What Are The 5 Core Wounds?

What Are The 5 Core Wounds?

Have you ever felt stuck in a negative pattern, despite your best efforts to change? Or perhaps you get triggered and have a big emotional reaction about something that you don’t quite understand.

These experiences might be rooted in your core wounds: deep emotional wounds, usually formed in childhood, that stem from unmet needs or painful experiences.

What are Core Wounds?

Core wounds are like hidden injuries in your soul. They can be caused by neglect, abuse, trauma, or even seemingly insignificant events. But even though no one can “see” them, they have a huge impact on your life. These wounds shape how you see yourself and the world, impacting everything from your relationships to your career.

Signs of a Core Wound

Recurring negative patterns

Do you find yourself attracting the same unhealthy relationships, or struggling with similar challenges over and over? This could be a sign of an unhealed core wound.

Low self-esteem

Core wounds can lead to feelings of worthlessness, shame, or self-doubt.

Difficulty with intimacy

Fear of rejection or abandonment, stemming from a core wound, can make it hard to build close relationships.

People-pleasing or over-responsibility

These behaviors can be a way of trying to avoid rejection or gain approval, often rooted in core wounds.

Core Wound Theory

Lise Bourbeau, a self-help author, proposes that our deepest emotional wounds (core wounds) stem from childhood experiences and impact our present behavior. These wounds are not necessarily caused by actual events, but by how we perceived them.

While some emotional wounds, heal quickly, these emotional wounds have stayed with us. They also go much deeper than just the original painful experience or circumstance.

When it comes to emotional wounds, there’s the experience/circumstance that caused the wound, the belief or story that we took from that wound, and there’s usually a protective mechanism that we’ve created around the wound.

The Five Core Wounds

Here’s a brief overview of the five core childhood wounds:

(This is all according to Bourbeau’s original theory. So keep in mind all of these wounds can form at any age, with any parent.)


Usually, this wound originates in infancy and is linked to feeling rejected by a parent, often the same-sex parent. It can manifest as low self-esteem, withdrawal, and a fear of rejection.


This wound usually develops between the ages of 1-3 years and is associated with a lack of emotional support, typically from the same-sex parent. It can lead to dependence on others, a need for attention, and a fear of loneliness.


This wound arises between 1-3 years old and is related to feeling shamed or degraded by a caregiver, often the mother. It can manifest as self-blame, difficulty expressing needs, and a fear of pleasure.


This wound typically develops between 2-4 years old and is linked to feeling betrayed by the opposite-sex parent. It can lead to a controlling personality, difficulty trusting others, and a fear of being taken advantage of.


Usually, this wound forms between 4-6 years old and is associated with a harsh or critical same-sex parent. It can manifest as perfectionism, difficulty admitting mistakes, and a fear of vulnerability.

Protection Mechansism: The 5 Core Wound Masks

According to Bourbeau, we develop “masks” as a way to cope with the pain of our core wounds. These are behavioral patterns that we take on in order to protect ourselves or minimize the pain from the original core wound.

While originally protective in nature, many of us carry these behaviors long past childhood. That usually means we’re enacting an unhelpful behavior in our adult life–without even realizing that we’re doing it or understanding why.

Understanding both your core wound and its mask are essential for healing.

Rejection: The “Withdrawal” Mask

People with this mask tend to be withdrawn, feeling like a burden to others.

Abandonment: The “Dependent” Mask

People with this mask rely heavily on others for attention and validation.

Humiliation: The “Masochist” Mask

People with this mask may neglect their own needs and have difficulty setting boundaries.

Betrayal: The “Controller” Mask

People with this mask may be controlling, manipulative, and mistrustful of others.

Injustice: The “Rigid” Mask

People with this mask may be perfectionistic, overly critical, and struggle to show emotions.

How To Heal Your Core Wounds

Healing from core wounds involves self-compassion, self-acceptance, and developing healthy coping mechanisms.

Healing core wounds is a journey of self-discovery and compassion. Here are some steps you can take:

Identify Your Core Wound

Reflect on your life patterns and emotional triggers. What themes keep showing up?

Also, it’s common to have more than one core wound! So you might have to go through this process a few times to focus on each one.

Calm Your Nervous System

An absolutely essential step for any emotional healing is making sure that your nervous system is regulated. Find out how to regulate your nervous system here!

Let Go of Your Mask

Part of the healing process is “proving” to your subconscious mind that you are, in fact, safe. A part of that means letting go of your protection mechanism.

Once you notice what your core wound is, get curious about your mask. How are you protecting yourself by being withdrawn, dependent, masochistic, controlling or rigid?

Realize that these behaviors are not part of your authentic nature. Work on slowly releasing them and give yourself lots of credit for doing so! It’s usually a long process to feel safe enough to totally release them.

Tend To Your Wounded Inner Child Or Do IFS Work

Since most of these emotional wounds occured during our childhood, it only makes sense to combine this work with some inner child healing or Internal Family Systems work. What did your inner child need or want? What do they want right now? How can you make them feel secure and safe?

Practice Self-Compassion

Stop making these parts of you “wrong”; that only creates more shadow for you to heal. It’s okay to not be perfect. Try to accept that these wounds are a part of your history. But understand that they don’t define you. The more self-compassion you can give yourself here, the better.

After all, learning to change your beliefs and actions is a new experience. You wouldn’t expect a young child to get it all correctly on the first try! So why do you expect that of yourself? Give yourself the grace to grow and learn without shame or judgement. Remember, every step you take forwards is a net positive!

Practice Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a huge part of the journey here. First of all, learn how to forgive yourself. Know that you were just a small child and that whatever happened to you was not your fault.

Second, you might want to forgive your family members. (Or not–that’s okay too.) However, the point of this work is not necessarily to go back and tell them what your experience was (although you might feel called to). Understand that no one gets a perfect parent and that this work applies to everyone.

In the end, your experience is the one that matters most. Holding onto resentment only hurts you. Let go of your anger and blame.

Seek Professional Help

Sometimes you simply need the extra eyes and ears of a professional during your healing journey. A therapist or coach can provide guidance and support.

Are you ready to do some core wound healing work with the help of a therapist? But can’t quite afford to pay the full price? Try out BetterHelp for convenient, affordable therapy you can start at home.

So what did you think? Do you have a better understanding of the five core wounds? What did you learn about yourself and your protective masks?

Remember, healing core wounds takes time and effort. Be patient with yourself and celebrate your progress-even the small steps! But the process will be worth it. By understanding and addressing your core wounds, you can create a more fulfilling and authentic life.

Jenn Stevens The Self-Worth Project

PS Looking for more? You might also want to find out what is polyvagal theory, or read our guide to reparenting your inner child.

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What Are The 5 Core Wounds?

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