Internal Family Systems (IFS) reflects our outer world to our inner world. Its takes our relationships in real life and mirrors them to the relationships in our head. IFS examines dynamics in the family setting and relates them to how relationships function within us.
What do I mean by our “inner world”, “in our head”, and “within us?” I mean the parts inside of us. No, not in a split personality way. Yes, in a “we-all-have-parts-inside-of-us” way. No, you’re not crazy. Yes, it’s a little weird. The truth is, contrary to popular belief, we all have a ton of parts within us.
Imagine it like a board meeting around a big…make that very big…table. Around that table sits our loving part, our anxious part, our angry part, our sad part, our funny part, our image-manager part, our partier part, our binge-eater part, our scared part, our confused part, our lonely part, you get the idea. And sitting at the head of the table is our capital S, Self. Our Self can be identified because it embodies the 8 C’s. The 8 C’s are: Confidence, Creativity, Compassion, Curiosity, Connection, Clarity, Courage, and Calmness (Schwartz, 2021). Our Self is not a part, our Self is always there, and our Self is the essence of who we are.
Now our parts operate a little bit like a family might. Some parts are closer than others. Some parts protect other parts. Some parts don’t like other parts. Some parts are loud. Some parts are quiet and meek. Some parts stick together. Some parts don’t want to be seen. But all parts wish to be loved and understood.
And here’s the catch. And this is huge. There are NO BAD PARTS. Nope. None. Not even the one that rages and yells and screams. Not even the one that hit and maybe hurt someone. Not even the one that gets really jealous and envious. Let’s say this again. We have NO BAD PARTS.
Now if you weren’t thinking this approach sounded a little coo-coo before, you may be thinking so now. But bear with me, I bet there is a part inside of you that is resonating with this.
What I mean when I say we have no bad parts is that all our parts have good intentions for us. That doesn’t mean some of our parts can be extremely hurtful to ourselves or those around us. And it certainly doesn’t mean we are absolved of the responsibility of things we have done. It means that the parts we have trouble imagining not being bad, have good intentions behind them.
Let’s take for example, a part that rages. When this part is in the driver’s seat, we are big, loud, aggressive, and scary. On the surface, this certainly seems like a bad part. But if we have the capacity—either within us or with a trained therapist or both—to allow some curiosity, compassion, and understanding for this part, we will find, every time, that there is something deeper this part is trying to protect us from. It is trying its best to keep us safe. Its learned from past events, that when we are in a situation that feels unsafe, which may look like feeling vulnerable, or feeling criticized, or feeling misunderstood, our rage part shows up in order to keep us safe—maybe not physically, but emotionally and psychologically. Because somewhere along the line, we’ve learned that being vulnerable or being criticized or being misunderstood was not safe. Those parts are buried beneath the rage. We don’t see them. We see rage. We don’t feel them. We feel rage. We’ve learned it’s safer to feel rage than to feel vulnerable, criticized, or misunderstood.
So what do we do with this information? Well, in a very tangible way, we begin to get to know our parts, our inner world. We check in with them, we conversate with them, we ask them what they need or what they’re trying to protect us from. We build trust with them, the same way we’d build trust in any other relationship. We work with someone skilled who can guide us to free these parts from their burdens, from the extreme roles they’ve been put into. And ultimately, we allow our capital S, Self, to take the lead. We move forward with a greater understanding of our parts and our Selves.
Schwartz, R. (2021). No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with The Internal Family Systems Model. Sounds True.
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