Understanding Internal Family Systems

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a model of the mind that assumes each individual possesses a variety of sub-personalities, or “parts,” and through a therapeutic modality a person attempts to get to know each of these parts better to achieve healing.

The IFS model says that the mind is multiple, rather than one – that we have different “parts” of ourselves with different needs, desires, patterns, personalities, and gifts. By learning how these different parts function as a system, how the overall system reacts to other systems, and how the “parts” engage with other people, an individual can become better able to identify the roots of conflict, manage complications that arise, and achieve greater well-being.

IFS assists an individual learn to make contact with these “parts”, have conversations to learn about them, and in turn help an individual heal. The different kinds of “parts”, include:

  • Exiles: hurt parts of ourselves that carry wounds and traumas from the past, and are isolated from our everyday internal life for their protection
  • Protectors / Managers: parts of us that are invested in isolating and protecting the exiles in different ways that have worked for us in the past, preventing the exiles from being activated or triggered
  • Firefighters: parts that protect us when the exiles are activated, usually by engaging in addictive or self-destructive patterns of different kinds

Underneath each of these “parts” is the “Self”, which is who we really are: the part of us that observes each of the “parts”, and if we let it, can lead the “parts”. When we establish a relationship between our “Selves” and our “Parts”, we heal those “parts” and come into harmony with ourselves.

Get Started With IFS

If you want to start understanding your Internal Family System, it can be as simple as bringing up something you’re thinking or feeling, and asking yourself what different “parts” of you think about it. For example, you might be in a difficult situation at work, and part of you feels frustrated with a colleague, while part of you feels sad and abandoned because it’s reminded of a similar situation in your childhood.

Once you’ve identified different “parts” that are feeling things about the situation, you can choose one to work with and begin to have a conversation with it. What is that part of you thinking or feeling? Where did it come from? What does it need from you?

There is a lot more nuance to this method, and we encourage you to talk with a mental health professional as you begin this method of practice, but it can also be as simple as noticing that there are different “parts” of you, and having an internal dialogue with those “parts”.

So, while it’s best to try IFS with a therapist or someone who’s familiar with the model, it’s also something you can try on your own. Here are some resources to learn more:

Join us for the NM 5-Actions Program™ discussion on Embracing Your Internal Family (especially during the holidays). Register for the webinar here.

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