Introduction to IFS therapy
What would you say if I told you that right in this moment there is a whole community of various internal personalities living inside your head? A kind of your personal inner family. Inner critic, inner child, ambitious part of your personality, spontaneous one, perfectionist, and so on..
The notion I am talking about is more and more present in how we see and understand human mind. Our personality consists of various parts. It’s not a homogenous entity, as it is still proclaimed by the society. You might have seen the animation film “Inside Out”, a story of a girl in whose head emotions dwell as persons, having their own needs and aims. This squad manages to get inside the cockpit and steer the girl’s life, behaviors, feelings and thoughts.
The truth is that each of us has such an internal family dwelling in our heads, and although it may seem a bit strange at first glance, when you look inside yourself, you are able to hear different voices. You are led by these internal forces. Sometimes you may feel torn between two things - one part of you wants something and the other wants something else. Some parts can be quite destructive to us, while others give us a great deal of support.
Psychology of subpersonalities is increasingly popular in our culture - more and more psychotherapeutic methods and models are being based on this idea. This unique perspective on the human psyche has completely changed the way I understand myself. I began to learn about different parts of myself, which allowed me to look in a completely new way on how I function on a daily basis.
There is no single “me”. Our mind naturally consists of parts, the so-called ,,subpersonalities". Some of these parts can have a destructive effect on us and cause various difficulties that we experience every day.
The IFS method allows us to create a map of our own psyche. We can look at our inner world from a completely different perspective, seeing parts that are in relations with each other. We can see that some parts are dominant in our lives. It can be the rational part that listens to logic and needs to have everything in place. Or the fearful part of the personality that sparks anxiety and fear in most situations in our lives. Or the inner workaholic who constantly pushes us to work harder.
Each of us has a completely unique set of internal parts. Just like a fingerprint is unique for each individual. Each person’s inner family differs depending on their upbringing and all their previous experiences.
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From the perspective of the IFS model, personality traits (character traits) are the most active parts of our personality that prevail at a given stage of life. Each part can change its role, that is reduce or increase the intensity of its impact on us. Our personality is not a fixed, unchanging entity.
IFS therapy allows us to establish dialogue with our parts. By closing your eyes, focusing on your inside and performing simple exercises, we can start talking to our parts. For example, I can establish a dialogue with my inner child. I might be able to envision that child as me when I was ten years old. I can also get in touch with a feeling of stress that I imagine as a black ball that is stuck in my throat.
When I make contact with these parts, I can start to communicate with them. When asking them questions I can hear spontaneous answers that flow from my subconscious mind - straight from this part. And it turns out that thanks to IFS we can start getting along with our parts. We can establish relationships with them. They can open up to us, and we can start to accept them more. By increasing our acceptance of various parts of our personality, our self-esteem becomes stronger and more grounded.
The core of the IFS model is the release of emotional burdens dragging some of our parts down. Usually these are the wounded child’s parts that have got tangled up in difficult memories of the past. We call these parts exiles - they are associated with our traumas, which means that they are the repressed parts of our personality locked up in the underground of our subconscious. However, in order to get to them, we must first be let in by the protective parts, referred to as either managers or firefighters, whose role is to prevent any overwhelming feelings from taking over us and help us run our day-to-day life.
IFS has become a kind of life philosophy for me. From the time I started exploring this method, I no longer consider these destructive parts as something bad, or negative, or something that needs to be eradicated. Instead, I choose to open my heart and, with kindness and curiosity, meet with these parts so that I can better understand and support them. This way I progress in my self-understanding.
In IFS, we embrace with self-compassion everything we find in ourselves. Instead of reacting, repressing, criticizing and trying to eradicate the vulnerable or extreme parts of our personality, we accept each of them with openness and kindness.
Interestingly, IFS is not only a valuable method of psychotherapy that we try to follow with a specialist, but it also works great as a self-therapy method. We can learn this process from A to Z and work on our own, simply by closing our eyes, through visualizations, and by making a dialogue with parts.
It is important, however, to first learn how this process works really well and only then start experimenting with it. We can begin to get to know our inside world better, using various strategies, like map the parts, write a diary about them, get in touch with them on a daily basis, etc. The better contact we have with our internal world, the more these most extreme parts relax, unbend, and finally even stop affecting our lives in such a negative way, but instead change their roles into positive ones.
Relationships with parts
Just as we establish and develop relationships with other people, we can build relationships with our internal family members. The parts that receive attention, compassion and kindness naturally open to the possibility of changing their behavior and become eager to work with us.
Having said that in this short introduction, I would like to recommend to you some more films in the series on the basics of IFS therapy, which I recorded to inspire you to changing the perspective from which you look at yourself. Perhaps it will be an opportunity for you to truly enter the path of self-knowledge and, walking that path, change some things in yourself and start feeling much better. In the next film I will say a little more about this mono-mind paradigm, which is still the most predominant view at the psyche in our society. You will learn how this paradigm affects our self-esteem and how we see ourselves, but also you will see how, on the other hand, the multiple personality paradigm frees us from many different internal limitations.
You will also learn what our parts really are like and how they work in our head, but far importantly how the IFS model differs from other therapeutic models and how it can help us work with the parts. I invite you to this adventure and travel deep inside myself. See you soon!