Can you catch Moral injury? How does a parent’s moral injury affect children?

A parent’s moral trauma, including feelings of betrayal, hopelessness and powerlessness to effect change and problematic interpersonal relationships, can influence a child’s beliefs about the world. In some cases, this can be adopted by the children themselves, who identify with and mirror their parent’s beliefs and behaviours (May, Van Hooff, Doherty, & Carter, 2023).


While the intergenerational transmission of moral trauma has been theorised (Bruning, 2018; Nash & Litz, 2013), it has only recently been confirmed in a new study highlighting the parent’s moral trauma and view of the world, with a symptomology of guilt, shame and hopelessness. These feelings were transmitted to children, who also experienced a lack of trust in social interactions and, more generally, in society and its structures (May, Van Hooff, Doherty, & Carter, 2023). For the children in the study, There was a sense of feeling different, a lack of trust in themselves and others and feelings of being stigmatised, betrayed and resentful. This is an expected impact of moral trauma on service parents who experienced complex discharges or perceived institutional betrayal by their service (May et al., 2023). This moral trauma impacted their self-esteem and caused difficulties in social interactions and friendships at school and other social settings (May et al., 2023).

'Further, children may take on a protective carer role for their wounded parent and can also emulate or identify with their parent’s feelings and views about the world, which can lead to transmission of moral injury to them, impacting their psycho-social functioning and relationships' (May et al., 2023).

'Moral trauma is transferred to children when they adopt the parent’s sense of shame or lack of trust in their interactions psycho-socially, and they may experience their parent’s symptoms of negative emotions and feelings of guilt, shame, and hopelessness' (May 2023).

Last modified: Monday, 12 February 2024, 11:36 AM