What is a moral injury?

Moral injury is a wound from extreme life experiences that violate individuals’ deeply held beliefs or moral values, leaving feelings of shame, guilt or blame (Frankfurt & Frazier, 2016). Also, moral injury is described as a psychological, social and spiritual wounding that can occur in high stakes situations that deeply challenge the integrity of personal values and expectations (Litz et al., 2009; Shay, 2014).

While trauma has traditionally been understood as exposure to physical threats, traumatic stress can also come from events that threaten the integrity of social norms and rules that create order and safety in society (Williamson et al., 2023). Events that challenge one’s core values and one’s sense of what is right can leave deep marks in someone’s mind and heart, creating lasting wounds that are invisible to others but incredibly painful and isolating (Williamson et al., 2021). While moral injury is not yet a formal diagnosis, moral injury shares numerous features with PTSD, namely, moral injury is strongly associated with more severe PTSD, depression and suicide amongst service personnel (Koenig & Zaben, 2021; Barnes et al., 2019; Griffin et al., 2019; Bryant, 2021).

Further, children may take on a protective carer role for their wounded parent, and these children may be misunderstood and misidentified with behavioural or attention disorders (May et al., 2023).

Last modified: Tuesday, 13 February 2024, 2:27 PM