Answering anonymous

 A question was asked elsewhere and since it was asked anonymously and in a place where the blog owner had stated "Time to stop" I thought I'd answer here in my own space.

The question, "Can I ask if those who critique the work of Nancy Verrier have actually read her literature before forming their opinions as well?"

My answer...

Anonymous, I critique and haven't read her books.

Wrong or right I need to read no further than her position page on her website that says, "..the connection between biological mother and child is primal, mystical, mysterious, and everlasting. Far more than merely biological and historical, this primal connection is also cellular, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. So deep runs the connection between a child and its mother that the severing of that bond results in a profound wound for both, a wound from which neither fully recovers. In the case of adoption, the wound cannot be avoided, but it can and must be acknowledged and understood."

Since I am adopted and this is not the case for me or, from what I can tell so far, my mother, I cannot be anything other than critical. I believe it can happen to those that say it has (why would they say it if it wasn't true?) but why would I put great stock (or any stock) in what a non adopted person says is the unavoidable experience of all adopted people, when it isn't mine?

I have a question of my own. Would you put stock in a primal wound theory if you were me?


  1. No, that would be totally silly. I fully support you not reading her work, just as I have never read "Coming Home to Self" I have other things that hold my interest. That book doesn't.

    I felt exactly what is written here, very deeply. I feel a lot of things deeply. I think it may be genetic. We are intense people. Clearly, there are all types. While with my background I would hesitate to critique something I haven't read, I see no compelling reason for you to bother with it.


  2. I've read The Primal Wound, but my opinion of it is also drawn from what the adoptees I know have said about it.

    For some of my adoptee friends, it was deeply resonant and helped them a great deal. For others, they didn't see themselves reflected at all. I think both are valid.

    The main issue I see with the book/theory is not that it speaks to the loss, but that it tries to universalize the result of that loss too much.

    I certainly believe in an original loss - it's factual that the adoptee lost their first family, and in some cases there were many other losses too. However, whether that loss will develop into a permanent "wound" does not seem to be universal at all.

    The issue with Primal Wound isn't that it CAN'T happen that an adoptee suffers permanent emotional damage from separation as an infant. It's that the way PW is posited, it applies to EVERYONE in its most extreme form, which doesn't seem to be the case in the real world.

    I distinguish the fact of original loss from the proposed Primal Wound... and actually the book does too. In forum discussions the two concepts get conflated, and it is assumed that people who are skeptical that the ongoing and unavoidable Wound is universal would also deny that there is any loss. That doesn't have to be the case at all, though.


  3. We're all at different places on the adoption journey, not denying that others have that experience is important and not allowing others to do it either.
    Some us never find the words to descibe something that happened when we were babies and some never want to.We all have the right to choice.

  4. I think you should read and/or subscribe to whatever you feel is best for you.

    Verrier does feel that separation from one's mother at birth (as well as a myriad of other things) will cause a "primal wound." I do not recall her saying that everyone experiences the same manifestation of the wound during their lifetime (she gives several different examples of issues that could be the manifestation of the primal wound). I also don't recall her saying that absolutely everyone experiences a problem or manifestation of it at all in their lifetime.

    She does state that whether adopted at birth or adopted as older children, many adopted children who have been included in research and literature seem to have very similar problems. Not that all adoptees have these problems, but that ones who present with issues do seem to have noticeably similar issues. So if the same problems can be present whether adopted at birth or as an older child, I don't think anyone can really conclude where these issues come from or say that they come from the same place for every one. A "primal wound" at birth, is just one option, challenging the idea that children are oblivious as babies and can't be harmed by something they can't recall by memory. I never felt like her book was intended to be at all extreme.

  5. That's where the lovely "denial" protest is implied. ;)

  6. No, you don't need to put stock in anything you don't believe. If it's not helpful to you, fair enough. Only you can say what your experience has been.

    That said, if Verrier's book and theory help other people to make sense of what they're going through, I would also support them. I wouldn't tell more vulnerable adoptees to abandon what they believe any more than I would tell you that you MUST have a primal wound.

