Asymmetric Mind

Courses, Workshops, and Webinars on Moral Injury

For organizations seeking training in psychological trauma and moral injury, please contact us to discuss a custom team experience. Workshops are deliverable either in-person or via live interactive webinar with customizable lengths based on your training needs.

Our team training is appropriate for behavioral health organizations, military & first responder organizations, peer support teams, and groups with a similar interest in the topic. Please check out some of the module highlights below and reach out to us with any questions:

The Truth Behind Trauma - An Intro to Moral Injury

Insurgency of the Mind - Moral Injury in Modern Conflict

Video: On Moral Injury & The Determinants of Guilt

"I am just finishing the first cohort of Asymmetric Mind as the peer support coordinator for my agency, I can tell you that this course is like nothing I’ve ever seen. Josh Mantz is brilliant and I highly recommend you look at this training for your peer support team members and trauma therapists." Sergeant Jeff McGreevy | Police Supervisor | Greater Los Angeles Area

The Truth Behind Trauma: An Introduction to Moral Injury

Police responding to a life-threatening call.

There are generally three sources of psychological trauma: life-threat, traumatic loss, and moral injury.  'Life-threat' is the experience of an actual or perceived threat to one's own life (or serious harm) or of witnessing that of someone else. This is generally associated with fear or terror. 

Understanding the impact of fear and the mechanisms we employ to control it (consciously or unconsciously) is vital to our foundational understanding of trauma.  We'll review the brain's autonomic response system and discuss the role fear plays in critical situations, placing a particular emphasis on its relevance within the military and first responder populations.


Soldiers preparing for an urban raid.

Based on actual events from combat, we'll demonstrate the brain's incredible capacity to adapt and respond to the environment while under life-threatening pressure. We'll show how the brain fluently traverses through all autonomic response categories (fight- flight - freeze) in just 30 seconds, based on the changing sensory inputs at hand.

This is important to consider when working with trauma and moral injury, as we often experience a loss of control during autonomic activation. The rational mind is temporarily displaced by the emotional force of the experience as the body assumes full control. In this sense, we, as conscious observers, find ourselves momentarily vulnerable to our own bodies.

Hyperarousal represented by fire and hypoarousal represented by ice.

Psychological trauma is known for leaving us "trapped" in the past, reliving events of today as though the negative experience is still occurring. This can lead to the symptoms of hypervigilance and hyperarousal most commonly associated with PTS. It is of equal importance to recognize the opposite response, known as hypoarousal, involving the suppression of emotion.

First responders and military personnel, particularly when exposed to chronically traumatic environments involving high threat, must learn to manage, suppress, harness, and control powerful emotions like fear in order to thrive in ambiguous high-risk environments. This can lead to the inadvertent suppression of other emotions, generating a sense of numbness, isolation, and withdrawal.

The mask of shame.

Morality is infused within many (if not all) aspects of human life and is often a reflection of one's most deeply held beliefs (both conscious and unconscious). Our moral outlook is also a reflection of our perception of the world and how we view ourselves as participants within it. It is an attraction - a visceral "lure" - to truth.

Psychological trauma is often complex and occurs at high emotional magnitudes, presenting new or unexpected situations to the individual which, aside from its physiological implications, requires a fresh moral judgement. Under pressure, much of this occurs subconsciously - but the rational mind will undoubtedly attempt to make sense of it later, which is one place moral dissonance can emerge.

Ancient statue of a warrior carrying the weight of responsibility.

Guilt is multidimensional and often has complex characteristics. Building off the work of Kubany & Watson's 2003 model, we consider guilt through the lens of its three principle determinants (responsibility, justification, and wrongdoing) in addition to discussing specific situational factors that can increase its magnitude.

Coming to better understand the sources of guilt (and other moral emotions) is partially an endeavor to understand culture, particularly within the military and first responder populations. We take a hard look at the virtues common to these professions and their relationship to moral injury.

Medical teams racing to the scene.

