Moral Injury 2

I became interested in the concept of moral injury, especially when I learned of the inclusion of spiritual aspects of trauma and how that might be treated or repaired. When I learned moral injury was described as “souls in anguish” and the treatment “soul repair”.

These ideas triggered flashes of inward light in different locations, like lightning bugs in the night. Personal experiences of moral injury related to war and conscription, to fossil fuels, to Quaker involvement in forced assimilation of native children and so many other things related to white supremacy, racism and colonization.

Moral injury and souls in anguish is about both the moral injury inflicted upon other peoples and to those who inflict the injury. More directly, we are responsible for bearing the pain from our participation in systems we benefit from at the moral cost to others.

The concept of moral injury emphasizes the psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of trauma.

Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini emphasize moral injury as “…souls in anguish, not a psychological disorder.”[4] This occurs when veterans struggle with a lost sense of humanity after transgressing deeply held moral beliefs.[4] The Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School is dedicated to addressing moral injury from this spiritual perspective.[33]

Treating moral injury has been described as “soul repair” due to the nature of moral anguish.[17]

Moral injury is a wound to the soul. It happens when you participate in or witness things that transgress your deepest beliefs about right and wrong. It is extreme trauma that mani­fests as grief, sorrow, shame, guilt, or any combination of those things. It shows up as negative thoughts, self-hatred, hatred of others, feelings of regret, obsessive behaviors, destructive ten­dencies, suicidal ideation, and all-consuming isolation.

You may experience moral injury if you’ve survived abuse, witnessed violence, participated in the chaos of combat, or ex­perienced any form of trauma that’s changed your understand­ing of what you, or other human beings, are morally capable of. For many combat veterans, moral injury is inflicted during war, when they are split into two different versions of them­selves: the person they were before war, whose morality was ingrained in them by their parents, religion, culture, and so­ciety, and the person they became during war, whose morality was replaced with a sense of right and wrong that helped them survive in a war zone.

Moral injury is emotional, psychological, and spiritual. This makes it different from post-traumatic stress disorder, which is more of a physiological reaction — the brain and body’s responses to extreme, prolonged stress or fear. Some of the symptoms of PTSD — nightmares, flashbacks, insomnia, disassociation — can be stabilized with medication. But moral injury doesn’t seem to respond to medication, at least not per­manently. Not at the soul level.

Experiencing Moral Injury In The Face of Violence, Indifference, and Confusion by Tom Voss, InnerSelf, Excerpted from the book Where War Ends. © 2019 by Tom Voss and Rebecca Anne Nguyen. Reprinted with permission from

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