    As you said in a previous post, adoptees would do well to support each other WHERE THEY ARE on their journeys, without judgment about what is right or wrong in terms of feelings, approaches to reunion, etc.

    We could all do with a great deal less judgment and a lot more cooperation. We need to change what is corrupt about the system and to give adoptees rights that are equal to everyone else's. Arguments about the primal wound distract from this important cause.

  7. Some good points made here. I have read Primal Wound and also Coming Home to Self. I have also seen Nancy Verrier speak many times. I have no problem with anyone espousing primal wound theory as a belief that works for them. Anyone can say "this is true for me" and I would not disagree. But when someone says "this is THE TRUTH for adoptees, we have a problem. The problem comes with universalizing it, which Verrier does do, as quoted by Campbell above:

    "...a wound from which neither fully recovers. In the case of adoption, the wound cannot be avoided, but it can and must be acknowledged and understood."

    That clearly says the wound affects ALL adopted persons, whether they believe or admit it or not. Yes, later in the book and in speaking and especially in her later book Nancy Verrier modifies and takes a softer stand and tries to help adoptees overcome and deal with their problems, and admits it affects people to a greater or lesser degree, but never really admits that any adoptee escapes from damage as a separated infant, just that some deal better than others.

    Z. wrote:
    " is assumed that people who are skeptical that the ongoing and unavoidable Wound is universal would also deny that there is any loss. That doesn't have to be the case at all, though."

    YES!! I have never denied adoption involves loss, yet any time I have criticized primal wound theory, someone says I have denied their feelings and think adoption involves no loss and causes no problems. Not so. It is obvious to anyone involved in adoption reform that there are a lot of problems in adoption, and much loss and grief for many adoptees. Nor does questioning primal wound imply that one believes infants are a blank slate, or have no feelings, or that as a birthmother, I am "in denial" about the harm I have caused my child. None of that is true of me or my beliefs, yet it comes up every time this subject is discussed.

    I find Nancy Verrier herself a reasonable and sincere person, but I question her theory of unavoidable and life-long infant trauma to any child separated from his biological mother shortly after birth, no matter what follows. I may be wrong, she may be wrong. I can understand being put off from reading her book, as there are other adoption "therapy" books I would not read because of what I know of the authors and their views.

  8. Great comments all, thanks. I hope even more people will weigh in.

    In thinking about Joy's comment and how she quite rightly states that "there are all types" it occurs to me that my type has always been more of a caregiver which has translated into more of a motherly approach to my adoption, even as a little kid. I've always had intense feelings of concern and care for my bio mom (my adoptive mom too for that matter) rather than a feeling of her having abandoned me or me being the injured/wounded party in all this.

    I have read about others feeling this way too.

    If the book is helpful to even one person, that's great. I just wish she hadn't made it universal to all. Bet she does too.

  9. Campbell,

    I have read PW and it resonated with me simply because I saw the different paths laid out in the book that an adoptee might follow on their journey replicated by my siblings and I - each a different path - a different experience but scary accurate to the path laid out in the book - I read the book only a few years ago.

    My take on the 'wound' is that wound is a word that has many different connotations and perhaps creates the issue with the acceptance of the book. A wound can be a simple scratch or gaping wide that does not ever heal. What applies applies. Perhaps the wound may be that itch now and again to know where you came from - or it could be of the magnitude that you feel the loss so deep it is daily...or somethere in between...whatever applies to you.

    As the PW from the mothers son passed away as an infant...quarter century later that wound is still there, less raw, less devastating, still with me every day.

    Many other books - Brodzinsky comes to mind that pretty much say the same thing...and no one flips over his words.

    My 2 cents...

  10. Thanks for your 2 cents adoptedones : )

    Although I get how words can mean something different to different people, I personally don't think that the word wound can be stretched quite as far as you're saying. An itch now and then to know where you came from or maybe to see a picture of someone biologically related, to me, doesn't constitute a wound.

