I’m a Good Person Who’s Done Bad Things
You’ve seen some stuff. Some terrible stuff that no one should ever have to see. You’ve got your watered down version that you tell at parties and to interested family members. It has just enough detail to satisfy, but not enough to scare. The real story is just too horrific to share. And if we’re being really honest, the really real story still haunts you; you can’t sleep at night, you’ve been drinking too much, and you keep re-experiencing what happened. It wasn’t just what you saw. It’s what you did. You knew it was wrong when you were doing it. But you didn’t have a choice. It had to be done. You have seen the dark depths of what you’re capable of and you don’t like it. And now, who knows what’s right or wrong anymore? How can you still be a good person when you’ve done such awful things?
Moral Injury Explained
In its simplest terms, moral injury is a wound to your soul. You witnessed or did something that was a direct assault to your moral beliefs, but there was no other way out of the situation. You violated your sense of right and wrong, provoking shame, guilt and grief. While there is no formal diagnosis for moral injury, the symptoms are similar to PTSD; disturbed sleep, anxiety, depression, reliving the event, reckless behavior, etc. However, unlike PTSD which gets its start in fear, the foundation for moral injury is laid when we see or do something we previously thought was abhorrent. This means you may also feel shame, guilt, remorse and alienation.
The concept of moral injury is as old as the concept of war itself. The problem is that it’s only been in recent history that we’ve begun to recognize it as its own condition rather than lump it in with PTSD. In fact, some are saying that it is moral injury, not PTSD that is the signature wound of OEF/OIF veterans.
Research has shown that the best way to build resiliency after an ethical wound is to talk about the trauma in both individual and group counseling. It is in these environments that a qualified therapist can help you understand that your transgressions do not define who you are as a person. They do not define your character. They do not dictate the course of the rest of your life. Telling your story, the true story, in a non-judgmental and accepting environment can begin the process of releasing the symptoms you may be experiencing. Then, together with a therapist, you can begin to set a course of healing that will allow you come out of the moral ambiguity you probably find yourself in and into more clarity. You will be able to resume the life you once had or set a new direction.
What I did was really bad and I deserve to feel like this.
The short answer is no. You don’t deserve to be tormented by the past. In fact, your efforts to punish yourself is evidence of your goodness. You deserve to recover. You deserve to have the opportunity to live the life you want. With my help, you can restore your faith in yourself and in humanity.
I’ve never told anyone what really happened…
I get that. I get that talking about this is one of the hardest things you will ever do. Our therapeutic space is one of empathy and acceptance. Your story is welcome. There is no rush. You set the pace. Your treatment moves at the speed you can handle. I can’t promise that it won’t be uncomfortable at times, but I do promise that I will do my best to help you achieve whatever goals you set.
Also, what happens in therapy stays in therapy. As always, I am ethically and legally bound to keep all of our discussions private. I’ve taken every precaution to ensure that my video chats and virtual office are 100% HIPPA compliant. I am in no one’s chain of command nor do I answer to insurance companies. Your story stays between you and I.
If you believe you may be experiencing some of the symptoms of a moral injury and you're ready to talk to someone, please contact me.