The Pervasiveness of Moral Injury—Insights From the Making of CODEX

What happens when a person is forced to do something that goes against their morals and ethics?

They suffer a moral injury, which over time can chip away at their sense of humanity, empathy, and even their ability to function in society. It can also heighten and magnify their anxiety and depression.

Richard Jacobs explores this concept in detail, providing examples of how and why people sustain moral injury on a long-term basis, how it is affecting society as a whole, and how damaging it can be.

He also discusses the importance of remaining aware of the impact moral injury can have on others.

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Hello, this is Richard Jacobs, executive director of the Finding Genius Foundation and host of the Finding Genius podcast. Today I want to talk to you about a new topic that I’ve learned that I think is going to be critical to people that suffer from anxiety and depression and people that know people that suffer from these conditions and/or PTSD. I’m talking about what’s called moral injury. Essentially, in a nutshell, moral injury is what happens to someone when they are forced by their job or their circumstance or whatever factors to do things that go against their morals and their ethics. Let’s say someone hates to lie and for some reason, they are forced to lie in order to work in the industry they want to work in or in order to do basic things in their life or in order to accomplish something or protect their children and they are forced to lie repeatedly. That causes moral injury, it damages the moral and ethical character of someone.

A much better example could be, let’s say you are in war and you witness children being killed or blown up in land mines or women being systematically raped or all kinds of horrible things. That undoubtedly causes moral injury to soldiers who have to do that to them. What moral injury, I’m learning does is it strips away your humanity, it strips away your empathy, your ability to function in society. It warps and distorts your own morals because you may have been trained, again, by abuse, by a parent or whatever the circumstance may be, it ruins you as a human being, it makes you ineffective in your job, it poisons all your relationships and it distorts reality. So, moral injury, I’m learning very quickly and this is a hat tip to David Olney, one of my board members that brought it up to me. It just seems to be a pervasive and growing and ever present harbinger of depression and anxiety.

So, I talked about a military person, let’s talk about a police officer. What if you are a police officer and you work in high crime neighborhoods and you se bad things happening day in and day out and everyone you interact with doesn’t like you and are hostile to you or let’s say the news is hostile to you or the community is, no one likes you, no one wants you yet this is your job and you have to deal with it, you deal with all the negative or bad types of humanity and this goes on for 2, 3, 5, 10, 20 years, what is going to happen to you as a person? I can tell you what’s going to happen is you are going to lose your sense of empathy and again, you are going to be very distorted emotionally, morally, psychologically, ethically, every single way there is.

This can happen with other professions, what if you are an attorney? I work with plenty of attorneys, there’s ones that deal with, for instance, sex crimes. So, if you deal with that for 5 years and that’s what all of your clients are about, it’s going to distort you, it’s going to affect you and I’ve seen this with some of my attorney clients, the ones we deal with. If you deal with family law, you deal with divorce and custody and fighting all the time. If you deal with DUI and the criminal justice system, if you deal with drugs. So, attorneys are another whole class of people that are suffering moral injury day in and day out for years. This happens, again, over many industries to many people. It could even happen to people who, for instance, run a day care. They see that thee is maybe poor parenting going on or the kids are a mess or they see like all the kids are, a significant number now are obese in their class when they never used to be.

All these things happening in society are contributing, I believe, big time in the moral injury of everyone and I believe this is warping society, it’s accelerating and heightening depression and anxiety and PTSD and it’s helping to unfortunately put us on a faster path to a lot of trouble. We all know what happened with COVID. I believe that it has and continues to morally injure billions of people around the world. That’s why I call this the follow-on pandemic. I think this is a major reason why. I’m very glad I discovered it and it was because of David Olney who is on my board and I thank him very much for it. Quick definition, I just looked it up on Google, the National Center for PTSD, under the VA, the Veteran’s Affairs administration classifies it as the distressing psychological, behavioral, social and sometimes spiritual aftermath of exposure to events.

So, again, you witness something, you are forced to do something that you don’t want to do, you are forced to lie or you see terrible things, you have to endure terrible conditions or abuse or whatever it is, it creates moral injury to you and affects you potentially for the rest of your life and it pushes you kind of down the slope towards anxiety, depression and PTSD. I can also tell you that my wife and I realized, I see her through a new lens now because she had a very abusive childhood and this literally happened to her. It’s affected her, it’s obviously affected our relationship. Thank God, we still have a good marriage, we’ve been together 22 years now and we have children. But it’s also a day to day, a week to week struggle for her to overcome what happened to her as a child and she will never fully overcome it although she has come a long way but we all live with the effects of what happened to her.

So, I hope that this is enlightening for you to listen to. I don’t want it to depress you that this is so prevalent but if you are aware of it, I believe what will happen to you is what is happening to me. I have a new pair of glasses through which I can see people. I can see things I didn’t use to see and this helps me work with individuals whether they are my family, my friends, co-workers, you the listener, whatever, I now have a new lens through which I can view you and through which you can view other people’s behaviors and maybe get a sense of why they are acting this way and what drives them to do what they do and what has happened in their past that has shaped them to be who they are and if you suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD or know someone that does, my hope is that this gives you insight into what’s going on with them.

My job here, my self-appointed job is to get the research together to help figure out how to treat and hopefully reduce and maybe even eliminate moral injury in some people so that everyone can have a better experience and a happier life.

Moral Injury

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