In the past two weeks it has been difficult to be anywhere without reading or hearing about the Ohio Kidnapping, 10 year captivity, sexual abuse, torture and beatings causing miscarriages to three young woman and one daughter, locked in a neighborhood house by one man.
Both in and outside of my office people have commented and questioned:
Judith Herman tells us that a traumatic event is one that has the capacity to provoke fear, helplessness, or horror in response to the threat of injury or death, or witnessing that in another.
When the trauma is that of nature, we speak of disaster.
When the trauma is man-made, we speak of atrocities.
It is worth considering that in face of this Ohio atrocity, whether we live in that neighborhood or witness the horror in the virtual community of viewers, we cannot easily shake this inhumanity because it is not only traumatizing— it evokes moral injury.
According to psychologist Brett Litz, moral injury is the (social, psychological, spiritual, behavioral) impact of perpetrating, failing to prevent or bearing witness to acts that transgress our deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.
How Do We Deal With Moral Injury?
Drawing upon the efforts of military psychologist Brett Litz and colleagues who study the repair of moral injury, three guidelines might be considered.
They may help us in face of atrocities like the Ohio Kidnapping Case as well as with feelings stirred by personal transgressions or injustices we have witnessed or suffered in our own lives.
Sharing the Story with an Empathic Listener
Seeking Forgiveness From A Respected Or Revered Authority
To bear witness to one’s transgression (large or small) in the eyes of someone respected and trusted (be it a higher power, a spouse, a parent, a special group) and to feel forgiveness is possible, is to dare to forgive self and make amends and change possible.
Living A Corrective Experience
A powerful response to the moral transgressions we observe with horror in others or that we may glimpse in our own lives is the effort to live a corrective experience–in some way.
To act within one’s moral beliefs and expectations is to reduce moral injury and add something hopeful to self and to the rest of the world.
Given that atrocity is not likely to stop in this complicated world, it is important to know from the inside out—Goodness is Renewable.
Couple on a bench image available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 16 May 2013