Monthly Archives: February, 2016

Soul Care Conversation (Spirituality and Suffering)

February 22nd, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week we began to explore the various components of spirituality and how it effects our veterans by trying to understand spirituality and meaning, the “why”. This week we will discuss spirituality and suffering, “why me?”

BACKGROUND

Sometimes under the stress of living and at times suffering, it is easy for us to lose sight of the meaning and purpose that steadies us and sees us through the difficult times. C. S.. Lewis, who watched his wife die a horrible death because of bone cancer states, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.”

Everyone’s experience in the midst of suffering will be different. I did not experience a shout from God, but silence. During those moments of fear and loss I asked, where was God in my times of suffering? At times it seemed that during my deepest yearnings of the soul I felt that God not only slammed the door in my face, but seemed to have bolted the door from the inside, not wanting me to enter spaces of grace and peace.

Suffering is one of the greatest challenges to our faith and to our spiritual well-being. There are many different ways to look at suffering through spirituality;

  • suffering is a reason not to believe in a God who can allow pain, torment, and death, all too often experienced by the innocent
  • suffering suggests guilt and thus punishment of a wrathful or vengeful God
  • suffering is the work of God or the demonic
  • suffering happens as a result of bad karma
  • suffering is the result of a fallen and broken world, not caused by God

Of course, there are many other ways to look at suffering. In each situation suffering asks questions and may open doors for finding answers, whether through formal religious beliefs or in searching beyond our understanding of faith. There may be times when we ask questions and the door may remain closed and we will not find answers.

It does not matter which question suffering demands, there is the same question all people ask, “why me”? Most likely as we ask this question “why me”, we feel isolated because we either have turned away from God or we feel God has turned away from us. Where is God?

During the times in our attempts to find God we may search for hope through the scriptures, only to come across difficult texts to understand. The trials of Job may rekindle anger with God because we feel God plays games with our lives. Or, we come across Romans Chapter 5, “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,” and we feel that this seems unsympathetic to our suffering.

SUFFERING AND MEANING

The crux at understanding suffering is that it is not about finding an answer to “why me”. We find answers to suffering when we realize that it is in our emotional reaction to our physical difficulties, such as pain or loss. It is in how we react that we have the means to make meaning out of what may seem random and pointless. The experience of suffering is not uplifting, rather it is the ability to rise above the struggle.

In our conversation last week, we looked at the powerful testimony of Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl insists that meaning in life can be discovered under all circumstances, even in the most miserable experiences of tragedy and loss. He wrote that “Man is not destroyed by suffering; he is destroyed by suffering without meaning“.  He noted when writing about concentration camp victims that survival itself depended on seeking and finding meaning.

People cope with their suffering by finding meaning in their suffering. This is where spirituality plays such a critical role. It is the relationship with the Holy that gives meaning and purpose to people’s lives, to their joys, and to their sufferings.

St. John of the Cross helps us understand suffering as a way of growth: “There is another reason why the soul walks securely in these darknesses: it advances by suffering. Suffering is a surer and even more advantageous road than that of joy and action. First, in suffering God gives strength to the soul…second, in suffering, virtues are practiced and acquired and the soul is purified….”

From the Christian point of view, discussions about God and suffering always lead to the cross where Jesus suffered. In the cross God demands no more for humanity than God demands from Self. Jesus suffered not to save us from suffering, but to teach us how to bear our own suffering. In this, our suffering draws us closer to God.

There is another way we can find meaning in our suffering. The letters of Saint Paul contain a number of references to suffering, such as the second letter to the Corinthians. Paul writes that God comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. God does this in order for us to help others, so that we can be sympathetic and understanding. In doing so we can be of help and comfort to those who suffer.

CONSIDERATIONS TOWARD HEALING

Spirituality does the following;

  • seeks healing
  • seeks a connection to the Holy
  • influences how a person lives

Spirituality is the dimension of human beings that seeks healing. Often spirituality is expressed as religion. For many people religion forms a basis of meaning and purpose in life. The profoundly disturbing effects of trauma can call into question a person’s purpose in life and work.  Healing, the restoration of wholeness, requires an answer to the question, what is my purpose in life.

Spirituality links people to the Holy or to something beyond ourselves. Spirituality may provide ways to cope through suffering by;

  • either being healed
  • or a peace of mind if healing does not come

Spirituality and religion usually influence how a person lives, how he or she reacts to stressful situations and how well and how quickly a person recovers from emotional strain. A spiritual or religious orientation is associated with better mental health as understood by documented research. It can help increase self-esteem, find meaning in life, improve family and special relationships, and decrease drug and alcohol abuse.

