TRR Blog: Discussing our Article on Moral Injury and Horses

In our published article, “Why We Don’t Ride: Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Military Veterans and Moral Injury,” we very carefully do not say that horse riding is “contraindicated for the psychological treatment of veterans with moral injury.”

James hanging with the aged chestnut copyA blog about our article was forwarded to us from a colleague in the equine industry. There does not seem to be a way to leave a comment on the blog author’s website so we are posting this as our response in a way that can encourage dialogue. The links to the blog we are responding to, as well as our original article, are below.

In our published article, “Why We Don’t Ride: Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Military Veterans and Moral Injury,” we very carefully do not say that horse riding is “contraindicated for the psychological treatment of veterans with moral injury.” This is because it blurs the very lines we meticulously kept clear: we address, not treat, moral injury, not as a psychological problem or disorder, but as an existential phenomenon of the human post war experience. This is not, strictly speaking, “psychological treatment.” We are not trying to soothe the limbic nervous system, or align the brain systems–we have other tools for that; we assume that moral injury becomes more pronounced AS the limbic system comes into alignment through EMDR and Yoga, which is why the arena is our most powerful transformative space, and which is why we emphasis the power of the ground work; that’s where moral injury healing takes place. Even while your blog recognizes our distinctions between moral injury and ptsd, it is our observation that you, unwittingly, fell right back into the trap of amalgamating them. We are not denying the nice things you documented about riding horses in general, but are alerting to the danger of putting a morally injured veteran on a horse to attain a therapeutic goal related to the healing of moral injury. So, much of your blog is rather superfluous as a response to what we were actually talking about. We never say horses can’t be ridden well and with benefit to horse and rider alike, but we do stand by our experience – that a horse’s back is not the place for moral injury repair.

It is very important to clarify that we never (ever) said that horses are “victimized by mounted work.”  We do say “for a war veteran we have invoked the experience of being a perpetrator in control of a victim.” But that is about the veteran’s experience, not the horse’s. Your suggestion that power and domination can invade the relationship between horse and human on the ground just as in riding seems a bit of a stretch. It is not as inherent on the ground as it could be in the saddle with bit and bridle. Moreover, we TOTALLY disagree that “the most intimate we will ever be with a horse is on its back.” That can be challenged powerfully–as if horses were creatures who were created to be ridden. They will allow us that, but that is not their purpose or their nature, any more than pulling a carriage is. They will cooperate with us and carry us, but that is not the most intimate we will ever be with a horse. We think intimacy is best experienced when the horse is free to address us or not; when the horse(s) incorporate us into their herd, rather than the reverse, true connection is made.

Over all, we think the blog article treats our perspective pretty fairly, but that the authors misunderstand some of our points. It is also the case that while they credited and cited our article, there was no link to it so that attentive readers could review what we actually said, rather than an interpretation of it. That would allow them to see the biases in both and reconcile it all in their own thought processes.

To that end, here are the links to the blog commentary, and our original article.

Why We Don’t Ride: Equine Assisted Psychotherapy, Military Veterans and Moral Injury


Moral Injury and “Cognition”

In America, those of us who understand Moral Injury as an existential and spiritual concern find ourselves in conflict with a popular misconception that makes of Moral Injury a cognitive problem. The kinds of struggles that Warriors experience in the aftermath of war often seem like plagues of “bad information” about self, war, and the world, and if, as the story goes, bad information can be displaced with “good” information, then the symptoms that the Warrior experiences will subside. Moral Injury can be seen, from this perspective, as a malfunction of cognition. Fix the thinking, remove the problem.

What constitutes “good” information? Often, the moral crises experienced by war fighters receive a flood of patriotic rhetoric designed to wash away–forcefully–the moral ambivalence that many war veterans experience. “Thank you for your service, you did the right thing, you are a hero, that is your job, you signed up for this, you are a defender of freedom, this is a just war, you supported a good cause,” etc. ad infinitum–these sorts of statements, and many others like them, all assume that a Warrior’s struggle comes from a lack of good information. “You gotta get your head right!!!” This all to common tag phrase, and the information barrage that Warriors receive as they wrestle with moral ambiguity, represent the “moral-quandary-as-dysfunctional-thinking” perspective.

