What is Internal Family Systems?
Internal family systems (IFS) is one of the most powerful treatment approaches for complex trauma (C-PTSD), Dissociation, and dissociative disorders. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a theory, a therapeutic approach, and a paradigm shift. The idea behind IFS is that we all have an inner world of parts that help us function and survive in the external world. Our parts can be looked at as little people inside of us or subpersonalities. These parts of us carry jobs and roles that attempt to protect us.
We have all said something like, "A part of me wants to do this, but another part of me doesn't feel ready" Sometimes, we may find ourselves slipping into more parts either about ourselves or situations. Through Internal family systems, you will learn how to listen, understand, and build compassion towards each of your parts and understand that there aren't any bad parts. Through IFS, we can learn that each part is valid and has worried or concerns that need to be addressed. By learning to do so, we will better understand our challenges, our symptoms, and ourselves and be able to move forward in harmony.
How Does Internal Family Systems IFS Work?
In Internal Family systems, we Identify three types of parts:
In Internal family systems (IFS), Managers are proactive parts that attempt to protect us from anticipated perceived danger. Managers try to control how you are perceived. They often operate from the “never again” perspective. Never again will you be humiliated, rejected, abandoned, etc. An example of this could be a perfectionist part that is working hard to protect you from “looking dumb.” This part might carry the fear of failure. This part can make you overwork, ruminate about past mistakes and overthink current tasks, which is all motivated by the attempt to protect you from the perceived danger of failure.
In Internal family systems (IFS), Firefighters are the reactionary parts that come in to soothe emotional pain when a trigger is present. This may happen when a manger part cannot protect us from the threat. Some examples of firefighters can be drinking, sleeping, binge-watching tv, or eating parts. These parts can also show up as pain in the body as they can serve as distractions for emotional pain. What parts of you show up if you find yourself in emotional pain? These are probably your firefighters coming in to put out the pain.
Something to remember is that anything can be either of these parts. It just depends on the intention of the part.
In Internal family systems (IFS), Exiles are the parts of us that carry the pain, trauma, and wounds. Our managers and firefighters are working so hard to protect us from these parts. Our most vulnerable parts are locked up or frozen in the past. This happens when we are trying to forget about the past. We lock up our most painful memories because we fear the overwhelm and reaction from our protectors. When we let our protective parts run our lives, we reinforce the idea of keeping our pain exiled.
All parts have good intentions. They have helped us survive our painful world, but many of them have been overburdened with extreme jobs. Many times if you ask these parts if they would like to have another job and that you can assure them you would still be safe, they would happily shift their roles, but this takes time. This is where Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy comes in. An IFS-informed therapist can help you build safe relationships with these parts of you and heal the exiles. This will make it so that these burdened parts don't have to work so hard. The ultimate goal of IFS is to bring balance and understanding of your inner world.
The Final Component in our inner world:
In Internal family systems (IFS), Self is the final component in our inner world. This is the internal resource of healing that we all have. When we are in self, we are experiencing one or more of what IFS calls the 8 C’s. The 8 C’s include compassion, Creativity, Connection, Calm, Curiosity, Confidence, Clarity, and Courage. The bodily experience of Self would be a sense of openness in the body, feeling lighter, and breathing feels calm. This core of us is what facilitates the internal healing process. We are more than our parts; we all have this core self within us that isn't touched by trauma and the external world. When we start communicating to our parts from "our self," we can heal.
Internal family systems give us a framework for how our inner world works. Everyone's experience through this process will look different as we are all unique, but we all have the chance to heal.