We must consider another important factor, sin-based suffering is far more terrible that mere physical pain. Anxiety and depression result. Even when we do nothing wrong we are still haunted with guilt and shame. Just the perception of doing wrong can create intense guilt. Moral injury and soul wounds can have a deep effect on the warrior. Healing begins when we can forgive ourselves for perceived or actual events.

As this is true, so is the fact that humans are capable of doing the right thing. It says that out of suffering can come love. Love can become the balm that begins to heal the fear and pain. Spirituality provides a means for a veteran to find peace even in the midst of living in hell.

Our next conversation we will look at a theology of healing. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Spirituality and Meaning)

February 18th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week, we concluded our conversation on the spiritual implications of PTSD, Moral Injury, and Soul Wounds. We will now begin to explore the various components of spirituality and how it effects our veterans. This week our conversation will take us to understanding the “why.”

BACKGROUND

I shared in a previous conversation about my first visit to the Marines in Afghanistan, at Regional Command Southwest (RC-SW). Captain Brown, the Navy Command Chaplain for RC-SW took me to visit the Concussion Restoration Care Center, (CRCC). It was at the CRCC wounded warriors would have an opportunity to begin their healing following a trauma event. In 2011, a behavioral health team of a psychologist, psychiatrist, and social worker realized after months of counseling wounded warriors that there were three issues; why, guilt, and fear, that could be better treated by a chaplain. They decided to bring a chaplain on-board as part of the team and sought Captain Brown’s advice.

The chaplain selected had to be the “right” chaplain. Not all chaplains have the temperament to collaborate with a behavioral health team in order to partner with the team and the wounded warrior. From my 30 years of experience in the military chaplaincy, I know many chaplains who would have tried to answer the warrior’s “why”, rather than walk with the warrior through their journey of finding their own answer.

Bringing a chaplain on board as part of the healing team had two important implications. First, this certainly was unusual since the spiritual domain is not a common field for the medical and mental health models for treating the symptoms of combat trauma. All too often the spiritual and the soul are relegated to the purview of the religious counselors and religious leaders as a separate entity of care. The wounds to the soul are not addressed as part of comprehensive whole person care. Also, combat trauma has not been treated traditionally as a spiritual or moral injury.

Second, trauma affects the human capacity to make meaning in life and how meaning-making systems can function as part of the healing process from trauma. The answer to the question “why” most often is complex. The “right” chaplain has the capacity and sensitivity for trauma care in order to journey with the veteran. The chaplain understands that God will not simply step in and by coercive force make things right, and neither should the chaplain. During the veteran’s journey to find an answer to why, a relationship between faith, spirituality, and trauma should be explored.

MEANING MAKING

During my Pathways Program I learned that meaning making is how people understand life, life’s events, relationships and self. However, trauma is the ultimate challenge to meaning making. Trauma rips apart people’s meaning-making processes because it tears them away from the comfort and confidence of their meaning-making systems. Once this occurs, most often the survivor plunges into chaos and volatility in ways that cannot be denied or ignored, but often are hidden except to those closest to them. People of faith are not immune to the effects of trauma.

Meaning and purpose are central in human life, particularly when individuals confront highly stressful and traumatic life experiences. Some researchers have suggested that traumatic events frequently challenge one’s core beliefs about safety, self-worth, and the meaning of life.

For individuals whose core values are spiritually grounded, traumatic events may give rise to questions about the fundamental nature of the relationship between God and humankind, and between God and self. Survivors may question their belief in a loving, all-powerful God when the innocent are subjected to traumatic victimization. In this way, traumatic experiences may become a starting point for discussion of the many ways in which survivors define what it is to have “faith”.

Trauma can shake one’s faith.  The veteran wants to understand why? Why did the traumatic event occur? Why did they survive? The journey to understand the why can be a long process for the veteran.

CONSIDERATIONS TOWARD HEALING

Meaning making is a key component in trauma healing. Recovery of meaning in life may be achieved through changed ways of thinking, involvement in meaningful activities, or through rituals experienced as part of worship services or some other spiritual involvement. As we consider the spiritual issues that affect the veteran’s soul, a place to begin is how spirituality provides meaning in life.

Trauma interferes with the practices that embody our systems of belief. The soul of a veteran often demonstrates the ineffectiveness of our prayers, our worship, our scriptures, and our faith. For many of our veterans, their traumatic experiences with which they struggle will affect their understanding of God and faith.

