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Moral Conflict (aka, moral injury)


Inner Conflict, Moral Conflict, Moral Injury: Call it what you will . . . It’s a painful condition that’s often misunderstood but can be overcome. 


Intense moral conflict and ethical dilemmas have plagued humankind forever, but the uniquely personal impact has remained largely unclear or misunderstood. “Accidents, betrayal, unexpected loss, abuse, false accusations—the list goes on. Whether it’s something we believe we've done (by force, choice or accident), something we’ve witnessed or heard, or something that’s been done to us, we’re talking about those unexpected, ‘no-win’ circumstances that can greatly offend our values or moral code—our sense of right and wrong—often resulting in psychological, emotional, even spiritual torment,” Mary explains. “After an event like this, I hear confusion. Many people ask, “Who am I now? Am I a good person or a bad person? I feel like I’m two different people.”

Fortunately, in the last 10 years, a lot has been written about this timeless condition, increasingly referred to in the veteran mental health community as “moral injury”—a term embraced by the Veterans Administration (VA) to describe the lasting emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual impact of actions that violate a service member’s core moral values and behavioral expectations of self or others” (Litz et al., 2009). 


Working in-depth for years with countless moral and ethical conflicts experienced by veterans, their family members, and non-veterans, Mary believes the term “moral injury” is too limited. And, as many veterans and others understandably say they don’t want to be viewed as “injured”, Mary refers to the condition as “moral conflict”. She sees it as a more universal experience that can affect just about anyone, to varying degrees of complex circumstances that can violate a person’s moral code—their sense of right and wrong. “These circumstances definitely aren't limited to war, necessary killing or death; they can be found in many other areas of life, often taking a very personal toll.” 


Common symptoms can include sadness, depression, anger, shame, blame, guilt, a sense of futility, decreased self-esteem, confusion around sense of self and self-worth, and sometimes even a total loss of one’s identity. 


“When preoccupied by an intense moral conflict, sometimes for months or decades, working with the way we see ourselves is essential," Mary explains, "and how the past might still be affecting us. What’s most important is to not let those circumstances define us or limit who we want to be.” With an effective protocol for reclaiming greater peace and sense of self, Mary continues her work for healing moral conflict, offering individual life coaching, training and speaking programs for managing this condition.

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