Jan 01, 2022

What is With All this Parts Talk: An Exploration of Internal Family Systems Therapy

In the grand tapestry of our psyche, the threads of our selves intertwine, creating the complex and colorful picture of who we are. Each of us is not just a singular entity but a blend of various "parts" or subpersonalities, each playing its unique role. This might not be an all to unfamiliar concept. Have you ever felt ambivalent? This is where you have mixed feelings about something like a decision or a person. This intriguing concept forms the cornerstone of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, an approach that has revolutionized how we perceive and navigate our inner world.

To understand IFS better, let's first address what is meant by "parts." Essentially, these are aspects of our personality that have their unique patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior. They might emerge due to various experiences, especially those in our formative years. Each part has its distinct voice, and sometimes these voices might seem to be in conflict, causing internal dissonance and struggles.

IFS delineates three primary categories of parts: Managers, Firefighters, and Exiles.

Example Time

Imagine Sam, a successful businessperson who's struggling with sudden bouts of anxiety and self-doubt. Sam's Manager part, responsible for his meticulous planning and control, has helped him build his career. However, this Manager part also constantly pressures Sam to avoid failure, leading to stress and anxiety. Occasionally, Sam finds solace in overeating, a Firefighter part's strategy to soothe his anxiety. Beneath these parts, an Exiled part carries Sam's childhood memories of being ridiculed for his mistakes, fostering his fear of failure. See a more detailed example on the right>>>>>>

I I were working with Sam using IFS therapy, I would guide Sam to understand these parts and their roles better, paving the way for internal harmony. The IFS process encourages compassion towards each part, acknowledging their efforts to protect the self. The goal is to help each part find a healthier, more productive role, fostering internal balance and healing.

As a Doctor of Clinical Social work I often draw from multiple modalities. While I am not an exclusive practitioner of IFS, I integrate its principles into my clinical repertoire.  This approach proves especially beneficial when we encounter roadblocks in our journey towards self-understanding and growth. By acknowledging and honoring each part's contributions, we can encourage them to release their burdens, creating space for healing and transformation.

IFS is a gentle invitation to embark on a journey within, to meet and understand the different parts of ourselves. By doing so, we foster internal harmony, resilience, and a more authentic connection with our true selves. So, are you ready to explore the fascinating world within you?

                  A Brief Exercise to Unearth Your Internal Family

Are you intrigued by the notion of your own parts? How do they coexist within you? Are they in concert or at odds? How can you learn to work with these parts to increase functioning? This introspective exercise beckons you to explore your internal family, a step toward acknowledging and comprehending your parts. Engage with this at your leisure, and consider bringing your insights to our next therapy session for further exploration.

Part Identification

Reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in various contexts. List the different parts that emerge. Some may be more prominent, while others may lurk in the background. Try to identify at least three parts.

Understanding Roles

Categorize each part as a Manager, Firefighter, or Exile based on the descriptions provided in the blog above. Note down any thoughts or feelings that arise as you do this.

Exploring Interactions

How do your parts interact with each other? Are there any conflicts or alliances? If a particular part were to have a conversation with another, what would they say?

Part 1 and Part 2: __________________________________________________

Part 1 and Part 3: __________________________________________________

Part 2 and Part 3: __________________________________________________

Finding the Balance

Finally, reflect on how your parts might contribute to your current struggles. Are there any patterns or insights that you can see? How might understanding your parts better help you address these struggles?

Final Thoughts

Remember, this exercise is not a test, but a tool to help you unravel the threads of your self. There's no 'right' or 'wrong' answer here. You're simply exploring the fascinating world within you. We'll dive deeper into your reflections in our next session, using them to guide your journey towards internal harmony and healing. Happy reflecting!

Lets Take the Example a Bit Further

Ok, so within the three main parts there can be subparts. Here is another example:

Imagine Jane, a high-achieving college student. She's incredibly diligent and ambitious, constantly pushing herself to excel. This behavior could be attributed to one of her Manager parts, which we'll call the "Taskmaster". The Taskmaster ensures that Jane stays on top of her studies, plans meticulously, and doesn't make mistakes.

However, within the "Taskmaster" manager, there might be several other sub-parts. One sub-part could be the "Perfectionist", who pushes Jane to avoid mistakes at all costs. Another sub-part could be the "Planner", who makes detailed schedules for Jane's study sessions and keeps her on track. A third sub-part might be the "Critic", who chastises Jane internally when she doesn't live up to the high standards set by the Perfectionist.

Meanwhile, Jane also has a Firefighter part that steps in when the pressure from the Taskmaster becomes overwhelming. This part might push Jane towards binge-watching her favorite shows or overindulging in sweets as a form of distraction or emotional numbing.

Beneath these layers, there's an Exiled part carrying a memory from Jane's past. It's a memory from when she was ridiculed in front of her classmates for a mistake on a project. This Exile part holds onto the pain and embarrassment from this experience, which feeds the fear of failure nurtured by the Taskmaster and its sub-parts.