To Trust is to Survive : Toward a Developmental Model of Moral Injury

Research on trauma- and stressor-related disorders has recently expanded to consider moral injury, or the harmful psychological impact of profound moral transgressions, betrayals, and acts of perpetration. Largely studied among military populations, this construct has rarely been empirically extended to children and adolescents despite its relevance in the early years, as well as youths’ potentially heightened susceptibility to moral injury due to ongoing moral development and limited social resources relative to adults. Application of the construct to young persons, however, requires theoretical reconceptualization from a developmental perspective.


The present paper brings together theory and research on developmentally-oriented constructs involving morally injurious events, including attachment trauma, betrayal trauma, and perpetration-induced traumatic stress, and describes how they may be integrated and extended to inform a developmentally-informed model of moral injury. Features of such a model include identification of potentially morally injurious events, maladaptive developmental meaning-making processes that underlie moral injury, as well as behavioral and emotional indicators of moral injury among youth. Thus, this review summarizes the currently available developmental literatures, identifies the major implications of each to a developmentally-informed construct of moral injury, and presents a conceptual developmental model of moral injury for children and adolescents to guide future empirical research.

Mallory C. Kidwell & Patricia K. Kerig | 2021
In: Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma ; ISSN: 1936-1521
Online ahead of print DOI: 10.1007/s40653-021-00399-1
Adolescents, Betrayal, Children, Guilt, Moral Injury (eng), Perpetrators, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Psychotrauma, PTSD (en), Research, Shame