PTSD and Moral Injury represent starkly different experiences, but this they share in common: neither one constitutes a “thinking problem.” Granted, many Warriors absolutely have “thinking problems.” No question. Yet, many of those patterns of dysfunctional thinking (cognitive distortions) do not emerge within the context of combat, but rather come with the Warrior into the theater of war. These problematic thinking patterns can be instigated and exacerbated in combat, and once these ways of thought become activated, they can and do cause cognitive dissonance and emotional distress. That experience, in and of itself–not at all uncommon in civilians who never even join the military, let alone deploy into combat–does not fulfill the broader and deeper criteria for Moral Injury.

The symptoms of PTSD point to a specific kind of sympathetic nervous system disregulation — it is a “brain/mind” upset. We know where it happens in the brain, and we have specific trauma treatments that address the limbic brain in order to re-regulate that system. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy has proven to address this with powerful effectiveness as has been shown qualitatively in the lives of many war trauma survivors who have experienced this therapy and quantitatively in several validated outcome studies. No educated person questions the effectiveness of EMDR Therapy as a PTSD treatment. PTSD is a limbic nervous system disruption that can be treated, not with “good information,” but with the application of a treatment that reaches into and helps re-regulate the limbic brain.

Moral Injury constitutes neither a “thinking problem” nor a “brain/mind upset,” but rather an existential crisis based in both articulated and tacit morality–a deeply owned sense of what is right and wrong. Moral Injury does not emerge from “bad” or “ineffective” morals. The point is not to cognitively adjust the moral viewpoint and thus resolve the symptoms of the moral crisis. That would be the adjustment of a thinking problem. Instead, Moral Injury must be addressed as a deeply valid moral response to immoral experiences. Moral Injury does not come from moral misperceptions, but from valid moral observations about what is right and wrong in a combat situation. Notice the following contrast:

“I should have been able to save my Section Sergeant. He always gave us all he had; I should have been there for him” (even though the Section Sergeant was one hundred meters away and the Warrior speaking could have done nothing to change the event or its outcome). This is a cognitive distortion based in an under-processed traumatic situation. With further processing of the experience, the cognitive distortion will likely dissipate naturally.

“I followed the Rules of Engagement and the Laws of War, but I am plagued, haunted by the killing I did in combat; some part of me just knows it was a bad thing to do.” This observation is based in moral conviction. This is about morality, not cognition or faulty belief systems.

When we address a Warrior’s moral self-evaluation with an information campaign designed to adjust the Warrior’s thinking about him-/herself, or the actions of his/her fellow service members, we simply miss the point. We apply an ineffective method to the situation at hand.

In both PTSD and Moral Injury, one will find cognitive distortions. However, to work with cognitive distortions without addressing the root cause of the larger experience distress (be it brain/mind dysregulation or moral crisis) will be largely futile in terms of long-term healing and wellness. Cognitive distortions have a tendency to dissipate naturally as the root issues of PTSD and Moral Injury receive appropriate attention. In neither case can one hope to clear up problematic thinking patterns without going deep into the causes of the post-combat distress of which these cognitive distortions are only one small part. To apply “thinking/cognitive” measures to situations that stem from neurobiological and moral concerns is the same as trying to cure a tree that is sick at the roots by dealing with individual leaves on the branches.

Moral Injury is not primarily a cognitive problem (even though it may have a cognitive component). Moral Injury is a moral crisis that must be honored before it can be addressed, and we fail to honor the profundity of this struggle when we throw cognitive and/or behavioral treatments at it.


Thumbs Up copy

Resilience can mean many different things.

Here is what I do not think it means: “the ability to endure waves of trauma without succumbing to the weight of complex tragedy; remaining productive in high-stress, high-stakes situations despite compounding pressures accumulated over time without opportunity for recovery.”

I sometimes get the impression that military leaders invest “resilience” with this definition. No one can come right out and say that, but I have often felt the presence of this concept of the “unbreakable individual” within the contexts of my conversations. I have never experienced a “resilience” class without feeling this “superman” in the room: a call to unbreakability. When faced with the hypothesis that the military’s problem centers upon the inability of the present culture to display the resilience of our forefathers, the military crafts a series of classes in an attempt to make up for a perceived deficit. The military certainly has a reputation for “toughening people.” Still, there are a couple of problems with this approach.

First, can you create “unbreakable” people in classroom? Can you take a group of people raised on political correctness and Western egotism and toughen them up with videos and PowerPoint slides? Even if unbreakability were possible, it could not be achieved this way.

