Moral Injury: Management of internal pain and those who experience it in the workplace.


In my September 2017 article on LinkedIn, I presented a powerful argument about Moral Injury. This topic addressed military service along with the impact of feelings of guilt and sadness that happens from military action. These actions impact active duty and veteran military personnel.

I define moral injury as actions that go against what we know is appropriate behavior and actions. It is not the little lies or taking a pen from the bank after signing a document. Rather, moral injury is a deep and abiding overall trauma to the soul. This trauma is based upon extreme and unprecedented life events and the aftermath of those events.

There is a mental clash between what our morals, judgments, and values tell us is the right thing to do. This may be opposite of what is orders by a company commander or first sergeant telling us that the order is "shoot to kill". Only to later find out that the person killed was not an insurgent and was racing to be by his wife's side as she gave birth. The veteran killed the man in combat.

This type of mandatory action can lead to guilt, anguish, or a numbing of one's spirit. It changes a person and how interactions with co-workers are perceived. Shame is a large component of moral injury. The emotion can be a driver of self-doubt, lack of self-examination, and overall emotional dysfunction.

Individual who suffer from Moral Injury have an emotional scar on their soul. You cannot see it or touch the scar; yet, it stays in the person's spirit. Moral Injury can become a cry for help as the person begins to self-justify their beliefs. These beliefs can lead to self-injury or suicidal ideas.

When an employee begins to answer the questions in a justified manner, lethality or suicide may occur. Lethality, examines the potential for suicidal action based upon how a person presents and what statements are actually made.

Some times the outcome of the moral injury is that the individual may attempt to take their lives. They may self-justify their behavior through negative talk such as "I am a screw up", "nothing in my life is working", or "my family would be better off without me". The suicide can be a result of a clash between what they believe is morally correct and the actual actions they were ordered to take.

Corporate Behaviors

Corporate cultures and leadership requires a fine walk between the work requirements and the individual employee. Managers can become aware of derailers in an employee's work environment by listening. When a manager is violating an ethical protocol and the employee is forced to adhere to the legal or ethical violation; the moral injury become more predominate in the self-talk conversation. The employee may mentally say "if I would only have stood up for the truth..." or "why did I agree to the lie...". This becomes a form of self-blame based upon a manager's moral transgressions that the manager believes is "normal behavior".

Employees who have moral injury need to have a hope, security, and consideration within the environment. Hope that the people in their work environment will behave in an acceptable moral standard. Security that the dysfunctional behaviors in an organization will be managed by leadership, and that the statements made by leaders to employees are congruent. Basically what is stated is what is done.

This process entails a self-examination by leaders and subordinates of why the team behaves a certain way. Team dynamics can lead a wounded employee into a safety zone that will aid in retention of the employee. The wounded employee will go through a period of self-examination of what led them to the moral injury in the first place. This is basically examining the disconnect within the person's key psyche such as morals, values and judgments. These factors are key in stress filled environments when deciding which actions to take. The use of these techniques assist us in determining the nexus to create a more solid work environment.

Supportive corporate environments provide a level of security in the workplace and a sense of belonging that can only be found in a functional environment. Managers who yell and scream at employees could be a catalyst for other behaviors or emotions by the employee.

For more information on moral injury, please read my article on LinkedIn regarding moral injury.

#moralinjury #PTSD #mentalhealth #employment #careertransition

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