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Discovering IFS: Meeting the Exile and the Self

Updated: Apr 11

I warmly encourage you to read the previous article to understand this one better.

In the previous article, we discussed the concept of the protecting parts. Their presence indicates that one or more parts of ourselves have been exiled.

These exiled parts are like children or very young parts of ourselves that have experienced trauma, been subjected to

relational wounds, or have been devalued in some way.

As a result of these experiences, they acquire a burden and get exiled by the protecting parts.


When we are children, we are sensitive and vulnerable.

Due to this vulnerability, specific experiences can have a lasting impact on us.

This impact can be caused by a single experience or repeated experiences over an extended period.

Here are some examples of negative experiences:

- Neglect

- Attachment wounds

- Humiliation

- Violation of boundaries

- Repeated judgement

- Rejection

- Lack of attunement from parental figures

Due to those experiences, the young part has acquired a burden.

This burden is represented by the emotions, feelings, and beliefs the part experienced in that situation.

It is important to clarify that the experience or the trauma doesn't create the part; it models the part by giving a burden.

At this moment, those parts are separated and isolated from the rest of the system; this is why they are called exile.

Exile carries the memory, emotions, and sensations of the situation they experienced; they are still frozen in the past when they were wounded.

Other parts fear them because if vulnerable emotions surface, they can become overwhelming and impair the person's ability to function.

From the perspective of protectors, isolating those parts is a way to survive and self-preservation.

The negative consequence of exiling young parts of ourselves is that we also disconnect from their positive qualities, such as curiosity, spontaneity, connection, and creativity.


The concept of exile is related to Jungian shadow and projection.

As we have seen, protectors disown the dangerous vulnerability of those exiled, which leads them to engage in projection by criticizing a disowned quality in us that may also be present in other people.

Managers will do that by criticizing internal or external other people.

Essentially, protectors tend to disown the dangerous vulnerability or quality of those exiled parts, leading them to engage in projection by criticizing other people who have the disowned quality also present in us.

Suppose an individual belongs to a family or culture that discourages the expression of a specific emotion or attitude.

In such a scenario, the manager may attempt to repress the parts that exhibit this emotion or attitude and may also condemn individuals who display it.

When we project, we reject not only our own feelings and parts but also the other person's actual feelings and parts.

Exiles seek redemption; they want to be seen and recognized.

They might be attracted to situations and people who resemble the characteristics of the situation where they were wounded.


IFS recognizes that everyone has a seat of consciousness, which is called the Self.

During our upbringing, we disconnect from the Self and allow different parts to take control of our lives.

Despite this disconnection, the Self remains intact and cannot be damaged.

This kind of disconnection from the Self is also fostered by the people who care for us; in fact, most of us don't have parents who could model the embodiment of the Self; we also learn from them to operate from our parts.

The feeling of being led by the Self rather than the part is experiencing a sense of calm, clarity, and other qualities.

The Self can be identified as the ability to observe our internal processes.

Embodying the Self is not a binary state; in fact, IFS acknowledges that there are varying degrees of the presence of Self-energy

We can recognize the presence of the Self when one or more of those qualities are present:

• Curiosity

• Calm

• Confidence

• Compassion

• Creativity

• Clarity

• Courage

• Connectedness

One of the primary objectives of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is to be guided by the Self rather than our part. This is achieved by building a relationship with both our Self and our part.

At times, it may be effortless to tap into our Self-energy, while at other times, our protective Part may intervene due to our lack of trust in the Self's ability to lead the system.

As we develop a deeper connection with our Self, the different parts of our personality do not disappear completely. However, they can learn to take a backseat and not play as dominant a role as they once did.

This is because they develop a trusting relationship with our Self.

Anyhow, remember that it's rare for someone to be in a state of pure Self and simultaneously experience the eight qualities described above.


We can embody more Self-energy and develop this relationship with our parts when we are non-blended from them.

The more you familiarize yourself with these qualities, the easier it will be to recognize when you're in Self and when you're not.

We can use the quality of the Self and relate to the part with those qualities.

Here are some examples of how to use the quality of Self to relate to our parts

When we get triggered, we can be Curious about our reaction and activation of our parts; this awareness that recognizes that a part was triggered is the first step from unblending.

Then, rather than letting our parts that are trigger to interpret the story, we can have a perspective on the situation and see the different points; this brings Clarity.

When we approach triggers with Curiosity and Clarity, we are more likely to experience Calmness, so, rather than reacting from a part, we can stay centered and choose to do something different that doesn't come from a reactive part.



Often, we tend to judge parts based on their actions without understanding their motives. However, if we are more empathetic and compassionate towards them, we may be able to comprehend why they behave the way they do.

This can help us develop a sense of compassion towards them.

IFS doesn't want to get rid of parts; it recognizes their importance when they can leave their extreme role and be led by the Self.

Like other systems in life, such as family, company, and nations, they function at their best when the leadership is designated.

When the Self emerges as a primary guide, we often discover that the Self holds the key to healing and growth.

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