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Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

No Primal Wound in France: The Exception Tests the Rule

What do you frequently hear when someone has claimed that something is true, but then the evidence shows one or more cases where it is not? What I hear is the claimant (often with a self-satisfied expression) declaring, “that’s the exception that proves the rule”.

Now, it does happen to be true that exceptions “prove rules”, but not in the sense of “prove” that is often intended. Exceptions don’t “prove rules” in the sense of showing that the rules are correct. Exceptions do test rules and show that at least under some circumstances they do not hold true. This is like the way we refer to the proof of whiskey, meaning the proportion of alcohol shown when it is tested. Because exceptions test rules, it’s important to pay attention to them, especially when unusual claims or ones that are difficult to test otherwise are made.   

Proponents of the Primal Wound theory, as it has been stated by Nancy Verrier, claim that baies have become emotionally attached to their mothers before they are born and are traumatized by being separated from their birth mothers and adopted or fostered by other people. This trauma, according to the Primal Wound belief system, stays with an individual indefinitely, causing lasting sadness and discomfort and interfering with all relationships.

Aren’t there already known exceptions to this claimed rule? Yes, occasionally people point out that they do not feel that way in spite of their family history, but on the whole those who are not committed to the Primal Wound view simply go about their normal business without taking time out to comment. In addition, when people speak up either about their sense that the Primal Wound belief is true or about their conviction that it is nonsense, it’s rare that we have any real records of what happened in the adoptee’s life, or about the thoughts of the birth parents or adopted parents (I should just say the mothers, because that’s what the Primal Wound theory focuses on, but let’s keep in mind that there are fathers as well.)

An unusual case in France provides an exception that really does test the rule, however. In this case (, there are records of what happened and when it happened, as well as information from both birth and adoptive parents. Here’s the story. About 20 years ago, in Cannes, the baby girls of Sophie Serrano and another mother (who wants to remain anonymous), were given to each other’s mothers. Both babies had neonatal jaundice and were receiving light therapy, but because of a shortage of bassinets, they were placed nude in the same bassinet. Both babies had been given identity bracelets, but one had apparently fallen off, and the nurses accidentally gave the babies to the wrong mothers (both 18 years old at the time).
Ms. Serrano noticed that the baby she was given had more hair than she remembered her baby having had, and she questioned the nurse, who told her that phototherapy could do that. The other mother asked why her baby seemed to have less hair, and she was told that phototherapy could do that, too. Both young women accepted this explanation.

As Ms. Serrano’s baby, whom she named Manon, grew older, the mother’s partner became suspicious about his paternity. Manon’s skin color was darker than the parents’, and her hair was frizzier. By the time Manon was 10, Ms. Serrano’s partner had left--  then he demanded a paternity test because he did not want to pay child support for someone else’s child. To the astonishment of all, the results showed that Manon was biologically related to neither her putative mother or father, Ms. Serrano then remembered her questions about the baby’s hair, and she sought an investigation, which eventually revealed that Manon’s  “real” parents were living not far away, with their daughter, who of course was the biological child of Ms. Serrano and her former partner. (Too bad Gilbert and Sullivan aren’t alive to do something with this!)

Now, of course, comes the part that’s relevant to the Primal Wound. The two families met and tried to get to know each other. Manon commented, “When I first met them, I noticed how much I looked like them…But I was sitting in front of complete strangers, and I didn’t know how to position myself ”. The Times article goes on to say, “The families saw each other several times, during which Manon explored her Creole origins [her biological parents came from the island of Reunion]. But the parents and daughters had trouble building any rapport, and they eventually stopped seeing each other. In the end, after some discussion, both families preferred to keep the child they had raised, rather than taking their biological one. Ms.Serrano said, “My biological daughter looked like me, but I suddenly realized that I had given birth to a person I didn’t know, and I was no longer the mother of that child.” Ms. Serrano went on to say, “It is not the blood that makes a family…What makes a family is what we build together, what we tell each other. And I have created a wonderful bond with my nonbiological daughter”. (The young women’s attitudes were not reported in this article, but it seems unlikely that the parents could have reached these decisions without the agreement of their 20-year-old daughters. Manon commented, “The story of my birth has made me stronger”.)

Here we have a most unusual, but definitive, “test” of the Primal Wound rule. We have the responses of people who were simultaneously birth and adoptive parents, and what we see is that the relationship built through adoption was much more powerful than the relationship based on birth and genetic relationship.
Please note that none of this, or any other arguments against the existence of a Primal Wound, means that all adopted children and their parents are happy and satisfied with life. What it does mean is that where there is unhappiness, its causes need to be sought somewhere other than in early separation from the birth mother.

[By the way, the two birth mothers are suing that clinic for plenty of euros. ]   


  1. "What it does mean is that where there is unhappiness, its causes need to be sought somewhere other than in early separation from the birth mother."

    Yup, exactly that. As always Jean, thank you for all you do to try and help children.

  2. PW Proponents just need to say they would be even better off if they hadn't been separated. Their position is too bullshit to test.