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The Trifecta of Trauma

Non Parent Expected Trauma

Moral Injury

Moral Injury was originally defined by Dr. Jonathan Shay as “...a betrayal of what is right by someone who holds legitimate authority in a high stakes situation, perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to acts that ultimately transgress one’s deeply held moral beliefs”. 

The Volunteers of America created the Shay Moral Injury Center and define it as such: “Moral Injury is the suffering people experience when we are in high-stakes situations, things go wrong, and harm results that challenges our deepest moral codes and ability to trust others or ourselves. The harm may be something we did, something we witnessed, or something that was done to us. It results in moral emotions such as shame, guilt, self-condemnation, outrage, and sorrow”.

Because Moral Injury is not widely recognized as a form of trauma, the NPE experience is often not acknowledged as legitimately traumatic by helping professionals, often compounding the sense of moral injury.

Foggy Lake
Beautiful Nature
Betrayal Trauma

Betrayal Trauma is a subset of Moral Injury and is defined by Dr. Jennifer Freyd as what “…occurs when the people or institutions on which a person depends for survival significantly violate that persons trust or well-being: Childhood physical, emotional or sexual abuse perpetrated by a caregiver are examples of betrayal trauma.” 

This definition has been expanded to include all significant relationships including parents, spouses, and employers, and includes one’s entire lifespan, not just childhood.  From Amy Fife, a therapist specializing in Betrayal Trauma: “Betrayal Trauma is unique in that the perpetrator is also the person that one would turn to for care, comfort and safety”.  

From one of her clients: “The person I want to go to because of the intense pain from the betrayal is the very person who betrayed me. I feel lost with nowhere to turn. Everything I thought I knew seems like a lie. I question everything. I don’t know what’s real anymore. I feel so alone”. Anyone who has experienced the shock of discovering that one or more of their parents’ identities was concealed from them by one or more of their parents will instantly relate to this.

Identity Crisis

Identity is our sense of self. It is who we see ourselves as in terms of our inner landscape, and in relation to others. Identity formation begins at birth and is largely shaped by our early relationships with our parents and families. Psychology Today offers this definition of identity; “Identity encompasses the memories, experiences, relationships, and values that create one’s sense of self. This amalgamation creates a steady sense of who one is over time, even as new facets are developed and incorporated into one’s identity”. 

A core theme in research on identity is the concept of Identity Constancy. The human brain strives for consistency, and we establish the foundations of our identity early in life and utilize that identity as a lens through which we view and interpret our world. 


Another aspect to identity is social categorization. We naturally define ourselves according to which “groups” we belong to. This likely harkens back to the evolutionary development of remaining within our “tribe”, which was essential to our survival. This sense of belonging to our group is fundamental. Without belonging, we struggle to define our identity. 

The NPE experience pulls the foundations out from under our identity constancy, our social identity, and our sense of belonging. It strips our sense of self down to the core, both in the present and all the way back to birth. A person confronted with the identity issues raised by an NPE experience is faced with the process of grieving their lost identity, and reconstructing a new, and more authentic identity, based upon new information about themselves.  Identity reconciliation and reconstruction are fundamental to healing from the NPE experience. 

Beauty in Nature
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