What is Internal Family Systems?


Nov 02, 2016 #1

Internal Family Systems therapy on a small scale helps one transform behavioral/thought/emotional patterns that they are seeking to change.
On a larger scale IFS therapy can guide the transition from a 'parts'-led system to a 'self'-led system.

What are parts?

Children are naturally trusting and hopeful. Consequently, they are vulnerable. A child placed in a situation that is damaging to him/herself will develop will develop in their psyche strong emotion-based mechanisms to protect themselves.

For example, an eight-year-old David was trying fix his/her parents' broken marriage. Each attempt began with hope, and ended in failure. But David kept trying, and the consequences of the repeated cycle of hope to failure was starting to take its toll. At this point a 'part' inside of David decided to take action, out of concern for him. This 'part', that was a thinking feeling personality within David, took on a role within the psyche to end the cycle. It decided to project a strong feeling of helplessness whenever David attempted to do a task with an unknown outcome.

The next time this child is about to start the process of attempting to fix his/her parent's marriage, he felt a wave of 'helplessness envelope him, and he abandoned the effort. Because of its strong emotional component, David subconsciously began do to do whatever he could to prevent the recurrence of this feeling, including abandoning his plans to save his parents marriage. The "Helpless" part had succeeded, and would remain in the background of David's life, ready to blend with him and send its important message whenever the situation may require. This part is called an 'exile'.

Fast-forward twenty years. David is now a businessman, who will only take on tasks that he knows that he will succeed in. Anything with any measure of risk, no matter the potential reward he avoids. You see, David has new 'protector' parts. These parts have one goal.. to prevent the exiled 'helpless' feeling from surfacing and overwhelming David. One such part, a manager, constantly watches out for any situation with risk that may present itself. Those situations can potentially trigger the 'helpless feelings, and must be avoided at all costs. This manager projects a mantra to David "Risk is bad! Do something safer."

But what happens when the manager fails? When David's friend starts encouraging him to ignore his reservations and take some risks, another protector senses the danger and jumps in and lashes out in anger. "Leave me alone!" David yells, not knowing what has taken over him. This part is aptly called a firefighter. Thus, this internal family system inside of David consists of an exile (helplessness), and two protectors- a manager (discouraging) and a firefighter (anger).

What is 'self'? Put simply it is your essence; your soul. And your 'self' has the ability and responsibility to heal and lead all of the parts.

Last edited by Zev on 12:57 AM - Mar 08, 2018, edited 2 times in total.