Review of Nancy Newton Verrier’s The Primal Wound

The Primal Wound knocks it out of the so-called park with directness, superb research, and validation for what an adopted person might feel regarding being adopted. This book is full of personal accounts from actual adopted people and well-respected theorists and therapists who have expertise in human development. Many readers have considered The Primal Wound to be an adoptee “Bible” because there are so many poignant observations and quotes regarding the adopted person’s experience.

It was originally published in 1993, with the cover design done in 1991, according to my 2016 edition. Verrier dedicated her book to her daughter, (an adoptee), who came into their lives “on a path of sacrifice and pain yet whose love and courage have brought us understanding and joy.” Verrier was motivated to write this book due to her experience as an adoptive mother and as part of her master’s thesis in clinical psychology.

Verrier defines what The Primal Wound is for adopted people and how it plays a part in the lives of adoptive parents and adoptees alike. It cannot be covered up. It cannot be reversed once separation from the biological mother and adoption have happened. It can only be recognized as a real thing which carries with it issues such as guilt, (mis)trust, shame, identity, loyalty, rejection and control/power. The Primal Wound book never places blame or judgment on any party involved in the adoption system. This book simply points out many pieces of factual information and how even routine life events which all individuals may experience, have unique and lasting effects for adopted individuals.

Although Verrier bases her observations and writings on interviews with adoptees, personal experiences as a therapist and an adoptive parent, this book is not memoir nor creative non-fiction. It is for information seekers and especially for adopted people who seek validation and credibility. It is an excellent source for knowing that what you believe or perceive about being an adopted person is not silly, false or unrealistic.

Verrier has realistic advice for prospective adoptive parents as well, regarding their motives for adopting, coping with their own losses and limitations and long-term goals and expectations when considering the adoptive child’s developmental and emotional needs.

This is an excellent resource book for adoptees, adoptive parents and anyone studying human development issues. Verrier’s writing is organized and to the point while maintaining one of the fairest and most objective tones. There are professionals who disagree with Verrier’s opinions, (Jean Mercer, PhD. who has expertise in attachment theory), however, in reviewing several internet links, I found no evidence that Professor Mercer has personal experience with adoption and Verrier indeed does. Verrier relied on input from her adoptee daughter and openly shares this with consent from her daughter in The Primal Wound.

Here is a link to Nancy Verrier’s website if you would like more information about this author:

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  • Wendy Beckman  On August 27, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Great review, Paige! I read “Primal Wound” a couple of years ago, and it was eye opening. Adoptions can seem to go smoothly with no problems or issues, but under the surface there can be trouble brewing. As you mention, some people disagree with her perspective and refuse to acknowledge it. However, acting as if an adoptee doesn’t have painful baggage when he or she arrives as a little bundle in your life might be doing the adoptee or adopter no favors. Denying potential problems doesn’t keep them from happening and it diminishes what the adoptee might be feeling.

  • Mel Gambutti  On September 1, 2018 at 2:50 am

    Beautiful review, Paige. I read P.W. during my “honeymoon” time with my new found birth mother and 1/2 sister. It blew my mind, it resonated strongly with me. I’ve been writing for about 8 years, as I reconstruct my own memoirs of infancy, childhood and adolescence, and work through the realizations, a needed self-therapy. Thanks for reminding me the value of Verriere’s work.

  • Carole Parmeter Dyer  On September 9, 2018 at 4:53 pm

    Great review. I agree, it is the “bible” for many of us adoptees!

  • Claire 'Word by Word'  On January 16, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    This was the first ever book on adoption I read and as such it was an eye opener as I’d never even considered it was a subject of research, nor had I ever been made aware that there might be issues, and yet there was so much to relate to, it was overwhelming. That was back in 1995 (two years after I’d met me birth mother for the first time), a friend sent it me, a self-published book she found, as she said in her note tucked inside the front cover, ‘the good ole Women’s Bookshop’ in Auckland, New Zealand. I was living in England then, so she must have posted it to me.
    Now, 28 years later, I’ve just bought, her follow up book, Coming Home to Self and I’m reading it as the same time as writing my own memoir. I am surprised by what gets stirred up and wants to be written down, even after all these years. I think it’s wonderful that these resources are available and that there is such a support network available now for adoptees and birth mothers, something I’m only just becoming aware of.

  • Paige Adams Strickland  On January 16, 2019 at 1:13 pm

    I agree…One adoptee at a time, we are getting there.

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