The Primal Wound critique: link

I think, especially in the early 90s when this book was written, but even now, that awareness about your infant’s grieving process and the effects that the loss of the biological mother can potentially have on your child is very important and should be common “adoption triad” knowledge. That being said, I guess if I was going to make any complaints or criticisms of Nancy Verrier’s work in The Primal Wound, it would be pretty much the following: Overinclusive, Underinclusive, and Outdated. I’ll copy and paste it below, follow the link to read the reviewer’s profile:

While I can buy into the “primal wound” theory (as contrived and academic as the chosen phraseology sounds), I have a hard time with several elements of the book, specifically:

1. It frequently blames adoptive parents for being ill-equipped to properly handle their child’s primal wound of separation from the birthmother. The book was first written in 1991, when adoption may not have been as open a topic of discussion as it is today. A whole lot has changed in adoptive family dynamics since then. I have yet to see a book written about people adopted in the 90’s, perhaps because they aren’t adults yet. And I have yet to see a book written about adoptees raised by parents who WERE sensitive to their child’s needs with respect to the adoption, and whether their emotional issues are as severe.

2. Along the same line of blaming the adoptive parents for how they raise their wounded children, plenty of the parenting problems it describes could easily happen to biological children as well, and specifically several of them happened to me and other people I know (not adopted). This isn’t the only adoption book I’ve seen this in. For instance, it talks about the pressure on an adopted child to be compliant and perfect and how parents can aggravate that tendency. That’s not necessarily an adoption issue. There are parents expect that of their biological children as well (again, not to trivialize the feelings that come with that, but the bio kids that deal with it have those feelings too – I was one of them, it’s not limited to adoption). Then it mentioned a guy whose parents pressured him to be an attorney when he didn’t feel called to it. Definitely not an adoption issue – that could happen to anyone.

3. The book is also internally inconsistent. It talks about how adoptive parents shouldn’t refer to their children as “special,” because this increases the pressure on these children to be perfect. I don’t see the connection there to begin with, and to make matters worse, later in the book it quotes an adult adoptee who complained that his parents DIDN’T ever tell him he was special, so he felt insignificant (which seems to be an obvious outcome – don’t most parents tell their children they are special, whether they are adopted or not?). Along a similar line it talks about an adoptive mother who gave her daughter every material advantage but never hugged or kissed her. Again, that’s not an adoption issue. That’s a parenting issue.

4. The book also assumes that every adoptive family has dealt with infertility and has not worked through the loss of a biological child before adopting. Although there are families dealing with that, more and more these days there are also families who either (1) choose adoption without ever trying to get pregnant in the first place, or (2) have gotten help in working through the emotional impacts of infertility. These parents are overlooked entirely, and there are no reports on children adopted by these parents.

5. It grates me how this book (along with some other experts and non-experts for that matter) insists that adoptees who appear to be well-adjusted are probably really just in denial. I’m sure that’s true for some, but the book assumes that every adoptee is the same, and all must have deep-seeded issues, and are in denial if they appear not to. There appears to be no acceptance of the possibility that some adoptees may actually have mitigated emotional issues. Even if the majority of adoptees cited in the book have very profound grief and pain, I wonder who was sought out for purposes of providing information for the book and what percentage of the adoptee population they comprise. I don’t say this in an effort to deny the information in the book, but rather to suggest the book seems unbalanced and speaks in near absolutes.

The book basically tells adoptive parents “you will never be good enough because you aren’t the biological parents, and besides, look at all the mistakes adoptive parents make along the way” (as if biological parents don’t make mistakes). In theory, there may be a point in there somewhere because ideally, yes, every child would have a wonderful home with their biological parents in their country of birth; but the book loses sight of the fact that given a biological family’s inability to care for its child, or a country’s policies that prevent that, what are the alternatives for this child? And by that I do not mean to trivialize the very real pain of adoption for both the child and the biological parents, but the circumstantial reality seems to be somewhat overlooked in the writing.

Yes, abandonment is tragic, and there have been adoptive parents who are insensitive to their child’s plight as an adoptee, but not all adoptive parents are like that, and not all parenting issues are adoption issues in an adoptive family. The book reads as though they are and doesn’t offer much hope.

