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What Are the Parts of Internal Family Systems Therapy and Where Did They Come From?

Have you ever heard of the mind referred to as a small family? Or maybe you’ve heard of the mind as a concept that can easily be divided into different parts? Are you curious as to what these parts might be? What about the origins of this theory?

Developed in the 1980s by family therapist Richard Schwartz, Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) follows that concept and divides the mind into smaller parts, much like an internal family. No part of the mind is ever considered bad.

However, some parts take on more extreme roles that may end up harming us more than helping us. In order to better understand how IFS works, it’s important to know exactly what the different parts of the mind are.

The Self

The Self in IFS is considered the main part of who you are. It’s the part of you that is inherently good. It represents your compassion, your creativity, and your confidence. It represents all the positive aspects that help you live a balanced life.

While the Self cannot be broken or corrupted, other parts of your mind can blend with your Self very well. Some may even imitate it so well, you might lose sight of the Self entirely. The Self is a main part of IFS, as it’s the only part of your mind with the ability to bring balance.

The Exiles

The Exiles are parts of your mind that have taken on your pain and trauma. Because of that, they want to be heard and acknowledged. They are called Exiles because other parts of your mind with different roles try to force them out of your consciousness to help you carry on with your day. It takes a lot of energy to repress them, it can be exhausting to do so every day.

female sitting on dock looking at waterThe Managers

The Managers are some of the parts of your mind that try to keep the Exiles from causing you distress. In order to do so, Managers do their best to avoid any potential triggers that may call the Exiles back to your consciousness. They also keep the systems of your mind working and stable on a daily basis.

Managers are very good at imitating the Self, to the point where sometimes it might be easy to accidentally confuse one of your Managers as being your Self. This is where IFS is useful, as part of its aims is to untangle Managers and other parts from the Self.

The Firefighters

Firefighters are the parts of your mind that come into play when the Managers fail. When Exiles manage to force themselves into your consciousness despite the Managers’ best efforts, the Firefighters are there to put out the metaphorical fire. Usually, they do so by providing distractions and shifting the focus of your attention onto other, less distressing things.

The problem is that some behaviors encouraged by Firefighters can be addictive or dangerous. As distractions, they work, but these behaviors can also cause you a lot of harm.

What IFS Does

IFS promotes the healing of this internal system through a six-step process. The aim of IFS is to separate your Self from other parts of your mind. With the Self-isolated, it can now function as a sort of mediator between the different parts of your mind and bring balance to your inner family.

Though it initially started as a type of therapy for eating disorders, IFS can help you deal with a variety of mental health conditions. It can be effective in trauma therapy, especially. It doesn’t matter what your reason for trying IFS is. If IFS sounds like something you’d like to try for yourself, then don’t be afraid to schedule an appointment by contacting us.