' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: 'Primal Wound'--Why is the concept so upsetting to some?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

'Primal Wound'--Why is the concept so upsetting to some?

Every expert who studies adoption acknowledges that children are best raised by their natural mothers, unless undue circumstances intervene. Being wrenched from the mother that nurtured you in the womb, whose smells and voice are familiar in an organic, original sense, and given off to new people--strangers--is a wrenching experience with a deep and lasting psychological impact.

Some call it a "primal wound," a phrase made popular by psychologist Nancy Verrier with the publication of her 1993 book The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child.

Others find the term offensive, but in their zeal to deny the term itself they tend to deny that the experience of being relinquished and later adopted by others has any psychological effect at all. Some make fun of adoptees who find the concept of "primal wound" comforting, and refer to them behind their backs as "woundies." The implication is adoption is not traumatic and that some adopted individuals have absolutely zero reaction to being relinquished and raised by genetic strangers. If that indeed were widespread--as the continual denial implies--then we would hear from very few adoptees anywhere, and there would be no fuss made over sealed records. Being denied one's original birth certificate would not register a blip on the radar screen. We would all be pod people who could be handed about from one to another without concern. It would certainly simplify life.

But since that is not so, to say there is no wounding of the psyche when given up by one's natural mother flies in the face of reality. Commentators who write "I know no adoptees who have a primal wound", imply just that prima facie.

We have a comment right now at an old blog that is the height of confusion and adoptee turmoil over how she feels towards her original parents. The writer will not call her natural parents so much as a "parent" in any sense--but she would like medical information that relates to her being their offspring. We have a comment that we are debating publishing because it is so hurtful and damning of one's birth parents--this is [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum after all, not a place where "birth" mothers should be slammed because of a particular adoptee's anger, confusion, hurt--whatever you want to call it.

A mountain of evidence has grown up proving that being relinquished and adopted is indeed wrenching and has long lasting deleterious effects. Countless memoirs, blogs, research papers and academic books testify to this. Most adopted people who write here at the very least have an emotional reaction--a primal wound?--to being relinquished to adoption and raised by genetic strangers. Some hurt less than others. Some indicate they are fine with being relinquished and adopted--but then one wonders why they are searching for blogs called [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum in the first place. Most adoptees who come here are at least curious about the biological parents whose DNA they share.

Research on what is inherited and what is not shows that if adoptees are like their adoptive parents in a cluster of several personality traits, it is because they share similar genes, not because of environment. To be raised in a genetically unfamiliar environment almost certainly must cause some psychological angst and confusion and heartache. Adoptive parents who understand this and accommodate it are to be commended. Nancy Verrier's book was published 25 years ago. If adoptees were largely dismissing it as junk psychology, it would not be the consistent seller it is.--lorraine 
Jennifer Lauck's 'Found' reveals the painful truth of adoption
When "Adoption" Can't Be the Problem...But It Is
Newsday and the backlash...'More Adoption Information may not be good'

The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child
"I have read many books on adoption. This is my favorite. Upfront, smart, insightful work. I admire this book for not being afraid of the criticism it may receive for being too accurate, too honest, too exposing of our society's slow pulling up of it's socks with regards to acknowledging adoption as a period of trauma for the infant and not simply a time of celebration for infertile couples wanting children.

"It felt as though Verrier took the hand of my young adopted self and walked me through my entire life. My copy is severely highlighted with "yes", "yes" written at least once in each margin. If that weren't enough, Verrier then guides us through the search and reunion process, which was the area I had been looking for help with. It seemed as though she had witnessed the intricacies of my own reunion process...for there it was spelled out on the page. The book also provides some great insight into the delicacies of the triad relationships (adoptee/birth parents/adoptive parents) during the reunion process, suggesting ways to move toward solid relationships. Finally, Verrier offers the adoptee real usable tools for mourning his/her deep loss so that he/she can slowly remove adoption related roadblocks in his/her adult life.

"To the non-adopted eye, the book may seem repetitive in places, but this book was built for the adoptee. The repetition is reassuring and appropriate".--the most "helpful" review and the first one listed at Amazon.


