Moral Injury From Employment

During my therapy in 2018-2020, I heard this term before and my feelings about being abandoned by my employers came up often. Their lack of action after receiving the vague letter in August 2016 bothered me greatly and caused me moral injury as described in this article I found on Psychology Today. They share numerous articles I find very helpful to me to make sense of my situation.

I did what I felt I had to do, which was speak to my employers and let them know that due to my work experience, ignoring their letters, as they requested, was not the way to proceed. Even when I played mediator between the Tenants and my employer to try and set up a meeting between them to discuss their issues, they preferred to not have one unless the Tenant was willing to meet in the office. I even suggested the coffee shop close by, but they would have none of it.

Their lack of action did go against my ethics, and it played on me for a long time. It caused me to lose faith and I am very grateful I don’t have to put myself in that possible position anymore.

Every time I tried to address the gossip and rumours going around, I was told to “be quiet”. They even had the nerve to email me to “stay quiet” when I no longer worked for them and they once had their lawyer call me to push that I remain quiet too. I felt I was being Bullied by the employers almost as much as I was by the Tenants. Their lack of involvement in the situation that progressed, preferring to hide behind lawyers and not speak of it to anyone, except me, also played a part in what it became.

I felt a lot of emotions over the betrayal by my employers over such a high-stakes situation that resulted in me quitting my job and being Bullied so severely by Tenants living there. I felt such a lack of support from them, and their constant demands to “not respond” to any Tenant and their questions. I even had to push them to do the letter they finally sent in Sept 2019. They hid away, even more than I did. I was living on the property, I wasn’t able to walk away and ignore it like it didn’t exist like they did.

Do you want to hear something funny? I even felt bad for going to the Ministry of Labour and filing a complaint against them. In my employment, I worked with “respect, integrity, accountability, and professionalism” and that also included loyalty, so yes, I felt bad for making a formal complaint against them for their lack of Health and Safety rules and the enforcement of them. They had nothing in place and they did nothing, for which they paid dearly in the end.

They did nothing to protect us as employees from their Tenant’s actions on the property and only reacted in response to the Tenants’ legal filings, never instigating anything themselves. I was the one who pushed the filing with the Landlord and Tenant Board for mediation to their constant refusals of entry and I wasn’t even sure they would evict them. I wanted the LTB to explain the rules of entry to them and create an order for them to comply, as I had done many times in the past with other Tenants. They were evicted because of their own adamant words instead.

I felt very betrayed by the property owners there who hired us. They made promises to us that they always went back on, so yes, these actions, or lack of, caused me moral injury that I still struggle with from time to time. it wasn’t the first time I felt betrayed by employers either…

Going to the Ministry of Labour wasn’t easy on me emotionally, but I did feel somewhat vindicated when we reached a settlement. At the time, all I wanted to do was get out of there once they told me they were not going after these Tenants in Civil Court for the websites. It was my end goal and I reached it. I knew I wouldn’t heal while still living there. I even have issues knowing my sister is still living there!!

As it says below,In PTSD the individual loses his sense of safety, in moral injury, the individual loses his ability to trust people and organizations to uphold a moral code of conduct” and I was hit with both. I was scared for my life, not only from the outside but also from within, as I felt very hopeless for a long time, and very alone. I felt no one understood me and what I was going through and it wasn’t until I found WordPress and other people’s Blogs, like Cherie Whites, did I start to think differently.

Once I saw I wasn’t alone and that there was so much I could learn from others, was when I started to heal. Finally, I could get my Story out and be understood by someone. I will always be so grateful to so many others out there who have the courage to speak up!

PTSD I had since 1991 with it many symptoms were aggravated, and that increased my fear and the moral injury it all caused me to lose my ability to trust people and organizations to uphold a moral code of conduct.

