Sunday, January 6, 2008

Internal Family Systems Therapy

I wanted to post information regarding IFS, I think it is profound and very helpful in finding your light and working with the inner child/children/parts. I did this for four years with my therapist and the compassion I learned from her with this as a tool is something I am indelibly grateful for. I also recommend reiki, cranio-sacral and massage therapy for connecting with the light within.

An excerpt:

Managers, Firefighters and Exiles

Are there common roles for parts across people? After working with a large number of clients, some patterns began to appear. Most clients had parts that tried to keep them functional and safe -- tried to maintain control of their inner and outer environments by, for example, keeping them from getting too close, or dependent on others, criticizing their appearance or performance to make them look or act better, and focusing on taking care of others' rather than on their own needs. These parts seemed to be in protective, managerial roles and therefore are called the "managers."

Where a person has been hurt, humiliated, frightened or shamed in their past, they will have parts that carry the emotions, memories and sensations from those experiences. Managers often want to keep those feelings out of consciousness and, consequently, try to keep these vulnerable and needy parts locked in inner closets. Those incarcerated parts are known as the "exiles." The third and final group of parts clicks into action whenever one of the exiles is upset to the point that it may flood the person with its extreme feelings or makes the person vulnerable to being hurt again. When that is the case, this third group tries to put out the inner flames of feeling as quickly as possible, which earns them the name "firefighters." They tend to be highly impulsive and drive to find stimulation that will override or dissociate from the exile's feelings. Bingeing on drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or work, are common firefighter activities.

The Self

There is one other key aspect of the IFS Model that also differentiates it from other models. This is the belief that, in addition to these parts, everyone is at their core a Self that contains many crucial leadership qualities like perspective, confidence, compassion and acceptance. Working with hundreds of clients for more than a decade, some of whom were severely abused and show severe symptoms, has convinced me that everyone has this healthy and healing Self despite the fact that many people have very little access to it initially. When working with an individual, the goal of IFS is to differentiate this Self from the parts, thereby releasing its resources, and then in the state of Self, to help parts out of their extreme roles.

I had no clue about the Self until I began this journey almost twenty years ago. Like many other young people in the sixties, I had experimented with meditation for respite from my inner cacophony. From these experiences, I sensed other dimensions of myself, but had no framework to understand them. I was also an athlete and, on the football field and basketball court, had occasionally entered that delicious flow state in which my mind was still and my body could do no wrong. Like most people, however, mostly I was consumed with finding ways to counter the undercurrent of worthlessness that ran through my psyche. I believed the inner voices telling me I was basically lazy, stupid, and selfish. That's who I thought I really was.

I was led to knowledge about the Self less through direct experience than, later as a therapist, through witnessing what happened to my clients as I helped them explore their inner worlds. I had several clients in the early 1980's who began talking about different parts of them as if these "parts" were autonomous voices or subpersonalities. As a family therapist, these inner battles were intriguing to me, and I began asking clients to try to alter them in the same ways I'd been trying to change their family's communication. It seemed that many of them could actually converse with these thoughts and feelings as if they were real personalities. For example, I had a client, Diane, ask her pessimist voice why it always told her she was hopeless. To my amazement, Diane said it answered her. It said that it told her she was hopeless so that she wouldn't take any risks and get hurt. It was trying to protect her.

This seemed like a promising interaction. If this pessimist really had benign intent, then Diane might be able to negotiate a different role for it. Yet Diane was not interested. She was angry at this voice and was telling it to just leave her alone. I asked her why she was so rude to the pessimist, and she went on a long diatribe, describing how that voice had made every step she took in life a major hurdle. It then occurred to me that I was not talking to Diane, but to another part of her that constantly fought with the pessimist. In an earlier conversation, Diane had told me about an ongoing war inside her between one voice that pushed her to achieve and the pessimist who told her it was hopeless. It seemed that the pushing part had jumped in while she was talking to the pessimist.........continued on website.

More explanations:

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a new form of therapy that is compassionate, inclusive, spiritual, powerfully healing, and deeply respectful of our inner life. For more information, see This article is a brief introduction to IFS.

IFS recognizes that our psyches are made up of different parts, sometimes called subpersonalities. You can think of them as little people inside us. Each has its own perspective, feelings, memories, goals, and motivations. For example, one part of you might be trying to lose weight and another part might want to eat whatever you want. We all have parts like the inner critic, the abandoned child, the pleaser, the angry part, and the loving caretaker.

IFS has discovered that every part has a positive intent for you, no matter how problematic it might be. For example, Sally has a part that says, “You couldn’t be successful at your ambitious goals. Who do you think you are?” This is hurtful to her and prevents her from taking action in her life, but when she got to know this part in her IFS work, she discovered that it was actually afraid she would be punished if she stuck her neck out, and it was trying to stop her to protect her from that pain.

Bill has a part that is judgmental and competitive with other people in a way that is not consistent with his true values. However, when he really got to know that part, he discovered that it was just trying to help him feel OK about himself in the only way it knew—by feeling superior to others.

When you understand that a part has a positive intent, it doesn’t mean that you give the part power. Sally doesn’t want her part to prevent her from taking action, and Bill doesn’t want his part to act out being judgmental and competitive. However, using the IFS approach, Sally and Bill can relate to their parts with understanding and appreciation while taking the steps to heal them.

This is fundamentally different from the way we ordinarily relate to our parts. Usually when we become aware of a part, the first thing we do is evaluate it. Is it good or bad for us? If we decide it is good, we embrace it and give it power. We act from it. If we decide it is bad, we try to suppress it or get rid of it. We tell it to go away. However, this doesn’t work. You can’t get rid of a part. You can only push it into your unconscious, where it will continue to affect you, but without your awareness.

In IFS, we do something altogether different and radical. We welcome all our parts with curiosity and compassion. We seek to understand them and appreciate their efforts to help us. But we don’t lose sight of the ways they may be causing us problems. We develop a relationship of caring and trust with each part, and then take the steps to release it from its burdens so it can function in a healthy way.

In the IFS system, there are three kinds of parts—managers, firefighters, and exiles. The managers are the parts you usually encounter first in exploring yourself. Their job is to handle the world and protect against the pain of the exiles. Exiles are young child parts that hold pain from the past. (We won’t get into firefighters in this short article.)

For example, John has one manager that tries to know everything about any organization he might work with and tries to do everything perfectly. This is an incredible burden for him and prevents him from being light and flexible in his work life. When he started to get to know this manager part, he learned that it was trying to protect him from being betrayed by people or projects he might put his heart and soul into. He also realized he had another manager part that was very suspicious of people. This part checks out people carefully to see how they might betray him. Both managers are trying to protect John from feeling the pain of an exile part that felt hurt and betrayed, first by his mother and then by an organization he was part of.

In the above example Sally had a manager that said, “Who do you think you are?” Although this message has prevented Sally from taking action as she would like, it is trying to protect Sally from the pain of an exile part who felt crushed and frightened of punishment. It turned out that Sally (and other children) had been punished by the nuns in her Catholic school whenever they became too visible, so from then on in her life, she had a terrified exile and a manager who tried to keep Sally invisible.

Parts take on extreme roles because of what has happened to them in the past. Exiles take on pain and burdens from what they experienced as children (or occasionally at other times). Managers take on extreme roles in order to protect you from the pain of the exiles. IFS has a method of understanding and working with these parts to release the burdens and heal the system, so you can function in healthy ways.