Soul injuries separate one from sense of self



JASPER — Not all injuries are physical or mental. Some can stem from the soul.

Such was the message at a Wednesday presentation at Jasper’s Arnold F. Habig Community Center, when Sue Gipson, a certified hospice and palliative nurse detailed the phenomenon of soul injuries and their impact on human life.

“The terminology soul has different meanings to different people,” said Gipson, who is the manager of clinical specialties at CURO Health Services and Kindred at Home. “Some, it has a religious meaning to. Some, it has a meaning of our sense of being or sense of self. And it’s an injury to that.”

Nonprofit organization Opus Peace defines a soul injury as an overlooked, unassessed wound that separates one from their own sense of self. They can be aching wounds perpetuated by unmourned loss, unforgiven guilt and shame, or diminished self-compassion that is often manifested as a sense of emptiness, loss of meaning, or a sense that a part of self is missing. The injuries can also take the form of a long-lasting response to a person or situation that causes one to feel personally defective, inadequate or unworthy.

Opus Peace was founded by a collective of five former Veterans Affairs hospice nurses whose mission is to provide educational programs that help people reckon with unassessed wounds. Through this, they can liberate unmourned loss and unforgiven guilt and shame in order to restore personal peace.

“Soul Injury is fueled by fear of emotional pain and this fear is responsible for numbing behaviors that subtly and not-so-subtly sabotage peoples’ lives,” reads a quote from Opus Peace founder Deborah Grassman on the organization’s website. She adds: “Learning how to self-compassionately connect with the part of self holding the pain and shame allows people to re-connect with their soul — with who they really are.”

Gipson explained in her presentation that the organization’s founders discovered the prevalence of soul injuries while working with 10,000 dying veterans. Through their work, the nurses deduced that the phenomenon doesn’t quite fit the criteria of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“PTSD deals with the brain and the chemical components of the brain and what happens chemically during a time of trauma,” said Gipson, whose husband is a veteran who has PTSD. “Soul injury has to deal with the heart. Not physically, but with the emotional part of the heart.”

During her presentation, she recounted the story of a man who experienced a soul injury when serving as a medic in the Vietnam War. On his final day, a soldier died in front of him, and though he’d seen many die before, he screamed to the heavens. Then, in his own words, “My soul left. It just vanished.”

But Gipson also said that you don’t need to be a veteran to experience trauma or suffer from a soul injury, explaining that most everyone has experienced some sort of insidious soul injury that fragmented their sense of self. And they might not even know it.

In one seemingly innocent example, Gipson told the story of a friend who cried while watching an episode of “Lassie” as a child. Her father — who was a loving and attentive man — saw her tears and laughed, and when he told his wife, who was in another room, that their daughter was crying to the TV show, she also laughed. All the while, their daughter could hear them.

“Her parents loved her and they never would have harmed this child,” Gipson said. “But at that moment, for whatever reason, that 5-year-old child felt shamed. Shamed that her parents were laughing at her actions.”

So, she made a decision to never cry again. And for three decades, she never shed a tear.

“Can you imagine how much you would have to separate from yourself, from who you are, to maintain that?” Gipson asked.

But when she was 35 years old, the woman acknowledged that holding in her tears was more painful than releasing them. And she began to let those tears flow, helping her take back that part of herself she had stowed away.

Gipson said that as a culture, we are categorically afraid of emotional pain, and that in our society, we are not taught how to lose and find the silver linings in our failures. But learning how to connect with pain is crucial to overcoming soul injuries.

She encouraged anyone struggling with what they believe could be a soul injury to contact her at

“I want people to feel there’s hope,” she said.

More on