National leaders have reported that the U.S. military is experiencing a suicide epidemic. Fortunately, moral injury and moral repair, nascent areas of exploration, may have the potential to expand our understanding of the nature of suicide. Moral injury and moral repair are concepts and lines of research that posit that morally charged circumstances and events (such as killing in combat) that violate one’s moral code may play a mediating role in military veteran suicidal ideation. Moral injury is perhaps best thought of as a wound to the soul or psyche when deeply held personal beliefs or truths about humanity become undone. Early evidence shows this can lead to feelings of extreme guilt and anger and potentially to a self-condemning, self-handicapping, and self-isolating existence. Moral injury’s grip can be great and difficult to overcome. How veterans heal from moral injury, moral repair, is not yet well understood.
The purpose of this qualitative research study was to explore the journey from moral injury to moral repair among 14 U.S. military veterans through a cultural psychological lens. The study was rooted in Vygotskian sociohistorical theory and conducted using a hermeneutic phenomenological methodological approach. Viewing their journey from moral injury to moral repair this way made visible the effects the military’s powerful institutionalized culture has on the veteran’s psychological development, the effects transitioning into civilian life brings when the veteran’s moral and social being is then reconstrued by a different set of social standards, and the psychologically precarious situation the veteran finds himself in as he attempts to reconcile the conflicts and tensions arising from these two very different social worlds.
Study participants included nine Army, two Marine Corps, and three Navy veterans ranging in age at the time of the interview from 30 to 74 years old. Collectively they served in Vietnam, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The results of this study suggest that three sociohistorical dialectical relationships in particular work in an irreducible, dynamic, and complex way to seemingly have a profound effect in shaping veteran warrior psychological development. For this study’s purposes, they are referred to collectively as moral injury–moral repair (MI-MR) dialectics. Findings show when meaning-making is suppressed in MI-MR dialectical activity, moral injury ensues. When meaning-making is embraced in MI-MR dialectical activity, moral repair is enabled.
In addition, five conclusions have been drawn. First, the essence of the psychological phenomenon moral injury is qualitatively richer and thicker than the “committing of” or “bearing witness to” a specific act on the surface would suggest. Rather, it is how the act is culturally (socio-historically) construed that determines its psychological consequence. Second, consistent with early academic conjecture, a link between moral injury and suicidal ideation is indicated. Third, the essence of the psychological phenomenon moral repair is derived in meaningful proximal social activity rather than individually directed treatment or therapy. Fourth, contrary to early academic conjecture, self-forgiveness did not present as a characteristic of moral repair. Finally, healing from moral injury, moral repair, is an intentional lifelong journey. It is hoped that this exploration into the journey from moral injury to moral repair among military veterans offers a fresh glimpse into the nature and prevention of suicide within the U.S. military community.
|Commitee:||Leslie, James D., Lotrecchiano, Gaetano R.|
|School:||The George Washington University|
|Department:||Human & Organizational Learning|
|School Location:||United States -- District of Columbia|
|Source:||DAI-A 82/9(E), Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||Social psychology, Mental health, Military studies|
|Keywords:||Cultural development, Military veterans, Moral injury, Moral repair, Suicide|
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