How Can Internal Family Systems (IFS) Help You?

IFS is a transformative, effective, and powerful approach. It helps us learn to connect with ourselves compassionately while helping us gain the confidence to trust in our own abilities to heal ourselves.

Trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk stated that IFS is one of the most effective approaches in addressing trauma. IFS is evidence-based and registered in the National Registry for Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP), maintained by the United States of America government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). NREPP registered approaches are subject to rigorous testing to be deemed significant in impacting our mental health and well-being.

Additionally, IFS has been rated effective in improving general functioning and well-being and improving:

  • Phobias
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Physical health symptoms
  • Depression and depressive symptoms

A new perspective.

I will be honest; when I first started learning about IFS, I was skeptical because it is different. What helped put me at ease was taking a moment to explore where my skepticism was rooted. As a society, we have been conditioned to believe that we have one mind and that our thoughts and feelings emerge from a singular personality. However, if we think about it, there are times when we held two opposing thoughts, beliefs, views, feelings or parts, without realising it. I have provided some examples below:

  • ” I am excited about this new job offer, and I want to take it, BUT I am afraid of trying new things. What if I fail? “
  • ” I need to speak up for myself, BUT I don’t want to look like a fool. I’d rather stay silent. There is too much at risk.”
  • ” I need to be kinder to myself, BUT that happened to me a long time ago. I should really be over it by now. I don’t know what is wrong with me.”

Take some time to reflect. Can you think of a time when you experienced opposing thoughts, beliefs, views, or feelings about a situation? What belief or part dominates your system?

Other therapies use ego state, schema, id/ego/superego, and archetypes to describe the phenomena about parts that I mentioned above.

All parts are welcome.

Once we can recognise and identify these different parts, we take on a non-pathologising view of psychological distress. IFS helps transform our internal landscape by helping us recognise, acknowledge, and honour our parts. We have been conditioned to ignore, suppress, reject, and bury aspects of ourselves (i.e., anxious, angry, or depressed parts). In IFS, we learn to listen to these parts. Richard Schwartz, the founder of IFS, explained that these parts take on extreme roles as a way to help us survive. By the process called unblending, we can gain clarity while taking a compassionate, courageous, calm, confident, creative, and connected approach to living.

Getting to know our parts.

As previously mentioned, IFS believes in honouring all our parts. To do that, we have to identify and learn about the functions, burdens, fears, and hopes that each part holds. In doing this, polarised parts that take on extreme roles ease back, allows us to gain access to Self, which ultimately helps restore harmony. I have included an image of the roles of managers, firefighters, exiles, and Self below.

Image of our internal system and roles. Text from Mariel Pastor, LMFT; Internal Family Systems by Richard Schwartz, PhD; Graphics by Fai Monaghan, MIACP, MA.

In summary.

We are born with parts, which are naturally valuable states and gifts. These parts make up our personality. They have their own thoughts, feelings, way of viewing the world and operate as a system. Parts become burdened and forced to take on extreme roles from our negative life experiences. Below are examples of how our system is affected by burdens:

  • Manifest as negative cognitions, emotions, memories and behaviours.
  • Take a toll in our body and mind causing physical and emotional dysregulation.
  • Causes us to disconnect from others and our own feelings.
  • We lose trust in our abilities and our Self.

Through IFS, we learn to gain access to our Self, which has a natural ability to love and feel joy. Our Self has the capacity to lead parts in the system and restore balance and harmony.

To learn more about IFS, or to see how IFS can help you, get in contact with me today.

Image by Alonso Reyes

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