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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
- little or no tolerance
- feelings of anger, hate, resentment
- lashing out
- easily frustrated
- irresponsible behavior
- irrational expectation of others
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
- shattered self-esteem
- feelings of hopelessness
- hostility toward God, self and others
- finding it difficult to pray
- no spirit of thankfulness
- seeing no value in scripture
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.
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…