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Discovering IFS: Polarization, Armony and Self Leadership

In invite you to read the previous article about IFS to get a better understanding of this.

An important aspect of the work in IFS is changing the relationship with parts that are polarized and helping them let go of that extreme role to re-establish harmony in the system and allow the Self to lead.

Polarization within the context of Internal Family Systems refers to the tendency for parts to become extreme in their perspectives or behaviors, leading to internal conflicts and emotional distress.

When parts polarize, they may adopt rigid and opposing positions, resulting in internal battles that can manifest as symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or relationship difficulties.

It is also essential to understand that besides polarization and conflict among parts, there are alliances that part establishes.

In our daily lives, we establish friendships with some people, while having conflicts with others, or we may not show any particular interest in some individuals.

Similar dynamics can be observed in our internal system as well.

Some parts of our system form alliances to achieve a specific goal or to keep an exiled part placated.

There might also be hierarchies within the system, and one or more parts may be able to impose their will on the rest of the system.


To better understand polarization, we can use the metaphor of a boat.

Imagine one sailor leans to one side of the ship; to counterbalance that, another sailor needs to go on the opposite side.

Both sailors want safe and smooth sailing, but neither of them would leave their position because they would be afraid that the boat could lose its balance and overturn, unless a captain (the Self), whose authority both recognize, tells them that it is safe to leave the extremity and that he is going to lead the boat.

Leaving the extremity of the boat means that the sailors are letting go of their extreme roles to listen to the captain, the Self.


If an event, such as trauma, disrupts the balance of our inner system, our parts may respond by taking on extreme roles to restore the balance.

The more traumatized the inner system, the more polarities are likely to develop. The protectors are the parts that are most commonly polarized.

The common problem polarized protectors have, it is the vulnerability of the exile and how to handle it.

A manager may adopt a strategy and become extreme in one direction, which can lead to the emergence of another manager or firefighter who is extreme in the opposite direction. In this polarized state, these parts create a dysfunctional balance that allows a person to cope with life.


Polarized protectors are more likely to cooperate and de-escalate when we understand both sides and favor neither; therefore, improving communication between the different parties and the self will be crucial.

In real life, conflicts are often maintained because of a lack of communication between individuals. The same dynamic applies to internal conflicts within parts, and polarization continues because some parts do not get to know each other well.

One critical element is understanding that each polarized party has the same primary goal: keeping the inner exiles safe and enabling the person to function.

This understanding can help to soften their grip and reduce the intensity of their roles.

Understanding the fears and hopes of these polarized parts is crucial.

Usually, this understanding can reveal the inner exile.

Healing the inner exile by assisting it in letting go of the burden through the self can enable the polarized parts to let go of their extreme roles.


In our protection system, we can have a manager who becomes a workaholic and a fire firefighter who uses substances to counterbalance all the stress the workaholic part brings to life.

Polarization also takes place between the exile part and the protecting part.

We may have an exile who craves human interaction, while a manager may view interaction as risky and, therefore, prefer to keep their distance from people.

An exile could want to be held in its pain, but a firefighter can numb that pain with food.

Nevertheless, some of our most important work involves changing the relationships between parts.

Every person has polarized parts that maintain each other’s extremes.

On a continuum, parts in less polarized systems tend to be more cooperative and don't need much individual attention, whereas highly polarized systems with warring parts require considerably more attention.


Some key principles and qualities for a healthy human internal system are Balance, Harmony, and Leadership.

When we work with our polarized parts, and bring more Self energy in the system, our parts can start to trust the leadership of the Self, move out from their extreme role, and find their ideal.

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