For many people, the presence of a meaning-making system, such as faith, serves as a protective factor when trauma strikes. Paradoxically, faith can be counter-productive as well. The pain and terror of trauma can infuse such doubt in God and God’s faithfulness that the veteran reaches a point of denying God and their faith. The veteran can question God’s ability to intervene in the situation. The veteran can feel that God is punishing them and blame God for the loss. This becomes a way that the veteran may create meaning.

But the opposite can be true as well. Faith and spirituality can assist the veteran in developing a sense that love shapes God’s activity; patient, persevering, and long lasting. It is through love that God responds to a broken world. Also, it is through spirituality and religiosity that the veteran experiences a community with shared beliefs. This becomes another way to create meaning.

What ways have you experienced in creating meaning? How can the faith community become a part of the veteran’s journey to find the answer to “why”?

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl writes in his 1946 book, Man’s Search for Meaning, that the primary motivation of a person is to discover meaning in life. Throughout this powerful book Frankl insists that meaning in life can be discovered under all circumstances, even in the most miserable experiences of tragedy and loss. Through his own experience Frankl shared that people can discover meaning through doing a deed, experiencing value, and even by experiencing suffering.

This is a part of the process known as Post-Traumatic Growth. Next week, we will look at spirituality and suffering. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Soul Wounds)

February 11th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Three weeks ago we looked at three distinctive and yet similar war injuries that have spiritual implications; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), moral injury and soul wounds. We began our conversation on this triad first by focusing on PTSD. Last week we discussed moral injury. This week we will look at soul wounds.

WHAT ARE SOUL WOUNDS?

The injuries of war; PTSD, moral injury, and soul wounds, are a result of war’s violence. Warriors often experience intense fear and the confusion of moral ambiguity in war. Because of a warrior’s experience in war, the returning veteran’s assumptions about God, of the world, and of self are often shattered, resulting in a soul wound.

When the soul is wounded, it is an inner wound inflicted through the gateway of the mind, emotions, and experiences. Just like physical wounds constitute health difficulties to the body, inner wounds do more because the wound cannot be seen.

At the core of a person is their soul, that which gives a person meaning. When the soul is in anguish, this can become a spiritual scar. Soul wounds produce guilt, shame, and fear. However, a soul wound goes much deeper because the battlefield strips away the warrior’s belief system so that at the very core of the wound is the feeling of brokenness and hopelessness. In fact, the feeling to the warrior is that their soul has left them.

In a reply to my blog last week on moral injury, Larry offered an equation on the cause of soul wounding.

… the trauma of war violence begins the process that expresses as PTSD symptoms. “Normal” war trauma can produce stress symptoms proportional to severity, and exposure/duration. If this basic trauma scenario is overlaid or aggravated by moral issues that question the justness of the war or specific personal acts of a warrior, moral injury is likely to occur. The cumulative effect of trauma/PTSD and moral injury can be enough, in certain individuals and circumstances, to move the host area of the wound to the spiritual realm. In a simple equation, it might look like this; Traumatic stress (PTSD) + conscience violation (moral injury) = soul wound.

The conduct of war often descends into brutality.  Even when the outcome may bring peace, the broken and shattered lives along the way become a reminder to those who were engaged in war’s harsh realities.  A sense of brokenness and alienation from God, self and others is a consequence resulting in many warriors experiencing grievous wounds to their souls.

HOW TO IDENTIFY?

What may a wounded soul feel like? Soul wound symptoms reflect a diminishment of everything meaningful to the warrior. Countless warriors describe the dark side of their war experience with the word – hell.  “War is hell.”  “I lived through hell.”  Soul wounds feel like hell at the very core of the warrior’s being.

What may a wounded soul look like? Some common emotional and behavioral symptoms of a soul wound are;

  • inner rawness
  • irritability
  • little or no tolerance
  • feelings of anger, hate, resentment
  • lashing out
  • easily frustrated
  • irresponsible behavior
  • irrational expectation of others
  • isolationism
  • depression

These symptoms are very similar to PTSD and moral injury. However, it is through the spiritual symptoms that one can begin to distinguish a soul wound.

Some common spiritual symptoms;

  • difficult to forgive
  • hard to feel loved
  • confusion about God
  • self-hate
  • shattered self-esteem
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • hostility toward God, self and others
  • despair
  • finding it difficult to pray
  • no spirit of thankfulness
  • seeing no value in scripture
  • loneliness
  • doubt
  • fear
  • grief

For some, the circumstances of a soul wound may lead to the questioning of important and previously sustained beliefs. This can lead to a deep spiritual struggle. A key component in considering soul wounds is understanding how spirituality has been affected by trauma and or moral injury, and then, because of this, what role spirituality can now provide within the healing journey.

