Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Primal Wound and the Trojan Horse in Ontario

Some time ago, I wrote a post about how misinformation sneaks into public thinking when braided together with accurate information ( I referred to the practice of combining information with misinformation as a Trojan Horse. (I tried to work out another metaphor involving Odysseus and his men escaping from the cave by hiding under the sheep, but that didn’t seem to be what was needed--  besides, I’ve always thought those must have been awfully large sheep. Or small men.)

Jessica Pegis recently alerted me to an egregious Trojan Horse being parked outside Canadian castle walls at This is a site run by AdoptionOntario, an organization that is partially funded by the provincial government. It presents a rather thoroughly braided group of statements, and I think it would be valuable to disambiguate them.

Let’s look at the accurate information that is given there. The site points out that very young children may be affected by traumatic events, and that they are sensitive to events that threaten their caregivers as well as threats to themselves alone. Domestic violence and natural disasters can create situations that are traumatic for young children, as can painful or frightening medical procedures or abrupt separation from familiar people. Some traumatic events occur once and never again,  but the site notes that it’s common for children who experience a traumatic event actually to  have more than one  associated traumatic experience. (A natural disaster like an earthquake, for example, is frightening and even painful in itself, but may be accompanied by the sight of injured or dead people and the confusion and distress of the adults the child usually can trust to provide safety.  ) But repeated traumatic events, like sexual abuse, are even more likely to have ill effects on children’s emotional and cognitive lives than single events are.

So far, so good. There’s nothing wrong with what has said up to this point. But on closer inspection, here’s what we find:

“Trauma for an adoptee begins at the moment of separation from a birthmother. Whether adopted from birth or later in life, all adopted children have experienced some degree of trauma. Until recently, the full impact of trauma on adopted children has not been fully understood. Since infants do not see themselves as a separate entity, it is believed they see themselves as a part of the person they physically attached and bonded to for 40 weeks. When separated, infants may naturally feel they have lost part of themselves. When an adoptee is separated from a birthmother, extensive trauma is experienced. The trauma will not be remembered, but it will stay in the subconscious as it was lived. Any event in infancy can and will stay with an individual through life.”

Later, the site states:

“Theoretically, adopted children have experienced being unwanted before they are born. In addition, they may have experienced the loss of the mutual and deeply satisfying  mother-infant bond. This experience can affect them in more than one way, including
·         Grieving the loss of their birthmother
·         Being emotionally vulnerable
·         Anger
·         Shutting people out, depression, or overcompensation” (this list is in addition to other claimed results of childhood trauma)”

With this material, we see the Trojan Horse at work. Under cover of accurate information, the web site has now brought in some completely inaccurate statements--  and even worse, a group of statements that can lead adoptive families to misinterpret normal behavior, and adopted individuals to believe that they are doomed to emotional disturbance. A quick glance at the accurate information could easily lead readers to believe that everything on the site was of equal value.

What’s wrong here? What has entered inside the Trojan Horse supplied by the correct information?
The essential point to consider is that there is no evidence that unborn infants do form emotional attachments to their mothers, or that they recognize their mothers at birth. The possibility that attachment could have started  40 weeks before birth is ludicrous--  first of all, because 40 weeks before birth is the average date of the first day of the mother’s last menstrual period before pregnancy, not the date of conception! It would be even more absurd than the rest of this stuff to assume that an ovum, ripening but unshed, and certainly unfertilized, has already begun to develop an emotional bond to a woman who may not even have intercourse during the time window that would allow for fertilization. If this were true, how tragic to think of all those unfertilized but attached ova being swept away from Mommy in the course of her next period—enough grief each month to overwhelm the cosmic plan, especially when Mom (callous bitch that she is) says to somebody, Thank goodness, I got my period, I was getting worried.

Emotional attachment of infants to familiar caregivers takes place over months of social interactions and begins to show up behaviorally at about 7 or 8 months of age in most babies, when fear of strangers and of separation first emerges. Younger babies welcome social interaction with strangers and show little distress when separated from familiar people. If some prenatal form of attachment has occurred, it certainly does not show up in infant behavior or mood, or in any other measurable way.

Okay, let’s say that the 40 weeks is just a clerical error. Let’s place the time at 38 weeks before birth. The ovum gets fertilized. Does it have a nervous system to remember or learn things with? No; but this doesn’t matter to those who believe (as seems to be a possibility for someone at that it’s “cellular memory” that’s at work, a kind of memory in each cell that represents events in the deepest way and survives mitosis each time, so that all cells have the memory of whatever happened to that ovum. This belief is completely contrary to everything we know about learning and memory. If it’s true, all scientifically-based statements about this or false. I’m not saying there could not be such a new paradigm--  but really, what are the chances?

What about the idea that everything experienced in infancy is preserved “as it was lived” in the “subconscious”? Study after study of memory tells us that memory does not preserve material “as it was lived”. On the contrary, when memory works (which is not always), it maintains not a photograph but the gist of an event, which the rememberer then reconstructs to create a belief about what “must” have happened. The author seems to be embroiled in what has been called the “trauma-memory war”—the claim that early traumatic experiences cannot be consciously remembered, but are nevertheless directing matters from behind the cognitive scenes.

Basically, without saying so (and this is another sign of a Trojan Horse), has stated a belief in the claims of the California marriage and family therapist Nancy Verrier that every adopted individual has experienced, and continues to suffer from, a Primal Wound, from which he or she can recover only with difficulty or not at all. This belief system can be traced to the “psychohistorian” Lloyd DeMause, who presented a bizarre description of what unborn babies must really be experiencing. (DeMause was able to promulgate this for quite a while because he was quite well off and started his own journal with papers about his claims.) DeMause, and Verrier too, received much support from the Association for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health (APPPAH), whose members would be in complete agreement with

Canadians, your provincial money is going to support this unfounded material, and to contribute to beliefs that are potentially harmful to adopted people, adoptive families, and birth parents who consented to adoption! How about speaking up?


  1. I always wonder what these primal wound believers make of identical twinning. I mean, I was literally the same "person" as my sister for a few days.

    1. Whew! When those cells divided, it must have been such a trauma for both of you! Life is tough, isn't it? But maybe you can become famous for describing Twin Trauma Disorder, and if you ever commit a crime you can mount a traumatic separation defense.

      Hey, how about the fact that some of your cells went to make the placenta, and then after you were born that was just thrown in the incinerator?

      Never mind, PW thinking doesn't care about the facts of embryonic development.