Second, unbreakability should NOT be the aim. To be unbreakable is to be non-human. The very last thing we need, as a nation, is an Army of unbreakable machine-people, nonhumans engaged in the nonhuman endeavor called war.

What, then, do we do with “breakability?” If we should not erradicate it, how do we respond to it?

We can take note that resilience is not unbreakability, but rather the manner of returning from “broken” to “whole.” Resilience describes the ability to heal after being wounded. Resilience is best imaged not as unbreakable granite, but as scarred flesh: a place where skin or bone have healed after wounding.

A resilient person is not one who cannot be broken, but one who can heal after being broken. A resilient person is not the one who can carry the weight of suffering on their shoulders and not buckle beneath the weight, but the person who has been crushed by trauma, pain, suffering, and sorrow and who surrenders to the healing process in the aftermath of that crushing.

What does it take to heal? A strong personal constitution? A personally owned character trait called “resilience?” I think not. Resilience has always and will always be a “team” experience. Resilience has a powerful and indispensable social component. A person is only as resilient as the social network that comes to his/her aid in the midst of the struggle, whatever that struggle may be. No one can be resilient on his/her own. As well, resilience takes time. Healing takes time, and resilience represents a path of healing and recovery. Re-shaping a broken person takes time. There are things from which people–normal, healthy, well-adjusted people–cannot “bounce back” quickly. Stretched to the outer limits and beyond for extended periods of time, most people cannot simply “snap back” into shape. They must be reshaped, submitting to a healing process that involves the help of others. The willingness to submit to that process has much to do with being resilient.

And there have to be both people and process in place to which the broken, crushed, stretched person can go for refuge. We often lack these basic resources of resilience and then wonder why the people around us seem to lack resilience.

Since 2001, we have stretched a group of people to the break point and then demanded that they “be resilient,” but we have not done a stellar job of, first, understanding resilience and, second, setting the stage for it. Resilience comes from all those things that ancient societies provided for their warriors that modern societies feel too sophisticated to practice. Resilience is not an individual resource, nor an individual problem, only. Resilience comes from surrounding a broken person with healing resources and not expecting them to be at their best when they are shattered, but rather bringing those resources to them in a way that they can easily access them.

Can we really say we have done that for our Warriors here in America? When you try to build a resilient force, but do not allow people to access the resources that make for resilience, it demonstrates great ignorance; ignorance of the fact that resilience is only as strong as the support of the team, the family, the unit, etc. encircling the Warrior. The shame that inhabits the topic of resilience–and the depression and rage that this shaming fosters–emerges from a shallow, narrow, thin definition of resilience. A richer definition should contribute to a more authentic approach to the broken person.

The broken, shattered, encumbered human being represents “resilience-in-potential.” When we do our part to bring healing and wholeness to the crushed people among us, we–together; Warriors and civilians–create resilience. The strongest among us are not the unbroken, but those who have been broken and healed.

The Warrior Archetype


What is an “archetype?” The term comes from combining two Greek words: arche which connotes “original,” and typos which connotes a “pattern.” When we ask “what type of person is she?” we mean “what sort of common patterns would one recognize in her way of being in the world.” An archetype represents a foundational image; one that crosses cultures to serve as a representative human experience. The Warrior archetype occupies a place in such representative experiences. Further, with an archetype comes an energy–a nearly electric current of life force that combines often with motivation, or, perhaps, inspires motivation. There comes with each archetype an archetypal “power” that energizes the activities for which the archetype has become an image, symbol, or icon.

Warrior energy. This energy brings a severe potency, for it motivates war fighting, destruction, self-sacrifice, and the defense of the innocent. Warrior energy brings on reckless abandon, and this comes on sometimes for no apparent reason and for no immediate purpose. A person who has taken up and/or been taken by Warrior energy becomes dangerous: dangerous to him-/herself and dangerous to others.

We often don archetypal energies in the context of liminal experiences that serve as transitional spaces between two or more aspects of reality. A liminal experience is a doorway from one sort of life space and another; a liminal space is a threshold. When we deploy our Warriors into combat, we create a liminal experience wherein a person moves from “home” through a transitional space to “battlefield,” and part of this transition involves taking hold of and being gripped by the Warrior archetype and the energy that comes with it. We place people in a position either to take up/surrender to the Warrior archetype, or to endure the shame of not stepping into that energy and thereby failing to fulfill the duty that comes with a call to arms. Most people, even if unconsciously, allow themselves to be embraced by the Warrior and the power that comes with this archetype.

