Healing requires attention to moral damage and moral injury.
Moral injury can occur when our ability to maintain a good moral character has been compromised by the circumstances of an oppressive or dangerous condition, such as intimate partner abuse (IPA). In some cases, a survivor of IPA experiences a loss of agency over their life that can lead to behaviors, albeit self-protective, that conflict with their moral beliefs. It’s this moral harm that can contribute to the survivor feeling a deep psychological anguish of shame and guilt that makes up a moral injury. In trauma recovery from IPA, tender attention to the moral injury is critical to helping survivors fully heal.
Intimate Partner Abuse
One partner in an intimate relationship who uses psychological coercion to gain power and control over the other defines intimate partner abuse. Whether or not physical violence is present, psychological coercion can be accomplished with threats, intimidation, verbal and emotional abuse, gaslighting, imposed isolation from family and friends, restricting access to finances, and monitoring behaviors outside the home.
A controlling partner usually doesn’t disclose the full breath of their coercive intentions until after marriage and, even then, it unfolds insidiously over time. Eventually, the survivor goes from expecting love and collaboration from their partner to acquiescing to avoid being harmed. The psychological impact to the survivor of IPA is traumatic bringing on lower self-esteem, loss of emotional safety, and loss of trust in their perception and judgment. It can lead to developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Survival Strategies and Moral Injury
Salzberger in a 2021 article, “The Moral Harms of Domestic Violence” distinguishes two types of moral harm that survivors of domestic violence suffer: moral damage and moral injury. Moral damage occurs “when the ability to develop or sustain good moral character has been compromised by an agent’s circumstances.” (Salzberger, 2021, p. 1).
Moral injury “refers to a kind of psychological anguish that follows from when an individual causes or becomes causally implicated in actions that we ordinarily would understand to be morally grievous offenses because of their circumstances.” (Salzberger, p. 2).
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