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Moral Injuries: Are They The Same as PTSD?

Moral Injuries: Are They The Same as PTSD?
Moral Injuries: Are They The Same as PTSD?

Moral Injuries: Are They The Same as PTSD?

When you do something wrong, you may experience feelings of shame or guilt. When soldiers return home from a war or deployment, they may experience these same types of feelings. It’s common to feel bad or down about something if you didn’t act or behave in a way that you wish you would have. It shows that you have good morals and beliefs instilled in you.

But what happened when you go against those moral beliefs? Let’s learn more about moral injuries and if they’re the same as PTSD. And if you’d like to speak to a mental health provider about moral injuries or PTSD- we’re here to support you.

What is PTSD?

PTSD stands for post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is a mental health disorder that occurs in individuals who have witnessed a traumatic event or a series of traumatic experiences. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will struggle with PTSD. Some people who experience a traumatic event may have a hard time adjusting back to their new normal but will eventually get better over time. Signs or symptoms of PTSD can last for months or even years depending on the individual.

What is a Moral Injury?

Moral injury is the impact that is caused as a result of a betrayal or resistance to one’s own moral values and beliefs. Unlike PTSD, moral injury isn’t recognized as a mental health condition. Although it isn’t a mental health disorder, moral injury is associated with depression and PTSD.

Moral injury was first recognized through military personnel. Some of the events that took place during their deployment caused issues with their own moral beliefs and values. These impacted their psychological, social, and spiritual state.

The Cause

Moral injuries can be caused by something that may go against your moral values and beliefs. This could include you or someone else acting or not acting in a specific way, by you witnessing an event, or learning about something after an event occurred.

The events that can cause moral injuries typically involve one of three things: A betrayal of what someone considers to be right by oneself or someone else that the person values in a high-stakes situation.

These moral injury events are caused by doing something (commission) or failing to do something (omission). Whether you acted upon something or didn’t, that choice will have gone against your moral code. Moral injury can also be caused by witnessing something that went against your moral values. You may have also been directly affected by someone else doing or not doing something that went against your beliefs.

Here are a few examples of experiences that could lead to moral injury:

  • Harming someone

  • Failure to protect someone from harm

  • Witnessing cruel behavior

  • Being betrayed by someone you trusted

The Similarities and Differences

Many of the similarities and differences between PTSD and moral injury lie within the signs and symptoms.

Fear, flashbacks, memory loss, and a startle reflex are common signs and symptoms of PTSD. Moral injury includes signs and symptoms like alienation, grief, guilt, lack of trust, regret, shame, and sorrow.

The similarities in signs and symptoms between PTSD and moral injury include anger, anxiety, depression, insomnia, nightmares, and self-coping mechanisms like the use of drugs or alcohol.

Next Steps

Although moral injury isn’t as common as PTSD, it’s still something that should be acknowledged. No matter what your trauma is, it doesn’t define you. Working with a licensed and trained mental health professional may be exactly what you need to better understand what moral injury exactly is as well as the signs and symptoms you may be experiencing.

Help is available for you when you’re ready to ask for it. Reach out to us today to set up a consultation.



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