  1. There are many good books and blogs relating to adoption, but Nancy Verrier's _Primal Wound_ opened a door that I hadn't even realized existed. When I read this book, everything fell into place for me. (I am both a natural mom and an adoptive mom.) Denying the primal wound is, to me, as foolish as climate-change denial. There are things that are true, whether we want to believe them or not. It wouldn't matter if people believed false things if they didn't thereby do so much damage to others for whom the truth is all too real.

  2. " Being wrenched from the mother that nurtured you in the womb, whose smells and voice are familiar in an organic, original sense,..."

    I just wanted to add that we are not only being wrenched from our natural mother, but from our entire family line on both sides. We have now lost our biological heritage, our roots, our ancestry, and our connection with all the people we come from and are connected to throughout history.

    So for writing this post, let me just say "thank you".

  3. I am sharing a comment left two days ago at a 2010 blog--Do Adopted People Feel an Emotional Connection to their Birth Mothers? One Woman Says No The writer only identified herself as "Adopted." I hope she finds this post.

    "I do not subscribe to the 'everyone is unique' there are no universal or natural aspects to reunion relationships. I can say that when first meeting both mother and father, I felt no connection but more than a little 'stranger danger'. When my b father said he was my father I literally felt like an imposter wanted to kidnap me. Because I am a mature middle aged woman who after all found them I acknowledged and observed my feeling but did not act on it. The second time I met him we spent five hours sitting quietly at a park watching my child play, and when he left I felt a wave of being abandoned. As I knew him more it was not like getting to know a stranger. It's like a common vibe, an ability to read facial movements, an ability to sense their emotions, like a subtle psychic link. Ditto birth mother. I tell people living without DNA relatives is like living without a sense of smell. You can do it, you can compensate for it, it's a subtle constant lack of orientation.
    Does it make for lost time? Does it cross divides of class? Of adoption trauma and ideology? No, you have to make real adult effort. I think nature does all it can to set up parents and children for a bond, but it's a potential not a complete thing.
    AND do not underestimate the fear adoptees of being abandoned by their aparents. Not consciously. "

    As I read that I could not help but think of what happened the night I took my first granddaughter to the same jazz club in Manhattan where her grandfather, that would be Patrick, Jane's father, took me when we were in New York city. Readers of Hole in my ♥ will know what I'm talking about but I am not going into it here. But it is a powerful memory for me, even now. It felt as if the "what if" in her that night exploded.

  4. I can see why the concept could be a trigger to a person in any position of the adoption "triad."

    For women (or men) who placed, it could mean you were the cause of a primal wound.

    For parents who adopted, it could mean that your beloved child, whom you long to protect, has a permanent wound that you were complicit in causing.

    For those who were adopted, it could mean that either you've been living in denial or that you have something lurking deep in your psyche that could erupt without notice.

    I know some who discount the primal wound DISpassionately due to insufficient scientific evidence of its existence.

    But for people who discount it with a lot of passion, I think the intensity is telling.
    I believe we get triggered only if there's something there to trigger. Something deep and fearsome and unresolved.

    1. Lori--I have no doubt at all that I caused my daughter a irrevocable hurt by surrendering her to adoption. As for scientific evidence, that's like asking: were you affected by being adopted? Were you affected by giving up a child for adoption?

      The main thing to me is that some people are bothered a great deal; others seem not to be bothered much. Your last point is well taken: the passion of the denial is telling.

  5. I think sometimes the conversation about the Primal Wound happens at cross purposes.

    Some people are using the term in a general way to mean an adoptee feeling loss, grief, or trauma about separation from the natural mother.

    Other people, however, are using the term as coined by Nancy Verrier in her book, to mean something a lot more specific and seen by some as pathologizing and/or presumptuous, particularly since she is a non-adoptee speaking for adoptees. (While other people like Verrier's work and find it validating, obviously, which is an equally valid reaction.)

    Not saying there's no legitimate disagreement, because of course there is, but sometimes I feel like not everyone involved is even having the same conversation... some people are trying to talk about whether they like or relate to the book, while other people are trying to talk about adoption loss more generally.

  6. Lorraine, thank you. First, I am not sure why this will not let me comment under my name. I am Mara.
    The Primal Wound - oh yes. And yes!!!
    I am an adoptee. I despise the term 'woundies', and the theory that The Primal Wound 'pathologizes' all adoptees. I am not a crazy bleeding person. Not at all. You get it. Evidence and research supports The PW. It more than saddens me to see that because I KNOW MY truth, others (and I have only seen this from adoptees) choose to see me as a sick bleeding mess. I respect that others may not be where I am. I wish I had the same respect in return. Again, I thank you.

