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Internal Family Systems Therapy


What is IFS? 

Have you ever had the experience where you've said or done something you immediately regret? Maybe you had an interaction with your partner and said something nasty because you were hurt. Normally you aren't an angry person, but every now and then this spiteful feeling comes out. After the fact, you may notice that you start feeling shame over how you just acted. That angry feeling can feel foreign, not the embodiment of who you really are. This is what IFS would call a "part", and through the IFS lens, your personality is comprised of many different parts. What can lead to distress in your life is when these parts come in to conflict with each other. People often come in to therapy feeling like these aspects of them are controlling them. IFS can help you bring harmony to these aspects of your self, through fostering compassion, confidence, and curiosity. So what are the different pars?

Exiles: These are the parts that hold distress, painful memories, emotions, and experiences. They are parts that may have experienced trauma, or other negative life events, and have taken on the burdens from those experiences. These "burdens" often present as negative beliefs (I'm worthless, I have no control) which accompany strong emotions and even physical sensations. 

Image by Noah Silliman
Meditation by the Sea

Protectors: These are the parts of our self that keep the painful experiences and emotions of the exiles...exiled. It is too painful, so they do what they can to prevent those feelings from coming up, or desperately try to suppress them if they do emerge. The parts that are proactive (prevent the feelings from coming up to begin with) are called managers. An example of a manager may be a part of you that keeps yourself really busy, to avoid having the exiled feeling emerge. The parts that act to suppress the exile if it does come up are called firefighters. Using alcohol is a common example of a firefighter that may come in to put out the seemingly unbearable feeling. 

Finally, there is your Self. Through IFS therapy, you can gain more access to qualities like compassion, curiosity and confidence, all aspects of self. Through IFS, you can become the leader of your parts, helping your exiles to release the pain they hold, and in turn inviting your protective parts  relax and shift in their roles. When the exiles can experience the compassion from your self, the protectors will no longer feel forced to continue behaving in the only way they have known until now. 

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