However, only very rarely do people know what they are getting themselves into when they pass through the liminal space between home and battlefield. Very few people understand the ramifications of this transition; they suddenly find themselves in the realm of the Warrior, taken up by this energetic power. Yet, once the Warrior has taken hold of us and made us its understudy, the Warrior can become a cruel and destructive task master. It is not an energy to which we are intended to be subjected for long periods of time; certainly not permanently. Even those who identify themselves as Warriors are not actually at war ALL the time; at least they shouldn’t be.

Coming back through the liminal space that separates home from battlefield is supposed to be a ritualized “letting go” of the Warrior; we have taken hold of the Warrior and submitted to its demanding energy, but the return home is supposed to be a releasing of this archetype and its electric buzzing power of destruction. This is part of the Warrior’s return to the civilized realm of home.

But how do we let the Warrior go? Can we let it go? Can we escape its embrace?

Ancient Warriors were subjected to rituals that marked passage through the liminal space between home and battlefield and then back again, but we have become complacent here and we have let slip our connection to the numinous experiences of ritual. Archetypal energies are taken up and let go through numinous rituals that illumine liminal spaces with a light the comes from beyond the ego: the numinous is something beyond the human will that alters consciousness (A. Ulanov, Knots and Their Untying, p. 115), and from this realm of the numinous come archetypal energies.

The experiences of taking up and being captivated by archetypal energies and of letting go of and dispatching these energies must be equally numinous in nature. In other words, preparing citizens to serve as Warriors and preparing Warriors to once again serve as citizens must be equally potent transitional experiences. We do not do this well; the modern world does not see deployment in this way.

That which we call PTSD and Moral Injury represent the manifestations of damage done to the inner person within the context of war, and these wounds require rituals of healing and wholeness. We have a whole generation of people who have been indoctrinated into the Warrior archetype but who have never been taught how to let go of the Warrior when the warfighting concludes. When people get stuck in the Warrior archetype and have no way to dispatch the energy that comes with it, they remain imprisoned in a destructive energy that rips apart their inner lives and outer relationships to family, community, and nation. And to this, our nation responds by offering to our returning Warriors cocktails of experimental pharmaceuticals.

The human person requires a numinous liminal space in which to enact key transitions, and going to and coming from war is no different in this aspect than any other life transition. Warrior Camp® creates this sort of space (, and it is our hope that our returning Warriors can lay down the heavy burdens taken up by Warrior energy. To all those who have been taught, or forced, to take hold of this energy but who have never been been shown how to turn it loose, there are havens–sanctuaries–for you.


TRR’s Warrior Camp®

To complement our post in honor of our fallen warriors from all branches of the Armed Forces and from all eras, we offer this video description of our premier combat trauma treatment program. One of the ways we can powerfully memorialize our fallen warriors is to take the best care we can of those who suffer from the emotional, psychological, moral, and spiritual wounds of war. The video you are about to see shows the multifaceted and integrative way that Trauma and Resiliency, Inc. addresses those “soul wounds.”

Memorial Day

“No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” —Virgil

Memorial Day

This inscription adorns the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, and many have taken great pains to point out that this quote from Virgil’s Aeneid carries a murderous taint because of its context. Some suggest that the quote, given who said it to whom in Virgil’s text, belongs to a sentiment foreign to the spirit of the 9/11 Memorial, but this merely demonstrates how people can get profoundly trapped in a myth that strictly binds meaning to context, allowing scrupulous literary critical criteria to restrict meaning to the point of choking the breath out of mystery and evaporating creative energy, as if a phrase cannot ever have deep meaning apart from the sacrosanct “original literary context.”

Maybe a phrase can receive a fresh application in a new context.

In the Orthodox Christian Tradition in which I serve as a priest and military chaplain, we sing a solemn hymn at funerals and at the memorials sung on each anniversary of a death: “Memory Eternal.” As we gently kiss the cheeks of family members and friends of those who have departed in death—cheeks soaked in the tears of sorrow, mourning, and the empty feeling of loss—we say, “May his/her/their memory be eternal.”

So here is what I suggest: as we commemorate Memorial Day, let us lift Virgil’s words from the historic and literary context and do what communities of readers have been doing since stories first began to find their place in print; namely, re-contextualize them.

