“In the night, I am kept awake by the endless chatter of my inner self.
I hear it speak softly of old hurts and fondly of past loves, while its demands and anxieties resound throughout me in multitudes”Beau Taplin
Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) recognizes that there are many conflicting needs living inside of us. For example, there may be a part of you that worries about being a good parent. This part will engage in hours of reading textbooks and listening to parenting podcasts. There may be an equally strong part of you that feels overwhelmed by this approach, so it copes by having you avoid your child.
IFS is an incredible type of therapy that acknowledges how our human mind is divided into various sub-personalities. These parts of us have different goals and motivations that can often conflict. Each part works to help support your system in the way that it feels is best for you, irrespective of whether it works. For example, there’s a part that anxiously watches the baby at night, and a part that drinks to stop the anxiety from being so loud. Unfortunately, these conflicting needs create more tension, more overwhelm, or more avoidance.
How does it work?
The Types of Parts in our System:
In the IFS model, we recognize that there are three types of parts that develop following a trauma or difficult event.
Exiles are the parts of our system that carry the emotional impact and burdens of a difficult or traumatic event. When awful experiences happen, these parts take on negative beliefs (e.g. I am a disappointment, I deserve bad things, I don’t belong).
Often times, these wounds happen at a young age. Imagine a five-year old being yelled at and criticized by her mother. She starts to question her worth and whether she is truly accepted in the family. Now, the same child has grown into an adult. Whenever she gets into arguments, that exiled part becomes triggered and starts to question her self-worth and her sense of belonging.
No wonder our system feels confused and overwhelmed. It’s not the current adult that’s struggling. It’s this young wounded part that’s been struggling for many years.
Managers are protective parts. These are the parts of our personality that try to prevent any element of the original trauma from repeating. These parts work hard to ensure our environment and relationships are kept in check so that we are not triggered.
That same five-year old had to keep surviving in her family. In order to prevent her mother from becoming angry or critical, her manager parts stepped in. They helped her excel in school so that she would not be criticized. They helped her stay quiet and avoid time at home so that she would not be in the line of fire. These managers even yelled at this kid, repeating some of mom’s words so that this five year old would change before mom became upset.
Common Manager Part Behaviours:
- People pleasing
Firefighters are protective parts. These are the parts of our personality that react when we are triggered and attempt to soothe the system. They are quick to react in order for you to not feel pain. Some of their strategies come with bigger consequences.
Once mom yells at this five-year old, her firefighter parts come up to soothe the system. They may encourage her to eat lots of candy because it will provide temporary relief. They may help her get lost in a book to provide that escapism that she desperately craves. Sometimes they show up as stomach aches, giving this little girl something else to focus on rather than her wounds. Other times they realize that mom is too much, and focus on tuning her out.
Common Firefighter Part Behaviours:
- Cancelling appointments
In order to work through our difficult emotions, we need to understand how these parts show up and the roles they play in our systems. In better understanding these various parts of our personality, our relationships with them begin to shift. Rather than feeling angry towards your shame or insecurities, you learn to appreciate and feel compassion towards this struggle.
What does an IFS session look like?
The therapist supports a client in first becoming aware of these various parts, and then starting the work of unblending. This means learning to separate from the overriding parts of us that are acting out. When unblending occurs, the therapist can then guide the individual to create a trusting relationship between these parts and his/her/their true Self.
Firefighters, Managers, Exiles: All parts are welcome!