    As far as the mothers perspective, being a mom myself, yikes.

    The wound that comes from the death of a loved one, now that I can relate to and it does sit with me every day. I have to consciously make myself not REALLY go to "that day" when I talk about it.

  11. I read the Primal Wound - we were required to by our adoption agency. I am not adopted so I don't make a lot of comments about it. It's a theory, not a scientific fact. It was interesting to read and probably fits many adoptees but not all, just like any theory of anything. Humans are complex - one theory does not fit all. I am glad to have read it, I feel it opened my eyes to the complexities of adoption. Of course I don't assume it applies to all adoptees. I have a copy for my daughter to read when she is ready if she wants to. I think it should be required reading for all PAPs but not for all adoptees!!

  12. Hey Kris

    It's good parents read whatever is out there on adoption to be informed.

    Hopefully they know that what Verrier says, "In the case of adoption, the wound cannot be avoided..." is NOT true though and make that clear to kids who feel more like myself and others so that they don't think there's something wrong with them for not having a wound as described.

    Also, it's my hope that, because of the book, parents don't assume that their kids are in denial if they say they are generally ok with having been adopted.

    Hmm now that makes me think, could the book not also give parents an excuse to blame (what they perceive to be) difficult behaviour on adoption instead of looking at themselves and their expectations and/or how they may be contributing to the parent/child relationship?

    I know you, Kris, have thought about all that stuff, I'm just thinking of parents in general.

    1. I know I'm very late to this party, but in recent online adoption interactions, PW has come up repeatedly. I haven't read it, but will say, I have wondered if writing this master's thesis wasn't Verrier's own way to blame her child's issues on adoption instead of looking at her own parenting.

    2. @Kate, yup. I'm with you on that.

  13. On use of words; a loss is different than a wound. I think it can be objectively said that all adopted people lose something, in the case of closed adoption, they lose a great deal. There is a loss of connection with biological relatives, that in closed adoption is total, which means they do not live with people they resemble or have blood ties with.There is a loss of their own history, and a loss of true documentation of their birth. They may lose ethnic heritage In the case of international adoption, they also lose a national and cultural heritage and langauge. They lose the right of self-determination as adults where sealed records are in place.

    They have to deal with the fact that for whatever reason, their original parents were unable or chose not to raise them, and thos leads to abandonment issues for some. These are all tangible losses in adoption, no matter how good and understanding the adoptive parents are. How individual adoptees perceive and deal with these losses is variable, but the losses are real and are not erased by the gains of being raised in a loving adoptive family, although a good family and upbringing can be a mitigating factor.

    The concept of a wound is a different thing, and I agree with Campbell, cannot be stretched from an itch or scratch to a gaping unhealing sore and mean the same thing. "Wound" connotes serious injury, not a scratch that Mom puts iodine and bandaid on and it is fixed. It is most unfortunate that Nancy Verrier picked that word for her title and theory.

    The reason other professionals and adoption researchers can "get away with" saying similar things to what Verrier says is that they put it in a different framework, and do not use the Primal Wound terminology or claim absolute universality for their theories.

  14. I also read the Primal Wound a few years ago when my husband and I first decided to adopt. In fact, I think it was the first adoption book I ever read. Like many of the other posters I took the author's view as just another idea or theory, not gospel truth. What is true for one person, is not always true for another. Still, I'm glad I read the book, because it gave me something to think about.

  15. I have not read PW so I do have a question maybe someone can answer. Where do biological fathers factor into the loss/primal wound theory? It seems, from what I understand, that the true loss is that of the mother not the biological father. In which case, a child/adult can suffer from a Primal Wound even if raised by their biological father with no adoption involved if the mother leaves at some point in their childhood.

  16. I'm curious to know that myself mrkmommy

    No offense but I always get the impression the adoption world doesn't think too much about (of?) dads. It seems to be all about the mom.

    Although I realize moms and dads each have a different impact on kids, as they should, dads certainly matter as much as moms. Around here anyway.

