In the chaos of everyday life, it's easy to lose touch with ourselves, isn’t it?
We're a jumble of emotions, thoughts, and experiences, and it can be confusing to understand all of the noise when it’s clashing about in our minds and hearts. Checking in and connecting with all those different parts that make up who we are can help. That's where Internal Family Systems (IFS) comes in. It's a pretty neat approach that helps us explore our internal landscape, to make sense of what’s going on internally so we can make decisions with more clarity, balance, and harmony. Starting a daily check in with our internal system can help to jumpstart this process that can create internal shifts that can bring daily relief when maintained on a regular basis.
Feel free to try out one or more of the check-in ideas and see which ones you like. If you like it, you’re more likely to stick to it regularly.
I do recommend starting first with #1 or #2 to get a feel for what it's like to connect with your parts through your emotions, thoughts, and body sensations.
Don't feel pressure to do them all.
And if you’re like me and get tired of the same old same old, you can always mix and match from day to day!
Begin your day with a daily parts check-in meditation. Take 10 minutes to sit in a quiet space- your bed, the couch, maybe even your home bathroom where you can turn on the exhaust fan and lock the door for some quiet privacy. Notice what thoughts are on your mind. Notice what emotions you’re feeling.
Then, listen to this Daily Parts Meditation.
If you're a fan of structure or are a visual or kinetic learner, this one may be for you. This handy tool can help you dig into your emotions and thoughts and how they connect to the roles your different parts play in your life.
Check out my Daily Parts Check In worksheet to try it out!
If you're more of a creative spirit, express your inner world through art. Try your hand at drawing, painting, or creating other mediums of art that reflect your inner parts. It's like letting your parts tell their stories in their own unique way, and it can often bring more information about the part to the surface.
I recommend trying this out after first checking out the morning meditation or Daily Parts Check In Worksheet so you have more of an idea of how to connect with parts and which parts you'd like to connect with through drawing!
Wanna wing it instead? Just notice what thoughts, emotions, or body sensations are with you in the moment. Imagine what it would look like if you could see them each as their own entity. Create what they look like through a drawing, painting, collage, crochet stuffie, or whatever suits your fancy. Some other ideas inspired by my clients art: arranging crystals, tarot cards, or children's toys to represent parts.
Maybe you have a super busy day and you don’t have time for a worksheet, or making art, or a 10 minute meditation, but you want to keep your momentum going with daily check ins.
A brief check-In can be a simple, yet incredibly powerful way to connect with your inner world. As you’re grabbing your keys and heading out the door, take just one minute to close your eyes (in a safe space) and remind your parts: "I'm here. I haven’t forgotten about you. I see you. I care for you.” It's like giving your inner family a reassuring hug. Because I regularly check in with my inner system, I also say, “I’m coming back,” but it’s super important to only say that if you are truly coming back to connect with your parts.
Sometimes, our bodies speak louder than our feelings or inner dialogue. It's like your body's way of sharing its story. Pay attention to any unusual or persistent physical sensations or discomfort. Pause and check in with yourself to see if they're connected to a particular part. You can even ask internally, for example, "Is this a part that is making my stomach hurt right now?" If you get a feeling that it is, acknowledge it, let it know you're getting that it's connecting with you through your body, and thank it for the message. If you can't spend more time with it in the moment, make a mental note to come back to it when you have some more time, with the daily parts check in meditation (#1) or check in worksheet (#2).
Schedule an "Open Mic" session for your inner parts. Let them share whatever's on their minds. It's like creating a safe space for your internal family members to voice their concerns. Rather than focusing on a particular emotion/thought/sensation to identify a part, like in the other exercises, you simply make yourself available in your inner system and see who needs attention.
I recommend the following tips:
This is a great way to get to know parts that aren’t always so big or present within your day-t0-day emotions and thoughts.
Grab your journal and write freely about your thoughts and feelings. Afterward, read it with a discerning eye, looking for hints of different parts. Validate and appreciate each part's unique perspective.
