The physical, mental, and emotional injuries of war are readily identified. An equally prevalent but seldom talked-about wound is “soul injury.” This injury can subtly and not-so-subtly rob traumatized people of their vitality. The source of soul injury is unmourned grief and unforgiven guilt and shame over things we think we should or should not have done. Unmourned grief and unforgiven guilt can sabotage lives. Military programs have provided few forums that respond to soul injuries, leaving veterans carrying these burdens alone. Family members of combat veterans are also affected; their wounds, too, often go unnoticed and untended. Complicating matters further are civilians, who may not recognize their role in supporting the reintegration of veterans back into themselves. Non-military trauma is similarly managed, with focus on mental, emotional, and social recovery. Soul Injury programs include the deeper, more intimate, aspect of ourselves: the soul self.
The concept of “soul” defies definition. It has been described in many different ways, yet there lacks distinctive qualities because in many ways the “soul” defies definition. Nevertheless, when we hear the word “soul,” we somehow experience its meaning on some level. Webster’s dictionary defines soul as “the vital or essential part.” Commonly, people say that the soul is the essence of our being, providing us with an interior “true north” that speaks to us “in our gut.” I sometimes think that the soul is like the giant oak tree housed within the proverbial acorn. The soul housed within us imprints an intention that outlines our destiny or purpose that we are born to fulfill (if we have the honesty, courage, and humility to do so). Thus, the soul acts as a “homing device” guiding us back to our true self. Some would say that the soul is the Source of our vitality; others say that the soul is where our unique identity intersects with Infinitude, Eternal consciousness, God, or a Higher Power.
A soul injury is a penetrating breach of integrity within our deepest self that pierces beyond the defenses of our ego. It often includes:
*a disruption of a person’s fundamental identity that shrinks their sense of goodness/beauty and fuels a haunting sense that they are defective/tainted.
*a sense of betrayal by another person, themselves, an organization, God, their religion, etc.
* exudes a vague or profound sense of emptiness caused by disconnection from the part of self carrying the pain.
The soul can be injured but not extinguished. We separate our selves from our soul when we cover up, numb out, or run from our Truth. In an anti-pain American culture, we don’t learn how to open up to pain in a way that connects us with our soul. Yet, the SOUL is vast and fiercely strong, which is why it holds the pain – is the part of self that holds the truth of what was experienced. Numbing or covering up our pain disconnects us from our Soul. Neglected, soul injuries start generating symptoms of their own.The soul is the repository of Truth, holding our fears and revelations about who we are and who we are not, including the PAIN of our truth. The soul thrives on images and metaphor, rhythms, and artful, paradoxical mystery. So, it speaks in a different language that we have to learn to value and respect if we are going to access it. The soul lives in the “Now” and yields its Vitality in the everpresent “Now.” It is the source of both wisdom and compassion. The soul is vast and fiercely strong: strong enough to carry our deepest pain…our soul injuries.
Our soul might become weary without sustaining an outright injury. Certain professions are vulnerable for this kind of soul weariness: police, firefighters, emergency room staff, hospice workers, trauma counselors, bereavement staff, etc. This is sometimes described as “burn-out” or “compassion fatigue.” Self-care workshops often focus on helpful tools that develop resiliency. However, relief is often only temporary with symptoms returning in a few short weeks or months. Restoration of the soul requires an approach that reaches beyond the mind and beyond the heart into the depths of our gut…to that place that is generating the empty weariness…to that part of self that is carrying unmourned grief and unforgiven guilt. Re-owning and re-homing this part of self “restoreths our souls.”