  17. Campbell - read the following definitions of wounds - all of them. This is one of those words in the English language that has so many different contexts it may be used for. Not trying to change your mind simply explain why I think it can cover many feelings over the spectrum...

    If I remember correctly this was originally her thesis so perhaps that is why she chose the thought evoking terms...

  18. My understanding of PW theory is that dads, siblings, grandparents, other relatives, do not figure in at all. It is all about the natural mother and is strictly biological in basis. The theory is that mom and baby bond during the pregnancy, and immediately after birth, and that the infant is distressed and grieved if she goes away. That grief leaves a lasting biological imprint on the child that can manifest itself as lifelong emotional issues of various sorts like lack of trust, difficulties forming relationships etc.

    I would think that a child left with the father by the mother, by either desertion or death, would logically suffer the same wound, if you strictly follow the PW hypothesis. Ditto a child raised by grandparents, aunts, etc. It is only the biological mother that can cause the wound, and whom is deemed irreplaceable to the infant.

  19. Campbell said - "No offense but I always get the impression the adoption world doesn't think too much about (of?) dads. It seems to be all about the mom."

    Spot on.

    I'll refrain from commenting further on Primal Wound et al as I'm probably the most ignorant person on the subject here. I will, however, say that I really appreciate how much everyone commenting here is allowing for others to have varied, complex, and unique experiences.

  20. Here is a very bizarre thought. Primal Wound has nothing to do with relatedness or DNA. It is only about prenatal and neonatal bonding with the mother. We now have those creepy assisted reproduction scenarios where surrogate mothers carry babies not genetically related to them, from another woman's eggs. So in this case, a child could be raised by his DNA connected biological mother, whose eggs were used, and still suffer Primal Wound from separation from the surrogate who carried the pregnancy, whose voice, smell etc he came to know, and then she was gone. Wild!

  21. Referring to Maryanne's last post: has there ever been a situation where a baby who was not DNA-related and was carried by said unrelated mother rejected mom as “not of his or her clan” or suffered a primal wound? I doubt it. Personally, I don't think babies are that clannish. Babies respond to caregivers and their preferences are not solidified until several months after birth. This is not pro-adoption drek. It's the most mainstream psychology there can be. You can Google many sites, just average advice to parents, that say the same thing. Here's one from South Australia:

    Babies develop attachment relationships with their main caregivers over the first few months of life.
    These can be mother, father, grandparent, key child care worker or anyone who has a main role in caring for the child.
    Babies can form attachments with more than one person. In fact if there is a problem with the relationship with the main caregiver, eg if the mother is depressed or very distracted, a secure attachment relationship with another caring person can help to balance this and give the baby a positive relationship model.
    However if babies have too many different caregivers and different relationship patterns to adjust to, it can be difficult for them to be able to adjust to and to develop secure relationships, for example they may have sleep or feeding problems . . .
    Oh well.

  22. "However if babies have too many different caregivers and different relationship patterns to adjust to, it can be difficult for them to be able to adjust to and to develop secure relationships, for example they may have sleep or feeding problems . . .
    Oh well."

    I guess it's a fine line between an ideal number of caregivers and too many caregivers, and that each kid's response depends on temperament and their coping mechanisms. I do think it takes a village.

    It's a good thing that infants and young children are resilient. I hope that most of them can grow up just fine even after not so great beginnings.

  23. According to Verrier non-adoptees don't have the street (I mean womb) cred to pass an opinion on the matter, presumably because they are experientially uninformed.
    As she has written in her preface, thereby preempting any expression of skepticism by non-adoptee readers, "The only people who can really judge this work, however, are those about whom it is written: the adoptees themselves. Only they, as they note their responses to what is written here, will really know in their deepest selves the validity of this work, the existence or nonexistence of the Primal Wound." Now *that's* relativism for you.
    I know the apologists say the Primal Wound is only a hypothesis, but Verrier presents it as a credo, with all the fervour and conviction that only a true believer can muster.
    I guess it's different when she does it.


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