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Overcoming Trauma: What is Moral Injury?

Updated: Sep 4, 2023

During traumatic events or experiences, people may perform, fail to prevent, or witness events or episodes that contradict deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.”In order for moral injury to occur, the individual must feel like a transgression occurred and that they or someone else crossed a line with respect to their moral beliefs. Guilt, shame, disgust, and anger are some of the hallmark reactions of moral injury (ptsd.va.gov).”


Pathfinders Pastoral Care Ministries’ Christian counselors are uniquely trained to deal with the emotional problems caused by experiences that violate your moral values and make you question your faith. We want to explain moral injury (MI) and how it impacts a person’s ability to deal with and overcome their trauma.


How Do You Know If You’ve Experienced Moral Injury?


First, it’s important to acknowledge that trauma comes in many different forms. For example, trauma may occur from combat or combat-related activities, physical or sexual assault, accidents, being discriminated against, and/or natural disasters. However, not every person that experiences a traumatic event will experience moral injury.


The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs shares that “most research to understand moral injury has been with military Service members and Veterans, as the nature of war and combat create situations where people may have experiences that contradict the values they live by in civilian life.” For example, most Christians take the stance of pacifism and believe that taking the life of another is always morally wrong. However, a deployed Christian Service member may be obligated to take another man’s life in self-defense, as an order, or to protect his unit. This decision can lead to MI; performing an act that goes against his own moral beliefs.


Of course, Service members and Veterans are not the only groups to be at risk of experiencing MI. Healthcare workers, law enforcement, or any person who experiences or witnesses an event that is life threatening or harmful to self or others.


Moral Injury and PTSD


“Although MI often occurs in the setting of severe trauma, it can be distinguished from PTSD. MI is considered a separate syndrome from PTSD, but with some definitional overlap (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov).”


Feelings of guilt and shame or betrayal and loss of trust are common of moral injury, as well as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, “having moral injury in addition to PTSD is associated with greater PTSD and depression symptom severity (ptsd.va.gov).”


"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed." - Psalm 34:18 (NLT)

Treating Moral Injury


Any action or failure to act that negatively affects another person, yourself, or your relationship with God may create guilt, shame, self-condemnation, loss of trust, moral, or spiritual struggles. As a result, your worldview may be challenged resulting in loss of meaning and purpose for your life.


At Pathfinders Pastoral Care Ministries, we work through the ten moral injury dimensions with individuals:

  • Guilt

  • Shame

  • Betrayal

  • Moral Concerns

  • Loss of Trust

  • Loss of Meaning

  • Self-Condemnation

  • Difficult Forgiving

  • Religious Struggles

  • Loss of Religious Faith

As Christian counselors, we are uniquely trained to deal with the emotional problems caused by violations of your moral and ethical values and religious teachings. We work through each of these through specific treatment modules, including conviction, repentance, confession, forgiveness, and others.


We invite you to contact us if you or someone you love needs support processing and overcoming moral injury to reaffirm your faith.


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