Internal Family System
Have you ever had the experience that part of you would love to go out for dinner with friends, while another part of you would prefer to put on cozy PJs and stay at home?
Yeah, most of us have experienced some version of parts of ourselves wanting to do different things.
In fact, this plural model of the mind is the foundation of IFS: we all have an internal system of countless parts who interact internally with each other and externally with other people. We all also have a core resource, “the Self,” which is characterized by balance, curiosity and compassion.
Within our system, we have three different types of parts:
1. Exiles. These are the parts of us that hold distressing feelings or beliefs (what IFS calls burdens). These parts have been shamed, dismissed, abused or neglected in childhood, and have been banished by the protectors for their own safety or to keep them from overwhelming the system with emotional pain. A lot of effort is used to keep exiles out of awareness.
2. Proactive protectors (managers). These proactive helpers focus on motivating us to improve, work hard, be productive and be socially acceptable. Our proactive parts bring with them a lot of strengths and are often responsible for many of the successes in our lives. However, overused or in extreme roles, managers use strategies like perfectionism, intellectualizing, people pleasing, self-criticism and even shaming- in an attempt to stay unaffected by emotions.
3. Reactive protectors (firefighters). These reactive helpers share the same goal as the managers; extinguish emotional pain. Despite the managers best efforts, the exiles desperately want our attention and occasionally break through, and this is where the firefighters get activated. They tend to be fierce and will escalate in their measures doing whatever it takes to shut the pain down, like binge eating, watching a numbing amount of tv, alcohol or drug abuse, angry outbursts, excessive shopping, self harming, and even suicide.
With IFS, we take the radical approach that all parts of you are welcome.
Unlike traditional talk therapy, IFS invites you to go inside and focus internally on the relationship between you (‘the Self’) and your parts. Self is not a part, but rather the seat of consciousness and the inner source of love. Everyone has a Self. The Self is like the sunshine, always there, always available, but sometimes blocked by clouds. Our work together will help you access your self-energy and the clarity, compassion, and courage it brings to your system.
The goals of IFS therapy are:
Help you get to know your own system, by learning to differentiate your parts, and in doing so increase your access to self-energy.
Befriend your protective parts, restore parts’ trust in self-leadership and get permission to help the wounded parts.
Form a positive relationship with your wounded parts, witness their experiences and help them let go of feelings states and beliefs that are extreme and damaging so they can heal.