TREATMENTS

What can restore the wounded soul? Spiritual beliefs may influence the trauma survivor’s ability to begin a journey of healing following the trauma experience.  Several studies have indicated that negative thoughts or attributions about God, such as “God has abandoned me,” and “God is punishing me,” or, being angry at God are associated with a number of poor clinical outcomes.  One study of veterans being treated for PTSD found that negative religious coping and lack of forgiveness were both associated with worse PTSD and depression symptoms. (Witvliet, C. V. O., Phillips, K. A., Feldman, M. E., & Beckham, J. C. (2004), “Post traumatic mental and physical health correlates of forgiveness and religious coping in military veterans,” Journal of Traumatic Stress, 17 (3), 269-273)

We will briefly discuss several healing measures and strategies.

Healing measures include;

  • discover answers to the questions of meaning and purpose
  • work through feelings of guilt and shame
  • develop a thankful attitude
  • overcome fear

Spirituality is the dimension of human beings that seeks healing. For many people spirituality forms a basis of meaning and purpose in life. The profoundly disturbing effects of trauma can call into question a person’s purpose in life and work.  Healing, the journey toward restoration of wholeness, requires an answer to this question; what is my meaning and purpose.

Another critical component for inner healing is that the veteran will need to work through any feelings of guilt and shame. The veteran works through any feelings that God is somehow disappointed or angry with her/him. Knowing that God isn’t angry or disappointed creates an attitude of grace, acceptance, and trust. Also, when dealing with soul wounds, carrying around a mindset of guilt and shame makes the healing process much more difficult because it mentally separates us from the holistic approach that must include the spiritual component.

Developing a thankful attitude is another key to receiving healing for our wounded soul. Thankfulness leads to trust – if you are thankful for what God has given you, then you will find it easy to trust God in the areas of pain, loss, and grief. Additionally, an unthankful attitude can evoke a veteran to become unforgiving, unloving, resentful, and hateful. An unthankful attitude can become a poison to our emotional health and the ability to receive healing to our wounded soul.

Lastly, fear can easily overwhelm the veteran. Fear becomes a wall between the veteran and trusting in God. Breaking through this wall results in a tremendous amount of peace and healing can then take place.

There are several strategies toward healing;

  • individual work
  • connect with a spiritual mentor
  • personal counseling with a psychotherapist or pastoral counselor
  • done in community

Do you know of other strategies? How can the faith community be a partner with the veteran? Over the next several months, we will begin to explore these questions.

Thank you for the conversation, until next week…

 

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Moral Injury)

February 4th, 2016 Posted by Blog 4 comments

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

We have determined in our conversation during these last several weeks that the effects of trauma on our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, are profound. Two weeks ago we looked at three distinctive and yet similar war injuries that have spiritual implications; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), moral injury and soul wounds. Last week we focused specifically on PTSD. This week we will look at moral injury.

SO WHAT IS MORAL INJURY?

In our conversations over these last several weeks we began to see some similarities within the symptoms of the psychological, physical, behavioral, and the spiritual impacts of trauma and moral injury. So, what is moral injury?

The term moral injury is fairly new, however the concept goes back to the Iliad and Odyssey. Recent attention has been given to moral injury as a reality for most combat warriors. Some experts describe moral injury as a psychological scar of war. However, it has not yet been codified as an injury.

Moral injury is unlike PTSD, which is based on fear from feeling one’s life threatened. Moral injury produces guilt and shame from something done or witnessed that goes against one’s values. Men and women have returned from war broken and their diagnosis is wrongly labeled PTSD because their wound was not recognized as a moral injury.

Our warriors grow up with a given moral code of conduct. Moral codes come into conflict during war.  What we were taught, “You shall not murder.”  What we experienced in combat, “I killed another human being.”  What we were taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  What we experienced in combat, “I have injured another.”  What we were taught, “The name of the  Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.”  What we experience in combat, “My friend died.”  What we were taught, “God is love.” What we experienced in combat, “I have faced evil and have been lessened by it.”

