What causes moral injury?

Events that cause moral injury are generally thought to fall into two broad types.

1. Moral betrayal is the experience of being let down when it counts. This can involve:

• Feeling betrayed by superiors, colleagues, or even the public
• Lack of resources affecting one’s ability to meet standards
• Gross injustice or systemic failure
• Witnessing or experiencing discrimination, persecution, or inappropriate blame .

Betrayal hurts most when you are vulnerable and need backup. Hurt often comes not just from traumatic events, but also from the inadequate response to them. When systems meant to protect or deliver justice fail, it feels like a breach of the social contract we have with the organisations and people in them. It can shake the foundations of integrity and honour on which life is built.


2. Moral transgression refers to actions that breach your ethical code and sense of what is morally right. Moral transgressions can include:

• Witnessing acts of extreme violence, cruelty, neglect or abuse
• Failing to prevent tragic or criminal events
• Failing to protect members of the public or colleagues
• Accidentally causing harm
• Impossible choices between saving civilians and protecting staff.

Feeling morally compromised can stem from your own or others’ choices, and it can cause a sense of personal corruption when outcomes clash with your intentions.

Last modified: Monday, 12 February 2024, 11:27 AM