Irresolvable moral dilemmas occur when each available choice results in a negative outcome. When these situations occur in a traumatic context, particularly when harm is imminent (for example, a 'shoot-no shoot' scenario), the moral fabric of the individual is tested and stretched- in some places, torn. The subsequent restructuring of this fabric is the process of transformation.

Irresolvable moral dilemmas are just one lens through which we can view moral injury. They are valuable to consider because of the contrast created by the experience itself. The vulnerabilities generated by such events can have psychological, sociological, and spiritual/theological implications.

Video: On Irresolvable Moral Dilemmas

Insurgency of the Mind: Moral Injury in Modern Conflict

Map of Baghdad and Soldier with local people.

Our Service Members and First Responders can rarely get away with 'just' being tactical experts. The population-centric nature of the modern operating environment demands that they also assume the roles of relationship-builders, trusted advisors, city mayors, economists, and engineers. They must also gain an understanding of the local customs, culture, and language of the local population.

They must do this while taking on a disproportionate level of risk (as compared to the insurgent), fighting an enemy that they cannot see, in a culture they don't fully understand, through a population whose loyalty is continuously ambiguous or unknown. This is why counterinsurgency is commonly referred to as 'the graduate level of warfare.' It's complexity heightens the capacity for moral injury.  

A sea of people walking down the street.

The local people rest at the center of gravity of the modern operating environment. Building trust with the local population is a decisive variable- and there many obstacles that stand in its way. Foreign language and cultural barriers complexify the situation while subversive insurgent attacks intensify it. It's building trust within an environment of distrust, while consciously accepting the implicit risk and vulnerability associated with 'giving trust to earn it.'

Many aspects of morality revolve around the sociological domain. Modern conflict is inextricably bound to local populations, and war implies potentially violent conflicts. Therefore, the combination of conflict and people sets the conditions for the emergence of moral injury.  

Soldier's anticipating a raid.

The nature of the modern operating environment requires service members to operate in ways that are tactically counterintuitive and prone to moral injury. The strategies and skill sets that were designed to function on a conventional battlefield sometimes don't apply in an unconventional environment.

Language becomes more important than the rifle. Living in a small outpost close to the locals becomes more important than living behind the secure walls of a compound far removed from the locals. Relationships must be forged and higher levels of risk must be assumed, setting the conditions for a variety of moral vulnerabilities

Ancient warrior helment.

Implicit to the value of duty is responsibility. A responsibility to the mission, to the team, to the people we're sworn to serve and protect, to our family and friends, and a responsibility to the self.  Many times, people in the service professions are faced with situations that make it impossible to satisfy all of those variables, thereby creating the conditions for moral injury particularly in the face of a negative outcome.

Our aim is to embrace and elevate the qualities that allow service professionals to serve so effectively in their professions, while also giving them permission to explore the totality of forces that influence the situation at hand.

Insurgent overlooking an explosion in a city from a distance.

A common insurgent or criminal tactic is to provoke an overreaction by the counterinsurgent force hoping that they will accidentally hurt or harm innocent members of the population. They then leverage this as false propaganda to further their cause while attempting to separate the counterinsurgent from the population.

This is a form of moral subversion which is a powerful source of moral injury. It speaks to the paradox that 'doing nothing is (sometimes) the best reaction.' The potentiality of these situations, once brought into conscious awareness, wildly complicate the moral landscape. There is rarely a "right" answer and the complex situations that arise within this environment may impact the psyche in counterintuitive ways.

Soldiers anticipating a raid.

Its important to consider the relationship between moral injury and leadership from a multidimensional standpoint. A leader represents the central node of a team, yet the same leader is also a subordinate within an even larger team. Serving as a leader, particularly in these professions, requires tremendous sacrifice. The weight of responsibility carries with it the risk of vulnerability.

The complexity of variables encountered in the modern operating environment can stress the fabric of trust which binds together military and first responder organizations. This has the capacity to create moral injuries in the form of betrayal, abandonment, and powerlessness (among others), be they actual or perceived.

Video: On Teams and Trauma

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