve growth and reach the reincorporation stage. Example of nadirs can be a lost promotion, a job loss, a divorce or love lost, a broken leg, loss of a best friend, being kicked off a board of directors, a deep depression and you don’t know why, performing below your potential etc.


Do you have a nadir experience you would benefit from reflecting on? 


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For more information, please contact David at

David@peak.ca  +1 902-441-1513