"This definition of moral injury is similar to the idea of betrayal trauma, which is a likely outcome of early childhood abuse. Although young children may lack the cognitive capacity to reflect on how abuse affects their moral beliefs, they nevertheless can have a felt sense that abuse degrades their sense of self. Furthermore, the child must often dissociate feelings of betrayal when the person who betrayed their humanity is a caregiver they depend on for survival. Researchers Robyn L. Gobin and Jennifer J. Freyd give the following explanation of betrayal trauma:
from: http://www.laurakkerr.com/2012/12/04/soul-repair-veterans/Betrayal trauma theory posits that interpersonal violations such as childhood sexual or physical abuse perpetrated by individuals who victims care for, depend on, or trust will be processed and remembered differently than violations perpetrated by individuals with whom victims do not have such a close connection. A violation perpetrated by someone significant is characterized as a trauma high in betrayal and is remembered less than traumas low in betrayal …. Because the victim views the perpetrator as the key to his or her physical and psychological survival, he or she finds it advantageous to remain interpersonally and emotionally connected to the perpetrator…. Thus, the child may become “blind” to the betrayal and fail to identify the experience as abusive. Such betrayal blindness or unawareness of abuse has adaptive value in that it maintains the attachment between child and caregiver such that the child can continue trusting and depending on the caregiver (Freyd, 2003). [Gobin, Robyn L., & Freyd, Jennifer J. (2009). “Betrayal and Revictimization: Preliminary Findings.” Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 1(3), 242-257. ]"
In waking up from trauma, there comes a realization that those "others" who injured you are no longer those you depend on for anything. Entering into, or growing up in, any kind of situation of abuse automatically places you in a painful position. If you grow up in a home where you are abused, I believe there is this vague knowledge that you are "bad", but not completely because of the shame messages put on you as a result of being consistently violated. I believe it has to do with morality, and a basic sense of humanity. As a child, as the above says, you are not aware of this, but have this low-level sense that not only are YOU bad, but that what is being done to you is wrong.
Unfortunately, most healing work focuses only on this sense of shame, which is extremely important. But you have to come to also learn what is right and wrong, because as a child you didn't even know it was abuse...you didn't have the words or cognitive capacities to categorize it as such. Not just that, but abuse was normal and OK. It isn't just dissociation, it is social learning. And healing from trauma like that is most certainly a series of awakenings...awareness that brings you back to life, to stop a life of loyalty to abusers, to come out of flight or freeze behaviors and thoughts, to re-learn what is right and good.
This "waking up" feeling is strong. In the awakening, I came to realize that there is a difference between me and the abusers. I lived my life as a child in a state of feeling exiled and "wrong", yet living with complete loyalty and dependence on those who brought me pain. This contradictory state is disruptive, and as an adult, I realized I could not, with a thinking mind, remain loyal to dysfunction. But I didn't know how to reconcile that state. I kept going back into abusive or offensive situations where I simply recreated the feeling I had in childhood: loyalty to dysfunction and trying desperately to get my voice heard so I wouldn't have to feel exiled. Repetition compulsion is a very real aspect of trauma healing, and a force to be reckoned with.
Exiled. I sought those who would find reasons to exile me. As part of awakening, as part of growing up, I am embracing my role as exile for one reason only: I AM different than abusers. I CAN take in information about my behavior and adjust it so it is not hurtful to someone else. I DO make reparations and amends to care for my relationships. To me, that is the moral injury...doing to yourself what an abuser did to you, and trying to belong in a system of abuse that goes against the very highest nature of a human being, which is to be compassionate and empathetic. The separation SHOULD happen, and your life as an exile from abusers will lead you to a world that is much wider and bigger, and you will find that an exile journey from abuse will lead you directly to a promised land of grace...of safe people full of grace.
Being an exile from abuse does not mean you have to be an isolated exile from life, although it feels that way. Trauma survivors often feel different from everyone else: odd, weird, and it's true. They/we are different. They might be scattered, disorganized, ultra sensitive, extremely creative, sometimes rigid and numb, sometimes chatty, sometimes silent and brooding. They/we have an inner life that was defined by chaos and a huge constant moral dilemma: participation versus non-participation in abuse, most often of self.
I want to point out that the abusers in my life have always been adults. That sounds obvious, but I lived through abuse as a child and as an adult. I lived with abusers who abused out of their own childhood wounds, pain, and lack of awareness. Those adults kept their conscience and compassion intact, or even enlarged as a result of their experiences. Other abusers in my life did not keep their conscience or compassion intact, and once I had the courage to confront them, their abuse very much became a deliberate choice because then there was no way for them to not know how their actions were harmful. There it was, plain and simple: you caused destruction and you were hurtful. They chose to ignore it, rationalize it away, sweep it under the rug, dismiss it, and do everything possible to put up a wall between their actions and self-knowledge.
Their actions as adults became the deliberate choice to abuse, to create suffering, to look the other way, to blind themselves to the truth of their inner lives.
Knowing this difference is important in exile. Being exiled from people like that, although initially painful, is a GREAT feeling, because you no longer have to betray yourself. You no longer have to hide your desire for healthy relationships, or suppress your intuition that healthy relationships are based on trust, engagement, support, compassion, courage, kindness, and gratitude. You no longer have to wander the desert of exile status, but can instead embrace healing with SAFE people. It is no longer a moral injury...you have chosen the path of honoring your humanity. That means not supporting an oppressor, and not supporting oppression of anyone else, including yourself. In a family situation, often one has witnessed an oppressor's violations and misconduct. This witnessing becomes a moral injury, for if you do not speak up for another's humanity, then you do not stop identifying with an oppressor, and therefore consciously choose to become an abuser. That sounds harsh, but I honestly believe that having a conscience means speaking up against the hurtful behavior of others and not complicitly identifying with abuse through silence. This is one aspect of moral injury survivors of childhood abuse must wrestle with...that they could not speak up against the abuses they witnessed towards themselves and others.
Being exiled has been a long process for me. I used to feel like a victim in my exile because I still wanted to belong with abusers. I believe that was important, because until I acknowledged that yes, I was victimized, I could not wrestle with the morality of the situation. I didn't know. I thought love was supposed to hurt. And it really is immoral to victimize and exploit someone. Now I am proud of my exile status, and hope that I have made myself different enough from violators, and grown-up enough from the child I was that I would be exiled every time I encounter a violator. Exile me, please. Enlighten me to your true nature. I am a loving person and do not belong with hypocrites and judgmental rejectors.
In putting yourself in exile from abuse, you realize that those who love you would never cruelly reject who you are through criticism and abuse. Grown-ups work through their conflicts with care and engagement. You separate yourself from those who deny humanity and become one who affirms humanity. The triggers get tamped down, and you are strong enough to stand up for yourself.
I exile myself to the land of compassionate healing. The sun is shining here...come join me.