“No day shall erase you from the memory of time” carries with it the same spiritual and emotional weight as “Memory Eternal,” and absolutely nothing says we cannot use Virgil’s words to express our own quiet prayer on behalf of all the warriors who have fallen on the field of battle. We whisper this prayer despite the spurious nature of all war and despite the fact that history has not always been kind to many of the conflicts in which the U.S. has engaged. Regardless of the historical circumstance, warriors answer the nation’s costly call to arms, and all of them deserve to be honored for this. In particular, those who died in battle and whose graves are marked around the world, and those who rest in unmarked plots or whose elements have been completely absorbed into the earth or the vast ocean, deserve sincere, sacred, and solemn remembrance.

To those who have fallen in combat, dying right on the field of battle, or years later from wounds sustained in the fight, we say, with heads bowed and voices low, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time,” and we wish for them “May your memory be eternal.” In doing so, we venerate not war itself—an entity that any sane person would wish into the oblivion of non-existence—but the warriors who have fallen, the light of whose legacy we must never extinguish through neglect or preoccupation. Memorial Day has become a vigil—a watchful refusal to allow the sacrifice of fallen warriors to go unheeded, nor the primary lesson of their sacrifice to be forgotten; namely, the value of placing hope in peace and longing for the day when warriors no longer die at each other’s hands. And so, to our honored dead, we reiterate, “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

Morality vs. Ethics

I have been reflecting on the relationship between morals and ethics, two words that usually send a shudder down the spine of all those who have very little interest in formal philosophy. True, these discussions can be terribly tedious and abstract. However, I don’t intend to go that direction with this entry. I will keep this “on the ground” where people live, work, and fight wars.

First, why would the difference between morality and ethics even matter? The unique nature of these two ways of evaluating situations and behavior matters when we talk about Moral Injury; yet, I have seen very little treatment of this difference in things I have been reading. We talk about “damage to the moral compass,” or “a wounded sense of personal morality,” or “the violation of a person’s moral code,” but I rarely see any discussion that dips beneath the surface in order to define what exactly we are talking about in these terms. We are assuming understood definitions. Before we can have a clear idea of what the very nebulous term “Moral Injury” can and should mean, we have to understand what we mean when we talk about morality. Further, when you push morality and ethics together in an unclear way, you lose a clean definition of either term, enhancing confusion. When morality and ethics become lumped into the same general discussion of “right and wrong,” things become unclear, confusing, and inaccurate.

When discussions about morals and ethics become unclear, confusing, and inaccurate, it becomes impossible to effectively address the existential crisis of moral injury. We at TRR believe that the lack of effective treatment of Moral Injury creates the conditions for great suffering among this country’s war veteran community.

Basically, ethics refers to the mechanics–the mechanisms–of making decisions concerning “doing the right thing” in a given situation. Morals represent the internal principles held by a person that governs those mechanics. Morality functions as the “energy” the moves the mechanisms of decision making forward toward an end state. As an example, the Laws of War represent ethical mechanisms designed to assist in deciding between possible actions. The beliefs, intuitions, and sensations/feelings that provide the reason behind the crafting and publishing of those mechanisms as guidelines constitutes the “moral compass” that motivates the defining of ethical behavior. It is the same thing with the Rules of Engagement. These Rules comprise the ethical matrix for decision making. The motivation behind the crafting of that matrix makes up the moral energy that stimulates the defining of these Rules.

This is where things get tricky for the Warrior: what happens when the internal moral sensibility (the “ability to sense/feel” conscious beliefs and/or unspoken intuitions) comes into conflict with the defined ethics of those with command authority? What happens when a Warrior receives guidance from those with command authority that conflicts with the Warrior’s internal moral energy? What happens to the Warrior who follows his/her moral sensibilities rather than following command guidance out of the sense of moral consciousness we call “conscience?” And what happens to the Warrior who works against his/her conscience to obey the “lawful” directives of those with the authority to command? These represent the central questions within discussions concerning the strange term “Moral Injury.”

