"I knew it was wrong the moment I got the order": A narrative thematic analysis of moral injury in combat veterans

Psychol Trauma. 2019 May;11(4):396-405. doi: 10.1037/tra0000364. Epub 2018 May 3.


Objective: Moral injury is a nascent construct intended to capture reactions to events that violate deeply held beliefs and moral values. Although a model of moral injury has been proposed, many of the theoretical propositions of this model have yet to be systematically studied.

Method: We conducted semistructured interviews with eight veterans who reported experiencing morally injurious events during war zone deployments.

Results: Using narrative thematic analysis, five main themes and associated subthemes emerged from the data. The main themes capture the timing of the event, contextual factors that affected the decision-making process during the morally injurious event, reactions to the moral injurious event, search for purpose and meaning, and opening up.

Conclusion: The findings from the present study supported an existing model of moral injury, while extending it in several important ways. Preliminary clinical recommendations and directions for future research are discussed based on the study findings. These include directly exploring the context surrounding the morally injurious event, examining the veterans' moral appraisals, and helping them assume appropriate responsibility for their actions to reduce excessive self-blame. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Alcoholism / etiology
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Decision Making
  • Hierarchy, Social
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Morals*
  • Narration
  • Stress, Psychological* / etiology
  • Veterans / psychology*
  • War Exposure*