Since then, the lack of actions done by hosting companies and domain providers has maintained my moral injury. Since showed up online in 2019, I have made many complaints and they caused this domain to be transferred 26 times to different servers and IP addresses. Some companies uphold the policies they have in place, others do not. Everyone I speak to agrees their sites are nasty and it is cyberbullying, but won’t do anything without a Court Order to take them down, as they say, these sites are not hosted there, but on the Wayback Machine.

I found a community that aligns with my moral code here in NL, which is called Retirement! I will remain here where my values are respected and I have no more concerns about employers betraying my ethics. I am free to speak about the violation against me and share my story of Adult Tenants who Bully in apartment buildings in Ontario and the people who let them get away with their vicious behaviour.

Getting past moral injury isn’t easy, nothing worthwhile ever is, but you will be grateful once you are able to get through it. Sit with your emotions, feel them, process them, and release them. It is the only way to move past it and live a life where you can be free! Every day, it gets easier and I get better…

Workplace Bullying as a Moral Injury Wound

Workplace abuse violates one’s moral code, resulting in an existential crisis.


  • Workplace bullying is a cultural problem, transpiring in “vicious” organizations that operate under shadow values.
  • Workplace bullying often results in moral injury, in which a person in authority violates the value system of a star employee.
  • Healing from moral injury rests in identifying which values were violated and what the resulting emotions were, and then restoring meaning.

Trauma burrows its way into our lives in a myriad of ways, from abuse and sickness to military conflict. The resulting suffering hurts our heads and our hearts, upending our faith in a predictable and benevolent world and leaving us without a compass to navigate home to our earlier selves. The wounds inflicted may be external, internal, or both—yet there is another type of wound, existential in nature, that transcends our body and invades our souls. We call it moral injury.

What Is Moral Injury?

Moral injury (MI) is “an act of transgression that creates dissonance and conflict because it violates assumptions and beliefs about right and wrong and personal goodness” (Litz et. al., 2016, p. 698).

Shay (1994), a psychiatrist, is credited with coining the term after encountering the bones of the phenomenon in Homer’s The Iliad and then drawing parallels between the moral injury suffered by Achilles to those inflicted on soldiers during the Vietnam War. Through his study of Homer’s work and the extended narratives of the Vietnam vets under his care, Shay (2014) delineated three essential components of MI:

  1. A betrayal of what is right
  2. By someone who holds legitimate authority
  3. In a high-stakes situation

As evidenced by Shay’s work, the vast majority of research on moral injury is situated around the battlefield. However, in recent decades, that work has been extended to the workplace.

Moral Injury at Work

Shay’s criteria for moral injury translates well to workplace abuse scenarios in which:

  1. A star employee is targeted (a betrayal of what is right)
  2. By either her boss or other individuals with social power (by someone who holds legitimate authority)
  3. Most often resulting in job loss and/or an identity crisis (a high-stakes situation)

Moral injury on the job causes ethical employees to lose purpose, hope, and meaning in their work. Such wounds happen in what Abadal and Potts (2022) describe as “vicious” organizations in which company values dominate the webpage, such as respect, integrity, accountability, and professionalism, but shadow values direct the business. Shadow values are the “hidden curriculum” that normalizes the use of gossip, gaslighting, manipulation, sabotage, and exclusion as primary tools to complete tasks and gain power over others (Anderson, 2021).

When ethical employees devoted to an organization’s public mission unknowingly enter a vicious organization, they are forced to make the choice to either assimilate to the shadow value norms and abandon their own moral code, or call out bad behaviors. Unfortunately, the cost is high for employees who whistleblow or report toxicity, with 67 percent losing their jobs (Namie, 2021).

Unlike isolated incidents during wartime, moral injury at work typically follows an elongated cycle (Abadal and Potts, 2022; Anderson, 2021; Fleming, 2022a).

