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WHAT IS INTERNAL FAMILY SYSTEM?

Updated: Apr 11

Our society is highly influenced by the mono-mind belief system. This view assumes that all thoughts, emotions, impulses, and urges come from a single mind.

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a therapeutic model and approach developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz, and wants to offer a different view that explores the intricate inner workings of the human mind and suggests that within each individual, there are various sub-personalities or Parts, each with its unique characteristics, emotions, and functions.




This concept of Part or sub-personality is already known in psychology. Freud divided the mind into id, ego, and superego. After him, several therapeutic modalities were built around this concept of subpersonalities.


IFS IS A SYNTHESIS OF THREE PARADIGMS:


Multiciplity of mind: each person contains many different subpersonalities.


Systemic thinking: intrapsychic processes are conceived as a dynamic system where different Parts interact with one another.


Spirituality: reconnection to a main Essence or Self within each person, as described in many spiritual traditions.


We all have continuous and complex interactions with our inner voice, patterns of thinking, and emotions within ourselves; when we can lower the volume of those voices, we can get in touch with this Self that IFS talks about.


From now on, I will refer to the "System" as the sum total of its Parts.


THE BASIC PREMISE OF IFS MODEL


  • By nature, the mind contains sub-personalities or Parts. Having multiple personalities or parts is normal and useful.


  • The impact of trauma charges the Part with a burden of emotions, sensation, and memory; this makes other Parts want to protect the system from re-experiencing those feelings.


  • Each Part carries a positive intention; there are no bad Parts, the goal of IFS therapy is not to get rid of Parts but to help the Part to find a more functional and healthy role in the system.


  • The change that takes place in the internal system, will also affect outside.


  • Everybody has a Self. Many spiritual traditions recognize that within ourselves, there is something that is not condition by society and can be seen as our true nature; IFS call this Self, other tradition Essence.


HOW THOSE PARTS WORK


We can better understand those parts if we relate to them as a single individual.


Each Part is an autonomous mental system with unique emotion, expression, ability, desire, and vision.

We can begin to track these parts within ourselves by paying attention to certain indicators:


Thought

Feelings

Sensations

Memory

Inner voices

Words

Dream

Physical symptoms

THE THREE ROLES OF PART


There are three roles that are recognized in the system, out of which two are meant for protection: Managers and Firefighters.

The third role is known as Exile, which is the Part of the system that needs to be protected.

It is the most vulnerable and, as the name suggests, it is hidden within the system.


EXILE


Some Parts of us get exiled to avoid overwhelming the system with emotions, memories, beliefs, and feelings. These Parts are often very young and hold onto past wounds. Other Parts fear them because they become desperate for attention when isolated. When activated, these exiled Parts can cause overwhelming emotions and compromise our ability to function.


MANAGERS


These are the primary Parts we use to navigate the world and make us feel secure. Managers hold great responsibility to maintain life stable and in order, and its main goal is to protect the system from the feeling of vulnerability, pain, and instability of the Exile.

We can recognize it as it represents the prominent voice we hear in our head.

It wants to control everything or, in some cases, can be very pleasing.

Managers suggest how life should be lived, according to family, culture, and society.


FIREFIGHTERS


When, despite the work of the Managers, the pain of the Exile get activated, the Firefighter enters into action.

To understand their works better, we can think of Firefighter in real life: they respond to emergencies by putting out fires using water.

In the same way, this Part inside ourselves uses whatever tools to turn down the emotional pain of the Exile.

Firefighters are very reactive and impulsive, making them less accepted socially. In fact, they do that without thinking about the consequences; they might use substances or activities to numb the pain of the Exile.


THE BURDEN


The burden is a load that the Part is carrying, and it's made of:


-Negative believe

-Emotions

-Sensation

-Feelings

-Negative energy


This burden has been absorbed and accumulated by trauma or adverse life experiences.

Burden, can also be transmitted by culture and society, or by the lineage of our family.

The burden is something that the Part is carrying, and can be seen like a virus that contaminate the Part.


The key point to understand, is that those Parts believe to be the burden, but they are not.

In IFS therapy we don't want to get rid of a Part, but find a way to release the burden, so the different Part can cooperate with each other in a harmonious way.


This allows for a reconnection with the Self, which becomes the healing agent for the Exile and the energy that manages the system.


MORE ABOUT THE SELF


This Self exists within us and cannot be damaged, but because of trauma and early experience, we can disconnect from it.


IFS offers a path towards a life where we live through the leadership of our Self instead of our Parts.

When we are not polarized/overwhelmed by our Parts, we can feel the energy of Self: its presence is not black and white; there are different degree in which is energy can be found within us.

The more we connect with this energy, the more it can lead our Parts.


THE QUALITY OF THE SELF THE EIGHT C


We can recognize that we are embodying the energy of the Self

when one or more of those eight qualities are present:

  1. Curiosity

  2. Compassion

  3. Clarity

  4. Connectedness

  5. Creativity

  6. Courage

  7. Confidence

  8. Calm


GOAL OF IFS THERAPY


We want to free our internal parts from their extreme roles so they can function better within our system.

By doing so, we can reestablish confidence in the leadership of the Self. This can lead to finding a better balance, harmony, and integrity in our lives, and ultimately, it allows us to bring more positive energy into the world.






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