Get Help Now
Whole Soul: Embodied and principled living
Get on the Path of Healing & Wholeness
"Soul wounds" can easily derail our life’s track. Sometimes suddenly, other times after a while, the world we once knew, took comfort in, and trusted no longer makes sense, and we feel like strangers in a strange land where everything looks the same, but the way we experience it and interact with it is different.
Moral trauma and lost innocence can be disorienting, disconnecting, and despairing, upending everything—not the least of which is our sense of self.
It can be hard to share our painful experiences with others—we often think others wouldn’t understand, couldn’t understand, or would judge us. Sometimes the memories can be so overwhelming that they actually steal our ability to speak and render us silent. The truth is that healing moral trauma and lost innocence requires engaging those painful experiences — not to dwell on them, rather to integrate them.
The path of moral healing and principled, embodied living will help you integrate those experiences, but like any journey you’ll want the right "provisions."
Here is a “survival list” to keep you safe and strong.
The Moral Healing Survival Guide
Familiarize yourself with what moral trauma (i.e., moral injury and moral distress) is. Many people have never heard these terms, and even if you have, the field is still emerging so you may not have the most up-to-date information and resources.
This Moral Injury Orientation Kit will provide some basic information for what moral injury is (and isn’t), how it differs from PTSD, how it affects us at an embodied level, and some recent statistics.
Pay attention to your body—it has a lot of wisdom to offer. Trauma, generally, produces various kinds of stress, which can activate the body’s nervous system, shifting it from a calm, regulated state into a dysregulated “survival mode,” to varying effect. Ongoing dysregulation, caused by repeated experiences of unprocessed moral distress, can build up at an embodied level—quite literally, in our tissues. In other words, it leaves “moral residue” or “ethical plaque” that lodges itself in our being, even after any one crisis is over.
This article, “Unraveling? Your Stress Levels Are Likely Beyond Your 'Window of Tolerance'” will help you understand your “Window of Tolerance” and what to do when moral distress or pain “brings to the ledge” or “tosses you out.”
Distress tolerance techniques are like a nutrition bar for your body and soul. Pull one out whenever the path gets a bit rocky (or unregulated). I created this “calming kit” for this purpose.
Seek out the small stuff. The international best seller Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff showed us how to keep all the things that drive us crazy in a present moment from overwhelming us. This is very helpful to be sure. What can also be helpful for healing moral trauma is seeking out the “small stuff”—and by this, I mean small moments of presence that give us the greatest sense of movement. For instance, finding moments of meaning, pursuing a purpose, remembering our values, reaching out for connection, building resilience, and being open to transcendence (or awe and wonder). These exercises provide practical ways to do this.
Stay safe. People with moral injury often engage in risky or self-harming behavior to distract themselves from or numb themselves to their moral pain. BAD IDEA! Let me say that again—BAD IDEA! Please hear this. Regardless of how deep the injury is, the fact that you’re here and reading this shows a mark of goodness, strength, and hope. Do NOT throw that away by doing something that could cause further injury to yourself or those who care for you and who you care for.
If the risky/self-harming urge arises, reach out to trusted others-whether that’s friends and family, a support group or peer circle, a spiritual or wisdom advisor, or 911. Do it for yourself. Do it for others. Just do it.
Get in water. Seriously. The benefits of water at an embodied level are many. Research shows taking a warm shower or bath relaxes tense muscles and intrusive thoughts and helps with better sleep. A cold shower calms anxiety (see one of my most popular articles on the “Diver’s Reflex”), makes us more alert, increases energy, and fights depression.
A little or a lot. Research shows that moving our body changes our brain in ways that can increase positive emotions, like happiness. Go for a walk or run. Hit the trail for a hike. Swing your arms across your chest (research shows that crossing the body’s meridian stimulates energy). Do a squat or yoga—or try the “Astronaut’s Walk.”
Even if you feel that you don’t “deserve” to be happy, still get up and move. You’re may feel a little differently afterwards.
Struggle well. People with moral trauma often turn their pain onto themselves. This can result in self-harming and risky behavior, as mentioned above, but it can also mean becoming consumed with negative emotions, like anger, disgust, contempt, shame, and guilt—and that’s a blocker to healing. Learning the art (and science) of self-mastery is a great help for building moral resilience.
Self-mastery is the present-focused realization that we can always be in command of ourselves—body, mind, and spirit—even while accepting that we may not be able to control all situations or outcomes. It’s about learning how to struggle well, starting by turning our attention inward or engaging interoceptive awareness. Interoception helps us to be mindful of what’s happening below the surface that might be fueling our feelings, thoughts, and actions.
When going into ourselves, we don’t try to quash unpleasant emotions or judge them as wrong or weak. We give them space to tell us something new about what’s going on. We observe and get curious about what moral values, obligations, or responsibilities are not getting met; what this says about the distressing situation and us; and how we might find other ways to satisfy them.
For more on building moral resilience, check out this article (it’s one of the most popular one’s I’ve written).
A final thought...
As I wrote on these inspiration cards:
"While we are often our own worst enemy, we are always our best possibility."
While your soul might feel torn into pieces and you’re not the person that you were before this morally injurious experience, you’re here because something in you wants to reconcile, heal, and return to renewed life.
There’s no short cut on the path of moral healing, but, hopefully, this “provisions list” will fortify you just a bit as you embark on the journey.
A Great Place to Start
If you’re ready to get out onto the moral healing trail, try the ResilientU: Healing Writing to Cultivate Moral Resilience course. Giving voice to your moral pain is incredibly powerful; here you’ll have the space to do so privately and in your own time. ResilientU is a self-guided course.
New Course by Michele
ResilientU: Healing Writing to Cultivate Moral Resilience
Join us for this 28-day course that lets you tell the truth about that helps you build your “moral muscle,” so that in any situation, you can hold your center, act with confidence, and maintain your integrity, and embodied wholeness.
One of the few scientifically backed writing programs out there.
We cannot recreate our lives going backward.
We can only reclaim our life moving forward.
-Michele DeMarco, from Holding Onto Air: The Art and Science of Building a Resilient Spirit