    1. Mara, We are trying out a new way of allowing comments and I can't see what it looks like on my computer. Some people have no problem, as Drs, Joyce and Dublin have done. Their "link:" leads to nothing except that "they" follow a blog called Diva in Dubai and appear to be from Peoria, IL. I have tried to install other comment software but so far have failed, and the blog really doesn't make it worthwhile to hire anyone as the ad return from it is peanuts. It might but lunch for two in a month, but not every month!

      Thank you for leaving the comment as Unknown. That is basically more honest than Drs. Joyce and Dubin. From Peoria. Or Dubai.

  7. Nancy Verrier is a good therapist and a good writer. Her book has had an impact. I always wonder what her child thinks ... my problem with 'the primal wound' is not that it isn't a part of the real trauma that is inherent in the loss of adoption, but that it is pathologized by many and there are many adopted people who are 'blamed' as the victim. I could go on, but that's the long and short of it.

    1. Your comment makes sense but since you use the moniker of Drs., how about more honesty in who you are? Then your comment would have some gravitas.

    2. Looks like it's Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao - she has a presence on the web and has written a book. I hope she will come back; since I am new to FMF I am interested in hearing as many diverse views as possible - and more discussion.

    3. I had the same opinion and contacted her via Facebook but haven't gotten a response.

  8. I have known children who endured a lot of abuse as children, and they became a mess as adults because of it. I have also known people who became stronger because of abuse endured as children, as though the pain sharpened and strengthened them. No two people break the same way. In the same way, I view the separation of mother and child as having a profoundly negative impact on some people and either no impact or a strengthening impact on others.

    I can absolutely state my daughter recognized her separation from her mother. It was very obvious that she was a confused, scared, mourning baby. It did go away in terms of her behavior indicators, and we bonded very well. Will this wound continue to impact her into adulthood in a negative way? There is no way to know as she is an individual, and her experiences will be completely unique to her. My reaction to her as a baby, our continuing relationship, how I handle adoption with her as she grows older.... even things like how I handled her separation anxiety as a toddler and her fear of sleeping alone when she wakes up in the middle of the night. All of these and more will, I believe, come into play in how that "primal wound" and initial abandonment plays out in her life. In the end, no one else can decide how she feels and if primal wound theory resonates with her.

    I despise when people try to pathologize normal adoptee feelings. So easy for someone who has never been through it to denigrate and dismiss this theory. Although I wish that someone who was actually an adoptee had written this book from personal perspective, as an adoptive mother myself who had never even read it at that time, I at once saw the distress my daughter experienced when separated from her parents. While she may feel the impact later on in life, she will not consciously recall her feelings or the experience. But I will, and I see where Verrier is sharing her viewpoint in that same way.

  9. I am a Natural Mom and I read 'Primal Wound' right after my reunion with my son which was about 6 years ago, and I have referred back to this book many times since. Before our reunion I was one of these people who thought 'adoption' was such a giving and beautiful thing to do for my son. I envisioned a great life with many opportunities that I could not provide at the time of relinquishment for him. The denial about the effects of adoption on me personally (let alone my son) were so great that I went through therapy for years for depression and not once did I even mention adoption. After the reunion I grieved intensely for a long time, and read everything I could get my hands on about adoption. The PW said in words what I knew was going on with my son. He told me he had issues with 'abandonment' and PTSD. For this reason, and from reading countless websites and blogs from Adoptees I don't think this can be denied. I gave this book to a director of a 'Christian Crisis Pregnancy Center', and when she gave it back to me she said, "I almost threw it away". I tried to explain to her what was going on but she choose to deny it. When a person hasn't experienced first hand what this is like it is easier to deny it as bunk psyche. She has a vested interest in an Adoption Agency, which most Christian Crisis Pregnancy Centers are attached too, and she didn't want to hear anything that would pop that bubble of 'Adoption' as a way to build a family. It cannot be denied that there is a common thread running through what Adoptees are trying to express about the 'separation/abandonment' issue. No one was more surprised than I was to hear my son express this, and he had wonderful AP's.

