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of Nancy Verrier’s work in The Primal Wound, it would be pretty much the following: Overinclusive, Underinclusive, and Outdated.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.