Getting to Know Your Parts – An Introduction to IFS

Do you find yourself torn by contradictory feelings which immobilize you with indecisiveness? Maybe you work hard and pride yourself on bringing home a nice paycheck, yet hate your job. Your internal dialogue may sound something like, “Well I gotta work and I earn a good living and I’ve got great benefits. How could I ever leave this job?” But then another part kicks up and says, “Who are you kidding? You know you hate your job and you’re miserable.” Caught in a stand–off, you pressure yourself, “Just make a decision already. If you hate your job, then leave or else buck up and get over it.”

Perhaps you’re stressed and irritable from taking such good care of everyone in your life, except you. And so ensues your inner dialogue, “Well, I have to do such–and–such for so–and–so,” but another part of you groans from exhaustion. You scream in your head, “You’re so good at taking care of everyone, when are you going to start taking care of yourself?!” Overwhelmed, you pour yourself a stiff drink.

And so your head spins. The reality is that you, like all of us, have parts that have their own feelings, beliefs and behaviors. Some parts polarize, thus creating massive confusion, frustration and immobilization. The good news is that Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy helps you honor all of your parts and free them to work cooperatively with one another and with YOU!

IFS made its debut in the 1990’s and has evolved into an incredibly innovative and effective model of psychotherapy. Dr. Richard Schwartz, who holds a PhD in marriage and family therapy, realized that when he really listened to his clients, he heard them express having different “parts” of themselves, or subpersonalities, which they distinguished from “Self.” Just as he applied a family systems approach in his work with family members, he used the same approach in his work with clients’ parts (hence the name Internal Family Systems Therapy).

An IFS saying is, “There are no bad parts.” Although some of your parts may act in ways that other parts (and other people) dislike, all parts have good intentions and want to take care of you. Anger may protect you from sadness. Compulsion may alleviate anxiety. Addiction may deaden shame. In getting to know your parts you learn about them and their commitment to your wellbeing. Plus, you have the opportunity to work with them so that they can truly serve you well.

You have a Self which has been identified, by a multitude of cultures throughout history, as “Higher Self,” “spirit,” “true essence,” “core being,” etc. IFS refers to Self or Self energy as embodying any of “the Eight C’s of Self–Leadership”: qualities of calmness, clarity, curiosity, compassion, confidence, courage, creativity and connectedness.

You may feel little Self presence because your parts take up so much space, time and intensity in your life. When ruled by extreme emotion, such as anger, the part has “blended” with you; in essence, you become the anger, believe what it believes and feel what it feels.

“Protective parts” react with desires to change, get rid of, judge or join with the anger. As an IFS therapist, my role is to help your protectors give you breathing space so that you can work, from a state of Self presence, directly with the cause of their concern: the anger.

This is when the beauty unfolds. Rather than feeling ignored or bullied, the anger feels your compassion, curiosity and calmness and agrees to unblend in its desire to be known and understood. You ask it all about its reasons for being, its desires for you, its history, etc. It’s as though you’re having a conversation with a totally separate person.

You “witness” anger in its expression to you of memories, images, thoughts, feelings, and/or bodily sensations. You gain understanding and appreciation for how it’s been trying to help you. Anger develops more trust in you, which allows it to learn of its actual impact on you. Once it sees that it hasn’t been an effective force, it can choose to transform.

For instance, a woman’s anger informed her that it caused her to yell, was located in her throat and was pissed off because she had never felt acknowledged. It worked to help her be heard and understood in its hope to build connection for her with others.

When the woman sent appreciation to the anger for its beautiful intention, it felt heartened by their connection and her understanding of it (as it had felt disregarded by her protective parts). Their trust and comfort enabled the anger to learn of its actual impact: rather than helping her, it inadvertently pushed people away and out of the woman’s life. Anger was shocked and humbled. It only wanted to be an effective energy within her. It thus chose to “unburden” blame, rage and judgment and adopt qualities of assertiveness and confidence. Anger chose to team up with Self and become an effective ally for the woman by calmly expressing her feelings and needs to others, thus developing and enhancing her relationships.

Clients have made the following statements about IFS: “I feel like I know a part of myself that I never really knew existed and that I understand myself better.” “Does this form of therapy work as quickly with your other clients as it’s working for me?” And, “You know that part of me that always thought I was stupid? Well it feels like a microchip was removed from my brain.”

IFS promotes Self–Leadership. By working with your parts, eventually you lead the therapy sessions and, ultimately, your life. You recognize when a part starts to blend and get some separation and talk with it. You learn to express appreciation for how hard your parts work in their attempt to help you out. You alleviate the struggle between polarized parts and get to their core concern. You see progress. You feel more centered, calm and self–led. As a result, the peace you experience internally is reflected externally in all of your relationships and in your life.

If you're ready to honor ALL of your parts and free them to work cooperatively with one another...

Introduction to the Internal Family Systems Model, Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., Trailheads Publications, 2001.
Internal Family Systems Therapy, Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., Guilford Press, 1995.

Benita Silver

Founder, FearlessHealers

Hey, Benita here,

I provide spiritual mentorship to high-energy healers to trust their intuitive guidance system, embody their true essence, take their power, and manifest their soul’s passion. This process
is the culmination of everything I’ve learned in my over 40 years of personal and professional experience as an intuitive energy healer, psychotherapist, art therapist, mindfulness instructor,
and Tantric yoga practitioner.

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