  10. I read this blog often without commenting (I don't even have a Blogger profile so I have to remain anonymous- sorry guys!!!) but I had to pipe up as the "Dr Joyce and Dr Dublin" debacle made me laugh. Yes, that is Dr Joyce Maguire Pavao, but it seems as if she has included her dog Dublin in her screen name. What you may see as "dishonesty" is something I personally think is adorable and got a good chuckle out of!


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  12. Hi Lorraine Dusky! I would like to share an open adoption story with you. You should see the link within my name. I invite your feedback, since I am unsure of how to proceed.

    Thank you for your attention. Blessings to you.

  13. Aubrey, I wish we could offer more than sympathy but as far as I can tell there isn't much you can do. The adoptive parents hold all the power and agencies don't see you as the "client." Open adoption appears to have opened a whole new kettle of worms. The sad truth is that most agencies are not honest about what is possible, and what is not, and what rights natural mothers have after the legal rights of a parenthood are terminated. My wish would be that more women considering adoption for their children read your story, and others, and rethink their "adoption plan" and look for ways to keep their babies.

  14. I realize this is an older blog, bet felt compelled to write anyway. I am in reunion with my son. He's almost 17 years old and because it was an open adoption he really didn't need to search for me. We had a visit (first in two years) in October '15. He said that this was the first time who I was "clicked" with him. But now, almost 4 months later he has said the most mind blowing things to me. He says that he see's me as his mother, he never bonded with adopted mom (a woman I respect and love) and has always been an outsider in his family (another adoptee brother and a nature brother). I don't want to believe him. I have taken comfort in the fact that I "did what was best" for him for the past 17 years. Reading about this Primal Wound scares the hell out of me because now I'm afraid he's telling the truth and that I severely damaged him.

  15. Thank you for posting this hard truth. We who relinquished were all lulled into the idea that adoption was the "best thing" but we are finding that is far from true. I learned the hard way myself, over the 26 years my daughter and I had a truculent and challenging relationship. We wish it were not so, but dealing with it rather than pretending is the beginning of doing what we can to repair the damage. I'd suggest you do some reading--"Being Adopted" is a short book that I learned from and I poured my soul into writing about my relationship with my daughter in "Hole In My Heart". There are other books too--along with "Primal Wound"--that you may find some understanding and solace in reading.

  16. I am a birth mother I was very young when I gave my baby up for adoption I already had a 3 year old I had him at age 17 this all happened in 1975 in the UK back then one had no help { I neglected to say I had became a single Mum} my then husband was not the father of the baby when I told him that I was pregnant and the baby wasn't his he left us with nothing I had a very difficult childhood in foster homes and then boarding school age 6 I never experience love from either parent she met a man he turned out to be my abuser later on in my teens To cut a long story short I was never allowed to find out about my other son due to the law I never saw him after his birth I couldn't it was what I thought the best thing to do He was in foster care for 4 months eventually adopted by a couple who went on to have there own children that little boy that I so stupidly gave to them was abused by them too he was very difficult as a child and into his teens he was put into a boys home yes we have met in 2005 he lives in UK and I in Australia He has come and go over the last 12 years and has had difficulties in his relation ships he has as he puts it Cut off his adopted family and has cut me off 3 times now He asked me to read the Primal Wound as a deal for us to speak to each other about three years age he is happy and has met a nice lady I understand just how he feels because I was left with no love from my parents but does any one think or know how bad it feels to find out that the child you gave up had the worst time he sends me really nasty emails and will only talk to me on face book recently I had emailed him that my partner had had a stroke I said that I felt lonely some times which I do my Mother is in Australia and has dementia she is 86 I find it hard with her so I can only try and understand why I get punished from time to time but it hurts it is like I give him up again and again I am getting help for my mental state it has been on going for 9 years How do I let him know how I feel when he just calls me the vessel that gave birth to him not his Mother I have to radically accept how he feels with no chance to make it right Is there a book that explains how the birth Mother could feel I never stopped thinking of him I will never give up trying to learn how I have to say I have read Primal Wound twice I find it very narrow in its contents We are all real people all different in the way we deal or react to situations may be there is a book there for some one to write but it would only pertain to their feelings not to be generalises



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