Warriors may take a human life motivated either by a direct command, or survival, or from fear. This may be in direct contrast with a moral code they lived with previously and now sets the stage for moral injury, a painful psychological and spiritual wound.  Or, the injury is brought about by bearing witness to perceived or a real immoral act that brings about pain, suffering or death to others. Or, the injury could be brought on by committing an error that resulted in the loss of life of a battle buddy or a non-combatant.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a combat veteran approaches moral injury from a warrior perspective in his article in the Washington Post, “Haunted by their decision in war.” He reflects on the challenge that the Veterans Administration (VA) and the returning warrior have in understanding the difference between PTSD and moral injury. He writes, “Moral injury…isn’t really a part of the ‘returning veteran’ lexicon; instead, veterans use PTSD as a convenient catchall…While in many cases they can overlap, differentiating the two allows the returning veteran to understand not only the trauma he or she experienced but also the damage left by the decisions made in war.”

As I engaged in conversations with medical and behavioral health professionals while in Iraq and Afghanistan, they stated that in order to understand moral injury and address its effects, we must first recognize that it exists.

TREATMENTS

The veteran community can provide a vital role in the journey toward healing.

Despair, this word that’s so hard to get our arms around, Ashley Gilbertson reflects in the Virginia Quarterly Review on his profile of Noah Pierce, an Iraq veteran who committed suicide in 2007. It’s despair that rips people apart [who] feel they’ve become irredeemable.

In his article, “Moving Beyond PTSD to ‘Moral Injury‘” Jeff Severns Guntzel reflects on this profound statement as he reviews a 2010 interview with Dr. Jonathan Shay by Public Broadcasting’s “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.” Dr. Shay, a VA psychiatrist for over 20 years, states that “We’re turning our attention to this idea of moral injury and the limits of the PTSD diagnosis to explore what happens to a person who has experienced combat.” Dr. Shay continues by sharing, “It’s titanic pain that these men live with…in part because they feel they deserve it, and in part because they don’t feel people will understand it.”

It is interesting, Dr. Shay suggests that treating moral injury “happens not in the clinic, but community.”

Peers are the key to recovery — I can’t emphasize that enough. Credentialed mental health professionals like me have no place in center stage. It’s the veterans themselves, healing each other, that belong at center stage. We are stagehands — get the lights on, sweep out the gum wrappers, count the chairs, make sure it’s a safe and warm enough place…

Also, in an article, “Moral Injury in the context of war”, written for the National Center for PTSD, Department of VA, suggests that pilot testing is underway in evidence based treatments. These experiential strategies are associated with increased post-traumatic growth. The key element in each of these strategies, forgiveness.

SPIRITUAL COMPONENT

As we look at both of these treatment strategies, community and forgiveness, the faith community can provide a critical role.

Recall the description of Noah Pierce’s feeling of despair, about being irredeemable. The feeling of being irredeemable has powerful spiritual implications. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures share stories of men and women of faith who felt despair, shame, and dishonor because of something they had done. Each had to search their own soul and cry out to the One who brings forgiveness, wholeness, and restoration. Each discovered the importance of finding a companion to share their story, find encouragement, and at times hear the difficult realities of their soul.

As Dr. Shay suggests, treating moral injury happens in the community. The faith community can live out a critical part in this healing journey. The faith community offers the Sacred story that reveals to the “irredeemable” the One who loves them no matter what they have done or the state of their soul. The faith community also listens to the veteran’s sacred story. Deep listening is the beginning of the healing journey for our veterans.

What do you see as possible ways to be in partnership with our veterans who suffer from moral injury?

Next week we will discuss soul wounds…until then thank you for the conversation.

 

 

Engaging Conflict through the Lens of Soul Care

February 3rd, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet
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Chaplain Dave Smith

 

On January 11, 2016, David Anderson Hooker began a four month blog conversation on the core principles that define the approach that JustPeace takes when entering into congregational, community, and denominational conflicts. These principles include;

  1. Engaging Conflict
  2. Welcoming Conversation
  3. Honoring Relationships
  4. Transforming Community

David kicked off our conversation by addressing the first core principle: engaging conflict. He challenged us to consider why and how to engage conflict as individuals, faith communities, and within the world community. How can we engage conflict well? David provides the foundation when he stated, “In order to engage conflict we must first acknowledge that: People are not the problem; the problem is the problem.”

ENGAGING CONFLICT THROUGH THE LENS OF SOUL CARE

So, what is the problem? Extreme stress! The effects of war impact the whole person, the whole family, and the whole world community. For our conversation, we will briefly look at each of these in how soul wounds affect how we deal with conflict.

Our warriors’ mission is to ensure US security and maintain peace. To accomplish this they are purposely placed at the very center of conflict as they engage in combat operations and/or humanitarian assistance missions. Both require our warriors to live and work in environments of extreme stress.

