Internal Family Systems (IFS)
Internal Family Systems is a very gentle approach to healing trauma. While working with a traumatic experience, if the client shuts down or gets triggered then that indicates that they are out of their window of tolerance. Keeping a client within the window of tolerance is extremely essential for healing to happen. With the help of Internal Family Systems we work with different parts within our system which helps the therapist keep the client within their window of tolerance.
I am an Internal Family Systems trained therapist. I work with women located in Texas and Washington State struggling with childhood trauma and relationship trauma.
What is Internal Family Systems?
In this approach we believe that there is a family of parts within us that was formed over the years because of our experiences with the world around us. The founder of IFS Dr. Richard Schwartz divided the mind into different sub parts and worked with each sub part as a family member within the person. These sub parts have their own emotions and their own purpose, none of the parts are bad, they are working towards their own goals.
In traditional talk therapy we talk about the experience and feelings. In Internal Family Systems we talk to the parts that have gone through the experience and hold the feelings. For example, if you were in a traumatic relationship, now you are out of it but have parts that were formed during that relationship that keep coming up and taking over your current life making choices for you.
Then we make space for those parts and get curious with them about their role in your life, what are they trying to accomplish and how are they doing that, what are they worried about might happen if they don’t do what they are doing. Internal Family Systems is an experiential process. We don’t assume anything, we let the parts tell us their story and we are present with compassion and curiosity ready to listen, understand and connect with these parts.
What are the different parts?
All of us have lots of different parts and these parts are unique to our experience. However, all these parts are divided in the following three categories.
Exiles– exiles are the wounded parts that carry shame, fear, hurt, and really deep pain. These are the parts that were hurt from those experiences and carry the emotions associated with painful experiences.
Managers– managers are protective parts that manage our day to day life to make sure that we are functioning as expected by our environment. Managers aim at keeping the exiles away from us to protect us from the pain they carry.
These are the people pleasing parts, the planning parts, and the self-critic part. For example, when you sense that someone is upset, you do everything you think they might want you to to appease them. The people pleasing manager does this to make sure that you are not abandoned by this person otherwise it will trigger the exile.
Firefighter– firefighters are parts that show up when the managers are not able to contain the exiles and their pain. They aim at preventing emotional pain at any cost. Through spending money, addiction, bing eating even suicidal ideation. For example, the shame, anxiety and fear you feel when you feel like you are losing control of something or someone is upset with you. That’s when you notice yourself binge eating or spending a lot of time shopping online.
What is Self?
According to Internal Family Systems everyone has a core self. The self is genuine with a lot of healing positive qualities and no agenda like the other parts. We are all born with the healing energy of self but as life unfolds and exiles and other protector parts develop, self blends in with those parts and we lose access to self. Here are the eight virtues of self according to IFS, it’s called the 8 C’s.
The self is capable of healing the wounded parts, connecting with the managers and firefighters to help give them a new purpose and lower the intensity of their hold on our system. The goal in IFS is to create a self lead system. Which means that the other parts will be present in your system but they will look to self for guidance instead of hijacking your system.
Is the Internal Family System a good approach for you?
Internal Family Systems is good for anyone who wants to dig deeper and is looking for changes from within.
How does IFS work?
IFS does not require the client to share their history with the therapist if it triggers them to talk about it. It is a very compassionate, calm and patient approach.
I divide the work in three broad categories, which is unblending, befriending and unburdening.
We have a lot of different parts, some of the parts we might not even be aware of.
This approach focuses on the parts that might be presenting themselves and turns attention to the part that the client might be most curious about after taking permission from the client’s system.
If the client’s system is not ready to focus on the presenting part then we turn attention to the part that might have concerns and hesitation.
The first step is unblending the client from the part. We know the part has unblended if the client can access self energy.
If the client is not able to unblend, which happens very often then the therapist holds self energy and befriends the part and when the client can hold self energy the therapist facilitates the self to part relationship between the client and their self energy and befriend the part.
Then the client’s self energy stays curious and finds out about the parts fear. Asking more questions about the parts origin and listening to its story can lead you to the exile that the part might be working really hard to keep away from the client,
Then we start working with the exile. For a self to part connection with the exile and hold space for it with compassion and understanding while witnessing everything it might have to share.
Then when the exile is ready we retrieve it from where it is in the client’s memory to the present and unburden it from all the burdens it might be carrying.
IFS can enable you to hold the space of an observer and notice all these parts without trying to push them aside. Be compassionate towards these parts and understand and appreciate them for what they do for you.
Internal Family Systems in a journey where all your parts connect with each other and work with the self to facilitate healing.
If you are interested to learn more about how is used with EMDR then follow this link to learn more about it.
Are you ready to work with your parts?