Moral injury is the social, psychological, and spiritual harm that arises from a betrayal of one’s core values, such as justice, fairness, and loyalty. Harming others, whether in military or civilian life; failing to protect others, through error or inaction; and failure to be protected by leaders, especially in combat—can all wound a person’s conscience, leading to lasting anger, guilt, and shame, and can fundamentally alter one’s world view and impair the ability to trust others.
A soldier in the line of duty may accept the necessity of shooting an enemy combatant. But when, in attempting to identify the assailant, he finds a picture of the dead man’s children, a sense of the value of service may itself be wounded.
A person who grossly violates what they believe is right may experience persistent self-criticism—feeling unworthy, unforgivable, or permanently damaged. Reflecting on the perceived transgression can fill a person with sorrow and bitterness.