Supporting a Loved One
WHOLE SOUL: Embodied and Principled Living
Help Your Loved One Get on the Path of Healing & Wholeness
The Moral Healing Survival Guide for Caregivers
Know the essentials:
- Moral trauma and lost innocence aren't problems to be solved or pathologies to diagnose. they are human struggles calling out for renewed meaning and reconnection.
- "Soul wounds" may be experienced by one person, but they can affect everyone who loves that person. Healing requires a shared response.
- Supporting someone with moral trauma or lost innocence doesn't mean fixing their pain. It requires openness, benevolent honesty, and gentle presence.
- Healing moral trauma and lost innocence requires more than reordering fractured belief systems. It means reestablishing bonds of self-worth & life-sustaining relationships are essential.
- Without healing, moral trauma and lost innocence will haunt those carrying the invisible scars and all those who love that person.
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.
Learn how to engage your loved one. Attending to someone with whom you have a relationship and who is struggling with moral trauma or lost innocence is not always easy. People with these experiences are often distant, cold or aloof, reluctant to share, preoccupied, controlling, drinking or sleeping too much, burnt out, or otherwise not able to be present (yes, that’s a lot). Talking might be difficult, and little excites them. They may even be unaware of why they feel so horrible. These are all signs that their system may be shutting down to protect itself from emotional pain.
Even those with the best of intentions often don’t know how to engage moral trauma. This article, “What to Say (and Not Say) to Someone Struggling with Moral Injury” can be a huge help in knowing how to be present without overstepping boundaries.
Learn more about how moral trauma affects relationships. This article, “Moral Injury and the Agony and Power of Love” was co-written by Rita Brock, Senior Vice President, and Director of the Shay Moral Injury Center at Volunteers of America. It does a deep dive into the relational aspects of moral injury — at its core, moral injury is about trust and our sacred relationships.
Read others’ stories of moral trauma. It can be helpful to expose yourself to other people’s experiences of moral injury and moral distress. This way, you get an “insider” look at the struggles, emotions, thoughts, etc., but at a safe distance.
This is an article I edited with a World War II veteran whose battalion liberated the first Nazi concentration camp, “Nazi Concentration Camp Liberation Solider Recalls Ohrdruf: ‘We Trudged Through an Unknown, Unexperienced Evil — Unaware How That Evil Took Hold in Us’.” It’s a truly profound story that illuminates the painful and varied nuances of the experience of moral injury. It was published by The War Horse.
This article, “Bouncing Back From Moral Injury” shares the story of another veteran whose wartime moral trauma from betrayal nearly cost him life. It also shows how neuroscience and somatic therapy helped him find new life.
“In the Black Hours” is a collection of photographic vignettes and a compendium of life stories that bring us face to face with moral injury. It’s a project that I worked on with my partner, who is a photographer, and encompasses individuals—young and old, from all walks of life—who have put into words these “unthinkable” or “unspeakable” experience to heal themselves and to raise awareness of this type of trauma.
Manage your own “Window of Tolerance.” People with moral trauma can become dysregulated by stress as a result of the body’s nervous system kicking into gear.
I wrote this article, “Unraveling? Your Stress Levels Are Likely Beyond Your 'Window of Tolerance'” to help people understand their “Window of Tolerance” and what to do when moral distress or pain brings them “to the ledge” or “tosses them out.” But for loved ones of those struggling from moral trauma, it is also helpful to understand how this dysregulation works—not only to better identify it in your loved one, but also to identify in yourself. As mentioned above, engaging people with moral injury and moral distress can be challenging and emotionally draining. This article will help you protect yourself so that you can better support them.
Distress tolerance techniques can be helpful for staying regulated. I created this “calming kit” for this purpose.
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 loved one's soul might feel torn to pieces and that they're not the person that they were before this morally injurious experience, you’re here because you care and you want to see them move toward renewed life. --And, they do need your support. Your best possibility can inspire theirs.
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 of helping your loved one heal.
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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