Feeling ambitious? Once you’ve identified a part or two, imagine that you are letting them take over the journal and let them “free write” whatever they’d like about whatever they’re feeling or would like for you to know. Some great insights can come from this unstructured writing.
Hate typical journaling? I do, too! Check out my Journaling for People that Hate Journaling blog article to find some other ways to connect with your parts through non-typical journaling.
Connecting with your inner landscape of parts is not only about exploring the challenging stuff. When you're feeling awesome or accomplished, take a moment to connect with the parts that contributed to your success. Acknowledge and celebrate them! If you want to go farther, use any of the exercises above to connect even more to these happy and accomplished parts.
We're in the age of apps, so why not use them to help with your IFS journey? There are apps like "Sentur" that can assist you in tracking your emotions, thoughts, and your parts' activities. It's like having a personal assistant for your inner world. (I have no advertising affiliation with Sentur.)
So there you have it—nine varied and practical ways to check in with yourself using Internal Family Systems. Please know that this isn't about fixing or changing yourself but about understanding and accepting all those beautiful, messy, and complex parts that make you, well, you. Give these methods a try, and I hope you enjoy the journey of self-discovery and self-compassion.
Often, as a therapist that works with the Internal Family Systems (IFS) modality, I get asked by new clients, "What exactly is IFS? How does it work?"
And I could go on for hours. There are lots of books about IFS- most of my clients know I highly recommend No Bad Parts by Richard C. Schwartz. But sometimes it can be nice to just have something short, sweet, and succinct. This blog is my attempt at that.
So here's a brief overview of IFS, what it looks like in therapy with me, benefits of IFS therapy, and even a one-page infographic that provide a super-simplified look at IFS in therapy.
Have you ever felt like you're at odds with yourself? You know, that tug of war between wanting success but fearing failure or craving a healthy relationship while shying away from intimacy? It's completely normal, but it can also be incredibly frustrating. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a form of therapy that can help you untangle this inner web.
Created by Richard Schwartz in the 1980s, IFS acknowledges that we're complex beings with multiple internal "parts." These parts often clash, leading to issues like anxiety, depression, and conditions that conventional views of human suffering would call bipolar disorder and eating disorders. But here's where one of the big differences lies between conventional therapies and IFS: your challenges are not seen as disorders, or things that are "wrong with you." Rather, IFS sees our challenges as ways that our parts are trying to protect us and keep us safe...it's just sometimes they don't actually help us in the way they intend to. It's a compassionate perspective.
Meet Your Internal Parts
IFS sees each person as a system of parts of a whole, rather than a single whole. The "parts" are the different aspects of you, such as your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Some parts can feel positive and helpful, while others can feel negative and can cause harm in one’s life. There are various kinds of parts...
Protectors are the parts that shield you from emotional turmoil or past traumas. If you've been hurt in a relationship, a protector may pop up, telling you to avoid intimacy to dodge the hurt.
Managers are protector parts that plan and prevent future harm, while Firefighters are reactive parts that jump into action when distress is already underway.
An important note here is that protectors do what they do because they feel they have to. They do not exist only to protect, but rather took on protective roles when we were hurt in the past. Often, they'd rather return to what they used to do before you were hurt. This is an important point that will be addressed later in this post.
Exiles are the parts that carry intense emotions or traumatic memories, often kept hidden by protectors to prevent them from overwhelming you. These parts may hold onto unresolved emotions and a sense of responsibility for past traumatic events. They are often-but not always-young and stuck in the time where the bad thing happened to you.
Along with your parts, is YOU. Your Self (with a capital S). This is who you are at your core. There are various words people use to describe their Self: soul, essence, authentic Self, true Self. Your Self can never be diminished, though it may be more obscured by parts doing what they have to do in protection mode or in exile. It isn't something that has to be developed. It's been within you from the beginning. In IFS, this is the place within you that always holds compassion, creativity, curiosity, courage, calm, connection, curiosity, and clarity.
In IFS therapy, I help my clients to identify and understand the different parts that make up their personality. We'll start by exploring the managers and firefighters, and learning how they try to keep you safe. I help you understand what parts are doing, why each part does what it does, and how the parts are working together or in conflict and how that impacts your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I’m basically a parts detector.
Once the parts are understood by you, I help you learn how to bring relief to your parts, so they don't have to protect so fiercely and can work in greater harmony and balance with each other, leading to greater peace and clarity.
Where does the Self fit into this? As I am helping you connect with and help parts, I’m also helping you connect with your core Self, so that you can begin to lead your parts and help them work together. Because remember those qualities that Self holds: compassion, connection, playfulness, presence, confidence, clarity, curiosity, courage, calm, perspective, understanding, and creativity? Those are the qualities that become more integrated in your life and with your parts as you heal and lead with Self.
IFS therapy with me is a collaborative process between the two of us. I help you get to know your parts and help them, and because I’m helping you do that, you’re also practicing it yourself and learning how to do it on your own. You are the biggest factor in your healing process and I am here to support you along the way.
IFS therapy offers several benefits:
Is IFS Therapy Right for You?
If you're struggling with inner conflicts, relationship issues, depression, anxiety, trauma, or other mental health challenges, IFS therapy could be the perfect fit. It offers a unique and effective path to self-discovery and healing. In IFS therapy, we work together as a team. You're in the driver's seat of your healing journey, with me as your therapist there to provide support and guidance every step of the way.
Here's an infographic that gives a visual view of IFS therapy and how it works:
Are you a Texas resident interested in IFS therapy, but want to know more about it or me?
Reach out and schedule a free 20-minute consultation with me!
Hear me out!!
I hate journaling.
What if I told you that ‘journaling’ doesn’t have to be what we usually think of as journaling.
It doesn’t have to include sentences.
It doesn’t have to make sense to a reader.
It doesn’t even have to include words.
Why journal at all?
Journaling has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms, boost immune function, help cultivate gratitude, and improve memory function. It can also help you process and make sense of your internal world.
In work with my clients, we are often reprocessing past troubling experiences and making sense of them in the present. Journaling helps to connect dots between the past and the present and to make sense of what happens to us in our lives. It can help us understand how our thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about ourselves influence us. Coupled with therapy, it can facilitate internal change at a faster rate than therapy alone because it can help the work continue between sessions. It has a lot of great benefits, but journaling doesn’t have to necessarily be done the way you may think.
Letting go of the expectation
I tried journaling for years. In elementary school with my little lock and key journal, in middle school with some stylish notebooks with my favorite band stickers on the outside, in college on LiveJournal (it was the early 2000s). I’ve purchased pretty journals. Simple journals. Journals with prompts. Journals with lines. Journals with dot grids. Journals with blank pages. I tried using one pen, colored pens, a pencil, even a Sharpie. It never worked because this expectation was always present in my mind: I have to write words…in sentences…and it has to be readable for the day I want to read it 10 years from now. I’d stick to it for a day, or a week, or once every six months, and find the empty journals mingling with my books when I packed a couple years later for a move.
Don’t get me wrong. Regular journaling works for plenty of people but, for some of us, it just doesn’t click. So let it go: the expectation of what a journal is supposed to be. Whatever it is in your head (pretty, long, list of daily activities, emotions, daily, deep, funny!) Let that expectation go. This will free you up to play with it to find your journal jam.
If that’s all you need-to let go of the expectation-then go, play, create your own journal!
If you’re like me and you need some examples to play with,here are some ideas:
Non-Journal Tip #1: Nonsense is Just Fine
It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you..and maybe not even you.
It doesn’t have to be logical and it doesn’t have to be pretty.
When you journal, you’re reprocessing whatever it is you’re writing about, so even if you never look at that page again or it’s chicken scratch that is unreadable, it is helping you make sense of something internally. This, alone, is a major benefit.
Also, when you are writing, you are literally using your body at the same time as the internal emotional processing, which means your body is aiding in the processing at another level, simply by moving your hands as you write. Processing through the body is also extremely beneficial in mental health. When you’re writing about something emotional or impactful, and your body is moving along with the internal processing, it is an added bonus.
Non-Journal Tip #2: Bullet Point Journaling
(not to be confused with bullet journaling, which is a totally different thing)
It doesn’t have to be in sentences to count. Write your journals in bullet points, like you might write notes during a lecture, training, or meeting. This way your writing can keep up with your train of thought or your flow of emotions.
Relationship with mom -
Non-Journal tip #3: No Words (ok, or maybe some)
Notice I did not say “art journaling.” Because that’s another expectation, and we’re letting go of those today. Instead, think VISUAL journal.
Doodle. Draw. Let your pen/pencil/crayon/marker/paint brush do its thing to help you express an emotion, thought, idea, memory, realization, belief about yourself or a situation, mantra, positive affirmation, etc. Create the story of what happened, of how you feel, of how it should be or how you want it to be.
Visual journaling is especially helpful to my clients that do parts work with me that enjoy spending time with their parts and creating them on paper or tablet without words.
Some people get really into it and like to add lots of color or mixed media or even painting. But that is absolutely not necessary. It can be a plain ol’ Bic pen or #2 pencil. Or 3 colors. It shouldn’t have to feel like work.
I’ve included some of my own as examples below. I mostly doodle on my tablet with my tablet pen in a digital notebook. I recently started watercolor painting and have done that twice, but I’m not usually in the mood to put that much thought into it and love being able to just open the tablet and get to it.
If you would like some more ideas to get your creative flow going, google “visual journal” and click on images to see all kinds of examples! If you really want more guidance, google “visual journal for beginners.” Remember, only do this if it sounds like something fun to play with. No expectations. (My broken record is STRONG, y’all.)
Non-Journal tip #4: Voice Journaling
Use your phone’s voice recorder app to record your thoughts and emotions as they flow. This is another one of those options that’s great if your thoughts move much faster than your pen or fingers across the keyboard. It can also help mitigate the mental blocks that sometimes come with processing through typed or written language.
And much like the body processing that happens with your hands, utilizing the voice can be beneficial in the same way. You move the thoughts and emotions out of your head and through your voice AND back into your ears at the same time.
One extra tip that I do have with this kind of journaling is about security. If you want to ensure your recordings are private, be sure that the app that you use doesn’t have access to your recordings and that you have password protection at some level.
Some other thoughts on Non-Journaling Journaling
Once upon a time, I was a teacher, and I learned early on that people learn and process so differently from person to person. The same can be said for how we process our internal experiences for mental health benefits. It’s why I sometimes draw what I’m explaining for some clients, use language for many, use hand gestures to show spatial understanding, and paint visual pictures through words for others. Through non-journaling, you can learn and cultivate your personal internal processing language YOUR WAY.
If you’re a visual person, doodling or drawing may be a great fit.
If you think quickly but like writing, bullet point journaling may be for you.
If you learn aurally, it may work for you to speak your journal.
Or maybe you like a combo of any of the above or mixture of any of the above or something entirely different that you’re considering right now…again, no expectations! Maybe what works on a given day depends on your mood. Just play with it to discover what works best for you.
I hope this takes some of the edge off of journaling and that you find one or more of these ideas to be helpful. I especially hope that it brings some play to the task as you explore your inner world through non-journaling.
Check Out the Accompanying Meditation
If you want to incorporate a little meditation into your non-journaling, check out my non-journaling meditation here. It includes a pre-journal meditation, 10 minute journaling time with music, and a post-journal meditation.
You can also check out the vlog version of this blog here...
Be well, y'all!