The book also references how a non-adopted person can never know what it’s like to be adopted. Conversely, and not mentioned in the book, an adopted person will never know what it’s like to not be adopted. That means an adopted person may not realize that a certain family issue is also experienced by non-adopted persons. I’m sure adoption magnifies some of these issues, but it’s important to understand that a lot of parenting and growing up issues are universal, and not to automatically assume it’s an adoption issue. My concern with that is that an adoptee faced with parents or a therapist who link everything to the adoption, and don’t explain to the adoptee that there are some things everyone deals with at certain stages of life, might actually have more limited opportunities for healthy emotional development.

Overall, the book is lecturing toward adoptive parents and over-the-top in its tone, and if you are in the process of adopting and don’t remind yourself of why you’re adopting and the very real-world outcomes for abandoned children who are not ultimately adopted, the book might talk you out of it, which in my opinion would be tragic.

Author: Mother of All Things

Mother by fostering, adoption, and marriage... wife to my best friend... Bay area critical care nurse... travel in my blood, reading in my bones, clean food on my mind!

4 thoughts on “The Primal Wound critique: link”

  1. I’ve enjoyed your thoughts and willingness to hear what the book has to say so you are aware and open to your child if they have big feelings – but not the review, my thoughts on that below:

    You missed the first line of the revue where it identifies that she is a prospective adoptive parent…

    1. She recognises that the book was first written in 1991 – she doesn’t realize that it has not be updated since which is pretty clear because no where does it say revised and updated, but wants to wax on about how different it is today than it was back then – which to me is debatable. My feelings, there were those who got it way back when I was born, those who didn’t too – the same applies today, despite the fact that education exists today that didn’t then, there will always be good, okay, and poorly equipped adoptive parents.

    2. Then she goes into the it happens in biological families too excuse/denial phase. She doesn’t take the time to see the added nuances being adopted adds to the mix, additional layers if you will. To be specific using an example she speaks of, the added layers of being perfect and compliant come from the fact that we’ve already not be kept once, we know it can happen again, if you’ve always been kept – that isn’t your reality, or fear. (sorry from the frankness of the terms.)

    3. Rehashing of the it happens to biological children too – what’s the big deal attitude, lack of comprehension that is added when adoption is part of the reality, added layers.

    4. The not only those with infertility adopt now days response – despite knowing the book was published in 1991, she complains that the author didn’t foresee what adoption would look like in 2015…sigh

    5. So another complaint is that adoptees without issues are in denial – of course some, perhaps many, never have a single issue. The problem with that are many adoptees who never have a concern, or found acceptance of what they couldn’t change, until they do, and need to process or reprocess it through the adult lens, whether they start processing it when they marry, give birth, face their own mortality, hit the regret years of looking back. And most adoptees would never tell other people of their deep feelings, instead, the it’s fine, its all good is the response – because that’s what they want to hear.

    She finishes up reminding the reader that biological families have problems too, not all adoptive parents are like that, ((i roll my eyes at comments that everyone already knows and yet the writer feels the need to rebut). But the red-herring of would they rather grow up in an orphanage/alternative is uncalled for. That comeback is insidious –> Remember to be grateful, you could have been aborted rhetoric, no, adoptees would not feel the need to be perfect and compliant having that told to them over, and over, by so many different adults throughout their entire life…and people wonder why the adoptees simply say, its all good, I’m fine…

    PS – you do realize that there is a second book in the series? It’s called Coming Home to Self or something like that…

    1. First, I’m really glad to hear your feedback! I actually think that the knowledge in the book should be common sense, common knowledge, and taken as a given when fostering or adopting. I think adoption should be a last resort, and in a more ideal situation if the first parents simply cannot parent, close relatives are found. If relatives cannot do it… adoption is necessary, and you try to make it as open as possible. This is the reality of the unfortunate circumstances, and I guess that is just my interpretation of her point that adoption was the best of available options, although it is really important especially as the adoptive parent to understand that pointing this out is only forcing the child into an awkward position of “gratitude and owing”, which is detestable. It’s much more productive and certainly less disastrous to everyone to recognize that the trauma that occurs from separation from the first mother is a part of the child, and will be a part of the adult, and will always need to be re-examined throughout different stages of their life.