Moral Injury describes in insufficient but acceptable terms the existential crisis that invades a person’s life when he/she steps through a liminal experience into a new “life space” that is characterized by the disruption–sometimes shattering–of the internal congruence that accompanies living within one’s moral framework. There exists no visible wound or injury. No particular part of the brain has been physically damaged. Moral Injury represents a “soul wound,” if you will; a profound disturbance at a person’s core self. In that “place” where identity and meaning combine to define personal purpose, energy flow becomes sporadic and unpredictable. A “liminal” experience describes an experience that facilitates a life-altering transition, and it can be intentional or accidental. Graduation from high school/college, earning Eagle Scout, being baptized, receiving first Communion, or bar/bat mitzvah, the final ritual of a silent retreat, concluding a sweat lodge or vision quest, etc. These are intentional experiences designed to bring about transition. Some liminal experiences come without our bidding, and some are joyous occasions while others are not. Your eyes come upon a beautiful scene while you are hiking, and you suddenly realize the deep value of life and vow to go on that pilgrimage you have put off for years. Or you go to war, and in the process you find yourself inhabiting a world full of sorrow because your deeply held views of how things should be has been crushed. There exists no visible injury, but you are hurt nonetheless and your life now carries with it a heavy-heartedness you cannot escape.

Moral sensibility lives in the “gut.” Ethical thought processes move around in the airy space of the cognitive brain. Morality comes intuitively. Ethics come from intentional learning. If you did not sit and receive the Laws of War or the Rules of Engagement, you could not guess them, though you might be able to figure some of them out just from “common sense.” However, you don’t need a PowerPoint presentation to tell you that killing an innocent person on purpose, or accidentally, is wrong and that a strategically important mission may not be worth the “collateral damage” it causes. You certainly don’t need a lecture to help you understand that any killing at all in combat can tie your guts in a knot that hurts with a dull pain that you cannot shake because killing other human beings just hurts. I’ve been to war four times, and I have NEVER seen a pre-deployment brief that covers that. These sensibilities come “built in” and require no block of instruction. And the violation of those innate sensibilities represents the core what we call Moral Injury. I have never seen an ethical argument about having “done the right thing” according to defined Laws and Rules bring comfort to someone suffering from the existential pain of having done something that his/her innate moral sensibility experiences as reprehensible, or unforgivable.

To conclude, you can throw ethics at moral sensibility all day long without altering the existential primacy of a person’s internal moral conscience. If moral consciousness registers transgression, “sin,” fault, responsibility, or violation, logical presentations of ethical definitions will sound like nothing more than a person smashing two cymbals together–it is a waste of breath and time. How to speak to the moral sensibility of person will comprise the subject matter of a future post. It will suffice to say this for now: you can’t speak to someone’s heart from your head. You can’t fix a moral quandary with ethical frameworks. It just won’t work because it’s a category error that offers the wrong medicine for the moral wound.

Moral Injury

I’ve decided to occasionally use this blog space to reflect on various aspects of Moral Injury as I read through some key texts that have helped shape my vision of this category of war trauma. Today, I comment on a quote from David Grossman’s (LTC, USA, Ret.) seminal text, On Killing. After discussing the fact that on many battlefields, warriors have refused to fire their weapons at the enemy, Grossman states:

“The question is why. Why did these men fail to fire? As I examined this question and studied the process of killing in combat from the standpoint of a historian, a psychologist, and a soldier, I began to realize that there was one major factor that was missing from the common understanding of killing in combat, a factor that answers this question and more. The missing factor is the simple and demonstrable fact that there is within most men an intense resistance to killing their fellow men. A resistance so strong that, in many circumstances, soldiers on the battlefield will die before they can overcome it” (p. 4).

One powerful truth emerges from this quote, and seems to resound throughout Grossman’s text: in the heart of each person, there exists a natural, innate resistance to killing other human beings. Granted, there are those who do not carry this resistance internally, and we call those people sociopaths. Yet those within this very small percentage of our population feel no remorse at hurting other people in any way at all. They lack the mechanism that recognizes and empathizes with suffering, and this has been described as a clinical psychopathology. The 99% of the rest of the human race naturally resists killing other human beings and feels remorse in the aftermath of killing, regardless of the circumstances.

Grossman’s book’s subtle is telling: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. It costs people psychologically to override the instinctive refusal to kill other human beings. It costs them something from out of the depth of their souls. Psychology, let’s not forget is the study of the psyche, the Greek word, not for mind, but for soul. There is a mental cost for killing in combat, but this cost is paid in the context of a debt that accrues to the human soul when forced to kill to defend oneself and one’s comrades. We have noted the high cost of training and deploying people to kill in tens of thousands of war veterans who experience not only the nervous system dis-regulation of Post-traumatic stress disorder (the dis-ordering of the sympathetic nervous system that governs the “flight, fight, freeze, flop” survival responses), but also in the dis-ease of the heart from whence comes the voice of the conscience when warriors push through the resistance to killing.

