Jane Chugg-White CBT

Internal Family Systems Therapy

 Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) was founded by Richard Schwartz in the early 1990's. 

It is based on the premise that we are all made up of different parts. This can sound a little frightening to some people.

A simple example that most people can relate to would be trying to decide whether to have a piece of cake/or buy something that we really like but don't necessarily need. It may be that part of us wants the cake because we love the taste of cake; or would like to buy the thing we have seen and like; but part of us doesn't want to eat the cake because we are trying to lose weight/reduce our sugar intake etc; or would prefer not to buy the thing we like because it feels self indulgent or because a few weeks before we had decided to save some money up for a holiday. There can then be a conflict within ourselves between these different parts. There may for example be a part of us that wants to take more care of ourselves or feels that we ought to take more care of ourselves; and this is in conflict with a part of us that wants to be a bit wreck-less or a part that struggles to take care of ourselves because we don't really feel we deserve it. There are all kinds of ways in which conflict within our own internal family system can arise. We may have a part that can sometimes be quite nurturing towards ourselves and another part that is very critical and harsh towards ourselves. Or a part that is conscientious and diligent; and another part that struggles with procrastination; and yet another part who tells us how bad we are for procrastinating etc etc. And another part who tells us we shouldn't be telling ourselves we are bad and another who says we should because then we might stop procrastinating. And so on..........  

The model also divides parts into categories

Exiles

These are usually young parts who have experienced trauma/criticism/neglect/abandonment/physical;sexual and/or emotional violation etc. These parts can become isolated from the rest of the parts in an effort to protect the person. They do this by holding all the feelings and emotions such as terror and helplessness from the original trauma.

Managers

These parts tend to run the day to day life of the person. They attempt to keep control of situations and relationships in order to try to protect the individual from feeling hurt again. 

Firefighters

These parts react when managers 'fail' and exiles are activated and they attempt to numb or control the feelings of the exiles. This can involve over eating; using drugs; self harming; being extremely self critical etc. 

 

An example of the above in action might be within a person who has experienced lots of criticism as a child and has grown up feeling that they are not good enough. They may have buried the pain deep within an exiled part. (Not necessarily consciously).  They may have developed a manager part who checks everything over and over again in their work and also tends to overwork in order to protect themselves from criticism and as a way to feel better about themselves. It may be that one day they are tired and make a mistake and this gets picked up by their boss. Because the manager part has seemingly failed; the person may begin to experience the pain of the exiled part which is the part who is holding all the past experiences of criticism. They may begin to feel extremely low and bad about themselves and not really know why. (they wont necessarily link it to the exiled part who is holding the past pain). Another part of them may even beat themselves up for feeling so awful and criticise themselves; telling themselves it is not such a big deal; saying things to themselves such as 'Why cant I handle it?' 'I am clearly weak and pathetic; people handle far worse.' But another part is  struggling to hold what has happened in perspective and fear that they will now lose their job; and think that they might as well hand their notice in now. The person may then go home and drink too much or overeat as a way of numbing from the feelings or be highly self critical or self harm as a way of punishing themselves. They may decide they will give in their notice; or pick a fight with their spouse. These reactions are all firefighter parts who are attempting to numb or control or protect from the pain of the original trauma of being criticised that is being held by the younger exiled part. The aim of IFS therapy would be to help the person to connect with their self energy (please see below about self energy) and to unburden from the past experience so that they are able to be free from the pain of this original event which enables the other parts to let go of their protective strategies and to utilise their energy in a different way.    

IFS is not about getting rid of parts; it is about helping them to unburden and to express who they were originally born to be.    

Self Energy

Self is the place where we can observe our other parts. Self is not a part. It is the essence of who we are. It holds the qualities of Calmness; Curiosity; Connectedness; Confidence; Creativity; Courage and Clarity. The IFS model holds that we all have self energy without exception and that it is something that we were all born with. It can get obscured by difficult experiences. In IFS the therapist encourages self to part communication. The self in the persons system can be gradually trusted as the non judgemental unconditionally loving parent to the individuals system. The system can begin to learn to trust self to take care of things so that each part can work together with each other and become who they were truly born to be.  Self energy can be a bit like the sun that becomes obscured by clouds or sometimes completely eclipsed. The system can become 'hijacked' or blended with parts to such an extent that a person can struggle to find or connect with; or even know or believe they have self energy. When an individual has experienced alot of trauma it can be difficult for that person to connect with self energy or they can struggle alot to trust their self energy. In these cases it is sometimes necessary for the therapist to temporarily take the role of self energy during the therapy sessions until the person is able to begin to discover their own self energy.  

In Internal Family systems no parts are viewed as bad. The model helps a person to get to know each part and to find out why and when it has developed and what its role in the persons system is. It will usually be attempting to protect the person and often is protecting one of the exiles who is holding enormous pain and burden from a traumatic experience.  Once work has been done with the protector parts and agreement is given by the whole system the exile can be worked with and trauma can be processed and unburdened. 

  

 

 

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