      I think adoptive parents, such as me, who are trying to be as conscientious as possible, simply need to tell ourselves that yes, this is going to be something our beloved child will deal with for the rest of her life, but just because he or she has a trauma to deal with does not mean that we can’t be good parents or that our child can’t find happiness and peace in life. Thus, the “but biological parents cause trauma too” argument, I guess. Poor parenting can cause a lot of issues, other types of trauma can occur, and we see that with support people can not only survive but work through the trauma and find peace later in life. Adoption “trauma” is there but doesn’t have to ruin a life, although it could. We tell ourselves this because we want what is best for our kid, and we’re willing to do whatever we can to get to “our best”, even if it’s not “perfect”. But yes, it is a bit dismissive when you just say, “oh everyone has issues” although many people do have issues, from a variety of traumas, they all deserve support and recognition. Separation from a mother during early years is a huge and early trauma and loss, and I can’t believe that doesn’t go without saying for some people!

      I fully expect my daughter to be heartbroken and angry about the fact that she was not able to be raised by her first mom. I expect her to deal with it throughout her life, be triggered by loss and abandonment, at some times more than others. I hope she can be “fine” only in the sense that I can bring her up to be able to find resources and strengths in her life, to cope effectively and in healthy ways.

      1. I think you guys will be fine…it’s the adoptees with parents that are the needy ones that suffer…

        If you remember that layers are added to what others deal with – you’re way ahead of the game…

        And I really doubt very many adoptees aren’t just like every other person you meet, just those added layers can trigger big feelings at times…


  2. Hello, It was suggested to me by a social worker to read this book as my adopted daughter is (and has been for the past 10 years) very challenging with behaviour issues that could fit into many stereotypical medical conditions such as ADHD RAD Autistic, Personality disorder etc etc.. My husband and I have been at our wits end trying to support her whist being made to feel like the enemy.

    We have another adopted child, who unlike my daughter was placed with us (after a very loving foster family, who had her from birth) at 12 weeks old. She is the complete opposite to how the author describes, she is a happy well adjusted teenager who has had all her milestones met since birth and for all intents and purposes considers herself a normal person – not adoptee or bio child or any other label – she is who she is and accepts that her birth parents chose to give her to us, and for us to adopt her. I detest using the phrase ‘putting up for adoption’ sounds like an auction and no wonder some children feel rejected. These days birth parents know who will be raising their child, and some even agree to a letterbox scheme so as birth families have some communication as to how the child is doing, so the primal wound the author talks about is not so deep.

    That said, my first adopted was the product of a traumatic birth (drug and alcohol ) and had to be incubated for five weeks withdrawing from her birth mothers drug abuse. After leaving hospital she was returned to her bio family where the level of care and developmental milestones were neglected as were her medical and social care. At nine months she was in the child protection register and taken into temporary care while her birth mother got the help she needed. However after a year in foster care and little or no contact with bio family it was decided that in the best interest of the child would be adoption.

    This is the child or children that the author is describing! These are the children with the primal wounds that cannot heal. Despite all the love and care we have provided, it will never be enough and our little family is tired (I am tired). My daughter is almost twenty and this book is ‘her’ … Not my youngest child whom we have nurtured from birth but the children whose biological family abused and neglected her, and the very people she has this insatiable need to reconnect with.

    As much as I want my daughter to love us and be happy, she’s not, and despite the book portraying adoptive parents as child snatchers, we have been the only stable people in her life, willing to sacrifice our own needs for the needs of this beautiful loving human being – our daughter! Did we take her away from birth mum? No we didn’t, we were chosen to be her parents, to love her unconditionally for the rest of her life.

    That’s a tall order, and reading this book I feel insulted. I would like to see some recognition for not only raising an adopted child in today’s society. but for just being a mum. My children are just like any other children, the only difference is they have an adopted birth certificate which should not be their stigma. We should stop putting biological mothers on a pedestal and expose them for what they do to their children .

    Giving birth does not make you a mother!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: