Have you ever felt like there are different parts of yourself that seem to be in conflict with each other? Maybe you have a part of you that wants to be successful and another part that is afraid of failure. Or, perhaps you have a part of you that wants to be in a healthy relationship, but another part that fears intimacy. What you are experiencing is completely normal and common. But it can also be frustrating and leave you feeling left in the middle to decide what to do between parts of you that want to respond completely differently to the same situation. IFS has a way of making sense of all the internal conflict and helping you through it. IFS, which stands for Internal Family Systems, is a type of therapy that helps people understand and work with the different parts of themselves to find healing, greater peace, as well as beautiful qualities like confidence, compassion, presence, and connection. It was developed in the 1980s by Richard Schwartz, who noticed that traditional talk therapy wasn't always effective in helping his clients find lasting relief and healing. He was very curious about his clients’ inner worlds and they helped him to discover that individuals are made up of many different parts, and that these parts can be in conflict with one another, leading to feelings of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, including what conventional views of human suffering would call bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, substance use disorders, and eating disorders, among others. So how does IFS therapy work? How is it different from conventional therapy, and how might it help you? Let’s explore that!
What do we mean by 'parts' in IFS?
IFS sees individuals 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. In addition to your parts, there is also Self, which is the true you. It is the place within you that holds compassion, connection, playfulness, presence, confidence, clarity, curiosity, courage, calm, perspective, understanding, and creativity. Self exists within each and all of us. It is who we are at the core.
OK, but if Self is there, what the heck are parts around for and what do they do?
We all have parts. This is a basic assumption of IFS. Like the example at the beginning of this summary, they’re the thoughts we have about a given situation, the different emotions we have around an event, and the ways we respond when happy, hurt, sad, anxious. "Protectors" are parts that are trying to protect you from difficult emotions or experiences. For example, if you’ve ever been hurt by an ex partner, you may have a part of you that wants to protect you from being hurt again. It may feel like you should just not put yourself out there anymore, because it’s too dangerous. It does its best to help you avoid the hurt. But you may also have another part that wants to be in a relationship again, so that you don’t feel alone. These kinds of parts that try to keep you from being hurt or distressed are called Managers. Managers look ahead to see what might come and try to help to prevent anything bad from happening. They have their eye on the future. There is also another type of protector, called the Firefighter. Firefighters come in when the bad thing has started to happen or is already happening. Unlike the preparer managers, they are reactors. They work quickly and swiftly to get you out of the distress that has already begun. Using the example above, let’s say you enter a relationship and your partner hurts you. A firefighter may respond by yelling at your partner to get away or by helping you pack your bags and leave immediately. They help you get away from the pain immediately. Or let’s say you decide to never be in a relationship, but find yourself feeling lonely. A firefighter may come in and help distract you when the loneliness feeling comes in by scrolling social media, or sleeping, or drinking. It just wants to help you get rid of the loneliness once it creeps up on you. In general, society is much more accepting of manager parts than firefighter parts. Firefighter parts get a bad rep. But they’re really just doing anything and everything to make the bad thing go away once it’s already there. They’re trying to protect you too. “Exiles” are the other type of parts that one may have. These are the parts that have been pushed away and hidden by protectors because they hold intense emotions and/or memories of very distressing experiences, especially those that happened when we were little and those that were extremely traumatic. They often carry unprocessed emotions and feelings of being responsible somehow for the traumatic event. Protectors work hard to keep the exiles from flooding you with intense distress.
In IFS therapy, I work with 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 clients 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 kind of a parts detector. Once the parts are understood, I help my clients learn how to integrate and heal parts that need healing, so they can work in greater harmony and balance, leading to greater peace and clarity. Where does the Self fit into this? As I am helping detect parts and helping you navigate helping and connecting them, I’m also helping you connect with that true you, core Self. So that you can lead your parts to help them work together. Because remember those words 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 a number of benefits for those who are struggling with inner conflict and mental health issues. Some of the benefits of IFS therapy include:
Increasing your self-awareness: By exploring the different parts of your personality, you'll learn more about who you are and how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all connected.
Improving your relationships: By understanding and healing the parts that are causing conflict, you can improve your connection with others and make decisions on future relationships with more understanding of your needs and desires.
Feeling less anxious and depressed: By processing and integrating the exiled parts, you can feel less anxious and depressed and improve your overall mental health.
Increased peace, clarity, and confidence: By working with your protectors and firefighters, you can increase your ability to handle difficult emotions and experiences.
IFS therapy with me can be a great option for you if you're struggling with inner conflict, conflict with others, indecision, depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt, inadequacy, trauma, and other mental health challenges. It is a unique and effective approach to healing and self-discovery. By exploring the different parts of your personality, you can understand the underlying causes of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and learn how to integrate them in a healing, healthy, and compassionate way.
Want to know more about how we can work together? Still have questions? Click below to schedule a FREE 20-minute consultation where we can discuss what's going on in your life and how you hope I can help.