More about Internal Family Systems
Updated: Aug 26, 2022
The idea that it is natural and normal to be "multiple" is central to this modality. If you have ever said "part of me feels one way, part of me feels another way" then you too have parts!
IFS and “parts work” is a unique modality which emphasizes self-compassion and kind attention to all our various “parts”. Have you ever found yourself saying things like, “I’m torn”, “I have mixed feelings about that” or “part of me feels one way and part of me feels another way”? These are just a few examples of how “parts” show up in our everyday experience.
In the case of trauma, some parts become burdened and compartmentalized in an effort to help us survive. These parts can be stuck in the past, but when “Self” is accessed, it can bear witness to these parts and help them let go of their burdens. “Self” is not a part, but an intrinsic, spiritual core that is present at birth and cannot be damaged—indeed, it is the noble efforts of our parts that take on the burdens that would harm the “Self” and therefore need to be appreciated and acknowledged for the hard work they are doing.
The radical invitation of IFS - All Parts Are Welcome
These are the six assumptions of IFS and “parts”:
1- All parts have good intentions, even those who misbehave, therefore, we begin therapy with a radical invitation: “all parts are welcome”
2-Our psychic response to injury is predictable: when vulnerable parts are wounded, other parts step in to protective roles.
3- Protective parts behave in predictable ways, some of which look pathological.
4- A destabilized, disrupted inner system can become reintegrated and balanced once it is in relationship with the client’s “Self”
5- The Self is neither created nor cultivated and cannot be destroyed but is, rather, intrinsic and present from birth.
6- Every person has a Self, and the Self can be accessed for healing in every person.
(F. Anderson, M. Sweezy, R. Schwartz, 2017)
There are three different categories of "parts"
(adapted by M. Pastor from Internal Family Systems by R. Schwartz)
These primary parts act to keep the person feeling secure by controling people, events, and other parts. They bear huge burdens of responsibilityfor keeping life together and fear that relinquishing control will lead to worse outcomes. The protect against vulnerability, pain, instability. Their motto is "Never Again!"
Common Manager behaviors and traits: Controlling, Analyzing, Criticizing, Judging, Care-taking, Pessimism, Planning, Numbing.
These parts have been rejected or traumatized, holding deep wounds and memories filled with terror, pain, and shame. Young and childlike, often frozen in time and hiding for protection, they become increasingly desperate to share their story. They leave the person feeling exposed and vulnerable, something the protectors fear will destabilize the system. Their motto is: "Don't Forget Me!"
Common Exile behaviors and traits: Sensitivity, Anger, Dependency, Innocence, Spontaneity, Openness.
These protectors spring into action whenever pain from other parts, especially the more wounded Exiles threaten to overwhelm. Firefighters act powerfully and automatically to repress emerging Exiles, release pressure, and get our of danger fast. they can overpower Manager's efforts to control the system. Their motto is: "When All Else Fails!"
Common Firefighter behaviors and traits: Abusing Substances, Attempting Suicide, Binging on Food, Having Affairs, Dissociating, Distracting, Cutting.
“Self” is not a part, but an intrinsic, spiritual core that is present at birth and cannot be damaged. Every person has a Self, and the Self can be accessed for healing in every person.
Self - not a part
This is the deepest essence or center of the person. When differentiated, Self Energy acts as a wise, compassionate leader, able to tend to and heal the system.