The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier

Louisa005 Adoption at Large, Book Reviews, The Adoptee Journey

[Note; I wrote this in 2012. As of 2019 through my research, I've uncovered some areas where I believe The Primal Wound has gaps and inconsistencies. But this was written in the 70s, and it is important in the body of adoption literature. Surprisingly, some people still don't know about it. Nonetheless, Nancy Verrier is an adoptive mother and her subjective standpoint should be acknowledged. I would be interested in any work by her daughter on the subject.]

The Primal Wound, so Nancy Verrier hypothesizes, occurs when the baby is separated from the mother before the course of natural growing independence. At 8 days old my natural mother was replaced with an adoptive mother with whom I had no history. She who was desperate for a child, envisaged me as the answer to her unsatisfactory and unfulfilled life. But she was a stranger. They told her, "your baby is a blank canvas; she can’t distinguish between her mother and you." They told her, "if you are a good enough mother, your child will never want to find its biological parents." They told her, "you don’t have to tell your child she is adopted. She’ll never know."

Just writing those words sends chills down my spine and shoots pinpricks of tears into my eyes.

Somehow, somewhere, we know. And it doesn’t matter if we’ve been told or not. How cruel and shortsighted their well-meaning advice was for both of us.

Just as amputees feel their phantom leg, adoptees manifest a deep and insidiously pre-verbal wound; the mother they expect to be there, is missing. Something is wrong. Something is not how it was meant to be.

For those adoptees who lose their mother before the separation of the self occurs at around 3-4 years old, they will manifest a primal wound. A deep and lasting impact. Worse still, it is a wound which is unacknowledged buried deep in the subconscious and thus remains unhealed… unless you read and understand this book.

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.

Nancy Verrier, The Primal Wound: Understanding the adopted child

  • To the adopters…Your future as adoptive parents is a potentially amazing, difficult but different journey. Please read this book.

There are many children out there who need a loving home and parents to care for them. The Primal Wound does not negate the usefulness of adoption (although I myself would seek to change the system. In the short term, here we are). However a child does not determine whether he/she is born or even adopted. Therefore although many parents will adopt to satisfy a need deep inside themselves, they should bear in mind the possible consequences and give due thought to the stranger who is to become their child. They should be aware that the hurt caused by separation from the birth mother, although unacknowledged and subconscious, is still unhealed and can manifest itself in unexpected ways. It can be compounded in other ways, especially if you have imagined that this child will replace the one you couldn't have. Beware.

  • To those birth mothers who deny their child’s rights to get to know their heritage... Please read this book.

I understand why you might deny and I love you. But if you are doing so, you have twice rejected us. Can you imagine what kind of story and self-image we grow in these circumstances? Please have the courage to own your past, you may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. We need you. Without you, our identities and our very sense of selves are impacted. Getting to know you will help us more easily heal our pasts and help you to heal your wounds.

  • To all you adoptees who are lost insecure and invalidated… Please read this book. It is the beginning (but only the beginning).

You have been given the gift of limitless possibility although you may not know it yet. The primal wound forces you to go through the experience of finding yourselves and making the defining choices that many people neglect to the detriment of their character. You will have the benefit of defining yourself without the confines of family history, you get to forge your identity, but you'll need help. It's a difficult journey. Still you will never be a shadow of someone else’s genes – just your own magnificent self.


The Adoptee Journey Newsletter

(for paying subscribers only)

You can contribute towards adoption activism and access extra content on my site. With your subscription, you'll get a guided tour of my work (over 500 posts), access to my resource library as well as the growing newsletter archives.

Contributions start at $5 a month, but I'd greatly appreciate it if you can afford more, think of it as a sliding scale.