Military training and combat operations have one big thing in common – survival. In previous blogs, we determined that while in combat, certain circumstances threaten the physicalmentalbehavioral, and spiritual health of the warrior. Post-traumatic stress or deployment-related stress are normal reactions of normal people to extreme and life threatening events. It is part of the human survival response. Warriors often experience during a combat deployment intense fear, panic, confusion, helplessness and even horror. Extreme stress deeply affects the warrior.

After the warrior has returned from war, extreme stress remains ever present as the veteran feels like he or she is still at “war.” Veterans carry the edge of hyper-vigilance, grieve the loss of the close bond with a battle buddy and the loss of doing something that holds significance, and find themselves in a slower pace of living. It is difficult to shed the warrior mentality, to let go of the behaviors that kept the warrior alive while in combat.

The extreme stress of combat lingers and may cause several symptom patterns: restlessness, difficulty concentrating, guilt, anxiety, irritability, and hyper-vigilance. These can threaten the veteran’s health if not managed appropriately. When these symptoms linger for months they can also lead to other illnesses or behavior issues such as depression, PTSD, addiction, abuse, and suicide.

These symptoms are at the heart of the inner-conflict, wounds of the soul. But they also become part of how the veteran relates to those around them. How the veteran works through the symptoms of extreme stress will enhance not only how they deal with their inner-conflict, but also how they engage conflict with others.

CHALLENGES OF TRANSITIONING HOME

How can we engage conflict?

Now that the warrior is home, not only will the veteran have to process their personal experiences of war and deal with their inner-conflict, they will also have to face numerous reintegration challenges with their family and community. Reintegration is characterized by the veteran’s returning to his or her daily life as experienced prior to deployment.  Reintegration can be a turbulent time for the veteran and the family, as members must re-form into a functioning system. One of the greatest challenges appears to be renegotiating family roles as the veteran encounters the often-unexpected difficulty of fitting into a home routine that has likely changed a great deal since his or her departure. This can cause conflict.

In earlier blogs, we looked at some of the challenges of reintegration and transition that the veteran and family may experience. We reviewed each family entity; veteranspouse, and the children. It is understandable that the transition from warrior to civilian can be overwhelming. On top of the challenges experiencing extreme stress while at war, the returning warrior now faces the stress of transition and reintegration. These may appear as insurmountable obstacles.

Understanding the nature and patterns for reintegration challenges enables the veteran and family to have more control over their lives. This knowledge will enhance a good reintegration and also allow for the veteran and family engage conflict well.

COMMUNITY CONNECTION

How can we engage conflict?

The trauma of war is a story of the whole community to include the faith community. As we all bear witness to each other’s story we form a foundation for engaging conflict. We begin to develop skills to listen with our hearts, not only our ears. As we listen with our hearts, we accept responsibility for our veteran’s wounds and we open ourselves to being a catalyst of grace.

How can we do this? Our warriors and veterans need our collective forgiveness for what they did and what they saw in the name of freedom and security. They need our support and participation to find meaning, purpose, healing and restoration. As a nation and faith community we must journey with each of our veterans through their pain, grief, loss, guilt and shame. Our veterans seek our acceptance and understanding for the horrors they witnessed and the horrors they committed.

Additionally, our veterans need to forgive us, we who sent them to war to do our nation’s bidding. Each of us must take responsibility in that we could not engage conflict well in the world community.

The faith community has a critical role. At the core of a person is their soul, that which gives a person meaning. When the soul is in anguish, this can become a spiritual scar that can be identified as a “soul wound.” Soul wounds produce guilt and shame. However, a soul wound goes much deeper because the battlefield strips away the warrior’s belief system so that at the very core of the wound is the feeling of brokenness and hopelessness. In fact, the feeling to the warrior is that their soul has left them.

What can the faith community do to understand these challenges and journey with our veterans toward healing? The veteran’s story is sacred as is the faith community’s story. By understanding the veteran’s story in the context of the spiritual meaning within a particular faith community context, we then can relate to the person, not the war.  This is the most important step toward developing a relationship of trust with the veteran and their family. The faith community can role model this technique for engaging conflict.

How can we engage conflict through the lens of soul care?

  1. By understanding that our veterans experience extreme stress while at war
  2. Through awareness of the challenges of transition and reintegration returning home
  3. By accepting responsibility as a community in nurture and support

If you desire to be engaged in conversation on these challenges and discuss possible strategies of care, please see the Soul Care Conversation on the website at www.soulcareinitiative.org, click on blog.