Unique experiences from one’s time in the military have lasting effects. The memories, culture, and bonds made in the line of duty can carry through one’s time in service and into one’s civilian life. However, the unique stresses that members of the armed forces face can also bring traumatic experiences that can cause physical or moral injury. Whether through direct actions taken in the line of duty or inaction, moral injury is a common and complex form of injury that can continue to inform one’s civilian life and mental health. 

What Is Moral Injury?

Moral injury is a type of injury that occurs when either performing or witnessing acts that do not align with one’s moral compass. Whether an individual is performing a particular action that goes against one’s ethical beliefs or doesn’t take action to prevent such an action from occurring, the damage of moral injury can be lasting. An individual may wrestle with the effects of moral injury until provided a space to process the event. Moral injury can impact an individual on many levels, from continued emotional effects to changes in one’s behaviors, worldview, or spirituality

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Types of Moral Injury

Moral injury takes many forms, and the unique and stressful experiences that cause moral injury are profound. Some traumatic experiences that can birth moral injury include:

  • The use of deadly force in the line of duty against enemy combatants or actions that resulted in the injury or death of civilians, either intentionally or unknowingly
  • Giving direction in stressful scenarios that lead to the death or injury of others, particularly other service members
  • Being unable to provide medical aid to fellow service members or civilians when needed
  • Giving or following orders that seem inhumane, unnecessary, or drastic, particularly if against accepted rules of engagement
  • Failing to prevent a disastrous outcome in a stressful scenario, whether or not such change was realistically possible

However, while moral injury is often discussed within the context of members of the armed forces, it can happen to anyone. First responders navigating armed or tense conflicts or civilians caught in high-stress scenarios are at risk. Even failing to act on knowledge of abuse or sexual assault can beget moral injury. Whether one feels forced to act against their own moral beliefs or feels frozen in the face of traumatic experiences, moral injury is a common experience across many different walks of life. 

Identifying Moral Injury

This kind of profound injury to one’s code of ethics has a drastic impact on one’s life long after the event transpired. For veterans, sudden changes in the attitudes surrounding the necessity of war in an attempt to cope with their experiences can indicate moral injury. Others may experience debilitating levels of stress, depression, or suicidal ideation or tendencies. 

Compromised feelings of self, or the loss of trust in oneself, others, or one’s spiritual beliefs are all common. Those suffering from moral injury can feel isolated by their experiences or resigned with intense levels of guilt, shame, and a plethora of other negative emotions. Feelings of betrayal are exceptionally common. An individual may feel they have either betrayed their own morals or as if peers have betrayed an individual by acting against their moral code. Healing from a moral injury involves addressing the traumatic event itself and its effects on one’s spiritual beliefs, relationships, community, and feelings of self-worth.

Self-destructive behaviors are also common in those suffering from moral injury, and while moral injury often overlaps with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the two have their own distinctions. Finding effective healing involves not only addressing one’s unique traumatic experiences, but also working to overcome prevalent feelings of guilt, shame, anger, hopelessness, or despair and how these emotions have impacted one’s life. 

However, identifying moral injury is just the first step, and professional treatment is necessary to overcome its destructive effects. 

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Treatment Programs in Hawaii

Healing is a complex journey and finding a holistic approach to how these moral injuries and PTSD affect one’s daily life is crucial. That’s why Hawaii Island Recovery offers a dedicated veteran program that can help members of the armed forces connect with peers while developing practical and pertinent strategies for addressing these injuries. 

Personalized talk therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), experiential therapies, EMDR therapy, and dedicated spiritual guidance are all paramount to coping with these effects and are just the beginning of effective treatment programs in Hawaii. By bolstering a holistic approach to healing and curating spiritual and emotional healing in tandem, it is always possible to identify, address, and overcome the destructive effects of moral injury to create a healthier social life and sense of self for one’s future. 

Exploring the causes and effects of moral injury is necessary for an effective, comprehensive approach to healing, and we at Hawaii Island Recovery are dedicated to helping you address and overcome your morally injurious experiences to create a healthier, happier life. We understand the need to address the whole self, rather than just symptoms, to create a transformative recovery experience, and our unique combination of proven therapeutic modalities, backed by a supportive community of professionals and peers and the natural and spiritual advantages of Hawaii allows us to create a truly personalized program for you. From staffing trauma-informed professionals to addressing the use of addictive substances that stem from your traumatic experiences, we offer a comprehensive approach to rehab in Hawaii. To begin your recovery journey at an effective, dedicated center for drug and alcohol treatment in Hawaii, call to speak to us today at (866) 390-5070.