  1. An employee joins an organization that publicly matches her values and mission.
  2. The employee is repeatedly exposed to PMIE or “potentially morally injurious events,” most often from a superior such as yelling, humiliation, unreasonable workload, withdrawal of resources, taking credit for her work, and encouraging her to lie or cover up damaging information.
  3. Such behaviors are in contrast to the employee’s moral code and value system, so she attempts to professionally address the problematic behaviors, most often first with her boss and later with human resources.
  4. Following her attempts to speak up about the unethicalities, she becomes a target of workplace bullying.
  5. The repeated exposure to PMIE coupled with retaliatory bullying creates an existential crisis in which trust is broken, value systems are collapsed, identity is shaken, and job security is lost, which results in moral injury. Once inflicted, the moral injury causes the employee to lose trust in people and organizations, experience feelings of sadness and shame, and suffer a crisis of identity.

Moral injury wounds are significant and long-lasting, requiring the help, when possible, of a supportive community and mental health professionals.

Healing Moral Injury Wounds

The initial wound of moral injury begins as a betrayal of the employee’s assumptive world, abandoning her in a vast landscape that lacks meaning, predictability, and an ethical code of conduct. Such cultures take away an employee’s ability to live inside her values, set goals, and have agency over her work, resulting in physical and emotional distress that includes but is not limited to high blood pressure, sleep disorders, migraines, anxiety, and depression (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2012).

Moral injury and PTSD are often conflated, yet they have marked differences. PTSD usually occurs in response to a mortal threat, resulting in long-term feelings of fear and hopelessness. Moral injury, on the other hand, transpires when there is a violation of one’s moral values leading to extended feelings of guilt, shame, and anger. Whereas in PTSD the individual loses his sense of safety, in moral injury, the individual loses his ability to trust people and organizations to uphold a moral code of conduct (Shay, 2014).

Due to these differences, some interventions that prove successful in addressing PTSD, such as exposure therapy, are not effective in healing moral injury. However, mental health professionals, researchers, and chaplains have identified specific practices helpful for healing such wounds (Calhoun and Tedeschi, 2006; Fleming, 2022b; Janoff Bulman, 1992; Schwarz, 2012; Shay, 2014).

  1. Effective approaches begin with a self-evaluation of what values were violated. Did the organizational leadership violate an employee’s sense of integrity, service to the community, dedication to professionalism, belief in honest communication, opportunities for growth, commitment to respectful interactions, or the truthful and fair exchange of information?
  2. Next, it is helpful to identify the specific emotions that arose due to that violation. Feeling information theory suggests that identifying specific emotions, instead of generalized feelings, empowers people to bring the unconscious to the surface where it can be discussed and analyzed. Such analysis empowers people to have more productive reactions to their emotions. To aid in emotional granularity, Fleming (2022b) developed the Moral Injury Experience Wheel to assist in breaking down generalized feelings like anger into more specific vocabulary to describe those feelings such as disbelief, helplessness, disappointment, mistrust, disillusionment/cynicism, contempt/disgust, resentment, vengefulness, or rage.
  3. Once the specific emotions associated with the violation are identified, it is important to consider how that violation impacted the person’s belief in herself and a meaningful world. Daily journaling, for as little as 10 minutes, is an effective tool for this type of discovery.
  4. Rituals are an integral component of the moral wound-healing process, for they create opportunities for individuals to sever emotional ties with the organization that inflicted the hurt. Rituals may come in the form of writing a letter that is ceremoniously held over a flame or taking a weekend pilgrimage on a mountain trail, signifying the taking of a new path.
  5. Lastly, it is time to find meaning in new endeavors, whether it be through advocacy, volunteer work, passion projects, or seeking out alternative employment at an organization that aligns with the individual’s personal mission and values.

In summary, workplace bullying is a type of value breach in which a person’s belief and commitment to integrity, truth, kindness, and fair play are violated by a vicious institution through the tools of gossip, gaslighting, manipulation, sabotage, and exclusion. As a result, the individual suffers innumerable physical and emotional health complications, but most tragically, may succumb to moral injury. Such wounding transcends the body, resulting in a loss of personal agency and meaning-making, which causes deep feelings of sadness and shame. Healing rests in identifying internal values, speaking about violations, and discovering new communities where the individual can do productive work in a culture that aligns with her moral code.

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