The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adoptive Child by Nancy Verrier, 919 Village Center, Lafayette, CA 94549, 1993, $14.95, + $2.50 shipping

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

What is the adopted child's primal wound? Nancy Verrier says it is the devastation which the infant feels because of separation from its birth mother. It is the deep and consequential feeling of abandonment which the baby adoptee feels after the adoption and which continues for the rest of his life. The mother of an adopted child herself, the author writes convincingly to establish her premise that the new-born baby is already an observing sentient human being. Many readers of the Primal Wound might believe that the baby the author describes could not possibility be so knowledgeable, but I believe that she is correct.

Indeed, when Psychologist Verrier adopted her child she felt as others; that after all, "what can a tiny baby know?" The book answers this question which turns out to be "a lot." And much of it is neither optimistic nor encouraging for adoptive parents to read. Ms Verrier claims that the adoption trauma can form the personality of the baby in many ways, but primarily the adoptee becomes very compliant and withdraws or else acts out and tests the limits of the adoptive parents' patience by being hostile, antagonistic, unappreciative and unaccepting of love which her new parents usually are very willing to bestow.

Nancy Verrier believes that the newly adopted baby goes through a period of grief or mourning because of the lost relationship with her biological mother. After grieving the baby becomes numb and seemingly rejects its new parents. This defensive action, which protects the baby's ego from further deterioration forms the personality of the adoptee as she becomes indifferent and develops a need for control. The infant thus has difficulty with separations and in bonding with the adoptive parents since it feels that it must protect itself against the pain of rejection by rejecting the new parents before it can be rejected for the second time!

On an unconscious or even a preconscious level there is an imperative need to search for the missing dream mother. The author feels that reunions with the biological mother can help heal the adoptee's primal wound.

The Primal Wound is about the various ways in which acting out can be manifested. As an adult, the adoptee has difficulty in forming attachments and being intimate. She is no different from others who have undergone an early traumatic experience and might have problems with self esteem, feelings of inadequacy and expectations of rejection, difficulty with separations, and difficulty in maintaining relationships, particularly intimate ones.

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Part III of The Primal Wound, entitled, The Healing, is the largest part of the book. The author is a tireless expositor of the emotional effects of adoption and discusses the problems with deep knowledge and enthusiasm. But when it comes to recommending a form of therapy for the wounded adoptees, she is strangely and bafflingly silent on the subject.

Verrier laments that so few therapists recognize the importance of pre and peri-natal factors in affecting emotional development. They are seemingly unaware, she writes, that our early traumas can affect our physical and emotional well being. If this is so, then it is even more imperative that direction be given to her readers.

The purpose of her book, the author writes, is to add to the understanding of the problems of adoption. This she has successfully done. However, it would have been a service to her readers if she had added just a few more pages of her opinions as to the exact form of therapy these adopted babies or adopted adults might find helpful.

She does quote a telling part of David Richo's How to Be an Adult: "Our problem is not that as children our needs were unmet, but that as adults they are still unmourned." We must begin the mourning process, Verrier writes.

She believes that the adoptee should be allowed to "work through his feelings," if possible, with a trained adoptive therapist. But specifically what type of adoptive therapist? And who are these therapists? To which psychological school do these adoptive therapists belong? And where can they be found? She does not say. She recognizes the necessity for mourning, but does not say which form of therapy, she feels, can best aid in mourning the old hurts. It is as though she really has no opinion.

She writes that "understanding, acceptance, empathy and communication are the keys to the beginning of healing." Beyond that, it seems that the child or adult adoptee must work through his pain with some enigmatic adoptive therapist.

The closest Verrier comes to recommending a form of therapy is when she writes about some exercises which seem to be a type of Re-Evaluation Counseling. She believes these exercises can be helpful. But even then, she does not mention it by name; only that the exercises were included in Margie Scarf's book, Intimate Partners.

In spite of that one deficiency, The Primal Wound is the definitive work on the psychological implications and problems which can arise as a result of the early separation of the infant from its birth mother.