That people feel “sinful,” broken, lost, deprived, depraved, soul-sick, guilty, and shameful after erasing a human life in combat, even in “justified” circumstances comes from the profound and instinctual injunction to create life rather than destroying it. Many warriors of all branches of the US military feel all dark inside because of what they have seen and done, and this experience of inner darkness shows that a person is fully human. It is not “crazy” to feel soul-sick when one simply “did one’s job.” Everyone tells you that you shouldn’t feel “wrong” for having done what’s “right.”

We here at TRR understand this innate sense of “wrongness” as the existential crisis that comes in the aftermath of killing, witnessing killing, or even hearing about instances of killing. This crisis has long been acknowledged by ancient cultures as part of war, but our modern society has lost connection to these archetypal images, expressions, and experiences of warfare. To override the innate resistance to killing may be necessary–may have been necessary for you in the past–when push comes to shove in combat, but it wounds a person deeply. If you are feeling that wound, you are not crazy, you are human.

Getting Started

A blog post can be a daunting item: once it is out there, it is out there to stay. So, with that in mind, we start this TRR blog in order to encourage an exchange of ideas about war, trauma, injuries both seen and invisible, and healing/wellness.

A blog post can be a daunting item: once it is out there, it is out there to stay. So, with that in mind, we start this TRR blog in order to encourage an exchange of ideas about war, trauma, injuries both seen and invisible, and healing/wellness. At TRR, we focus on wholeness and life: a whole person living a meaningful and enriched life. Rather than offering nifty tricks designed to mask pain, we want to facilitate real wellness in the aftermath of the deep suffering of trauma. Trauma that leads to deep emotional and existential pain can come from anywhere and at any time. Natural disasters or disasters wrought by human minds and hands do not discriminate, and many a life has been suddenly altered forever by such events. Can a person attain to real, substantial wellness in the wake of such horrific experiences?

Simply stated, yes.

As easy as that is to write, or to say, it can be quite challenging to experience this wellness because trauma creates a complex matrix of converging human experiences, a nexus of confusing and disorienting existential dynamics that vary from person to person. It is easy to say “Yes, people can recover and thrive,” but no one who knows trauma, either through personal traumatic experience or helping someone to deal with it, would say it is “easy.”

Still, this vision of a whole person living a meaningful and enriched life in the aftermath of trauma IS possible.

By “the whole person” we mean the integrated human experience of the physical, neurological, psychological, emotional, and spiritual aspects of life; these interrelated facets of existential contact with the outside world and the inner self. We aim to treat the whole person so that every aspect of life experiences healing and wellness.

One major component of the person that has, until recently, been largely ignored is the “moral center,” that “place” in the person that registers “right and wrong” inwardly and outwardly as a person moves through the world and navigates through experiences. This aspect of moral sensibility and sensitivity, if not honored, can get stuck in deep wounding, becoming a center of existential pain when a person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent something that violates his/her moral commitments or deeply held visions of what should and should not happen in the world.

Such a violation often takes place when warriors kill in combat. Knowing full well the necessity of action that is thrust upon a warfighter in the heat of battle, many who have killed “justifiably” know in their heads that they “did what had to be done” but find that something in their deep heart rebels against the action, causing profound hurt and a sense of moral transgression. Some feel that, having killed, they cannot return to the land of civilized behavior–they feel they have “become” something different and are no longer fit for life in the world off of the battlefield. This has come to be known as “Moral Injury,” a somewhat strange term but a valuable one for denoting a common experience among men and woman who have had to kill in the line of duty, or who have witnessed killing and death. Sometimes, just hearing “war stories” is enough to inflict this soul wound.

At TRR, this aspect of traumatic experience has become a key focus due to the fact that we have seen the impact of such experiences again and again in our returning warriors. We will talk about it often in this blog.

So, here we begin. We our regular offerings here with be thought-provoking as we continue to engage our culture filled with wounded warriors. These men and women live all around us, tens of thousands of them from military, law enforcement, firefighting, and other high-risk protective vocations. Their wounds often escape the human eye, and even in those with visible wounds there often exist equally severe unseen wounds. They deserve our society’s best, but they often receive much less. We hope to facilitate deep and multifaceted wellness in the lives of those who we can reach, and, through this blog, we hope to inspire dialogue among us all about these important issues.