What does moral injury feel like? What does it look like?

Moral transgressions often leave individuals feeling guilt and shame and not feeling worthy, or ‘good’. This experience goes beyond simply feeling bad about an event; it can extend to a profound sense of one’s character being altered or diminished, leading to feelings of being unforgivable and unlovable. Moral injury can present as distrust, and isolation (Jamieson et al., 2020). Moral betrayal frequently evokes outrage, disgust, anger, and a profound sense of injustice, leading to feelings of deep embitterment and/or betrayal. This betrayal can shatter trust in individuals and systems, resulting in a pervasive sense of disillusionment (Lehrner & Yehuda, 2018; Steel & Hilbrink, 2015).


What does moral injury look like?

The wounds of moral injury are often invisible to others. However, they can show up in heightened frustration with organisational structures. Many veterans and first responders who experience moral injury often focus on justice and may react strongly, with heightened anger, even to minor instances of injustice. People who are morally injured may distance themselves due to shame or the fear of burdening loved ones with something ‘toxic’. Feeling guilty and ashamed can trap them in self-judgment and self-punishment cycles, making it hard to connect with enjoyment in life. Importantly, those who have experienced moral injury often sense a lack of social support, increasing their risk for suicide (Jamieson et al., 2023; Lentz et al., 2021; Litz et al., 2016).

Last modified: Monday, 12 February 2024, 11:32 AM