Internal Family Systems

‘Internal Family Systems’ (IFS) isn’t about your outside family, it is a model of therapy that has become a way of life for many people that learn it (as therapists or clients). The model says that we are not one fixed personality, we are actually made up of many different parts- our inner family.

IFS says that who we really are (called our ‘Self Energy’) is clear, connected, calm, curious, courageous, creative, confident and compassionate, it is who we are when there are no problems to solve.

We ALL have Parts.

Exiles:

In childhood, we all experienced moments (to a smaller or greater degree) of feeling bad, sad, ashamed and scared. These young parts of ourselves are exiled to the metaphorical basement, holding that pain, so that we never have to feel that way again. (We can also exile older parts of ourselves that hold pain more recent difficult experiences). These parts are called our ‘Exiles’.

Protective Parts

Managers:

In order to never have to feel that pain again, we have parts that work as protectors. Some manage our lives for us- common ways they do this is through perfectionism, people pleasing, comparison, caretaking, overthinking and self-criticism.

Fire Fighters:

But if the pain of the exiled parts gets out, (ie we get triggered), other parts come and do whatever it takes to block out that pain, often through using things like food, alcohol, social media, netflix, online shopping, dissociating, withdrawing, etc.

Polarized Parts

Parts work in tension with each other. For example, say you had a parent that was critical about your homework when you were young, they wanted you to do well, but you felt ashamed and not good enough. The young ‘you’ holds the pain of ‘not being good enough’ and is exiled away from conscious awareness.

A Manager part takes on a self-critical voice, making sure you criticise yourself, before anyone else gets a chance to do that, this ‘Self -Critic’ works hard in this way to make sure the pain of the exile never gets out.

But if a partner, friend or boss says, “Why did you do it like that?” with a voice that reminds us somehow of the critical parent, the pain of the exile does leak out. So our Firefighter part rushes in – Firefighter parts don’t care about consequences, they just want the pain to stop. Maybe yours shuts you down and you withdraw, maybe you decide to quit your job / relationship / friendship, perhaps your Firefighters take you to the Bottle Shop, whatever works to numb and distract and lock the exile back into the basement of your subconscious mind.

No Bad Parts

Our parts are all just trying to help us avoid pain and to feel better, but they are sometimes stuck in extreme roles and cause us suffering, and paradoxically create more of what we don’t want. They do this, because they are working from scripts that were created a long time ago, when difficult experiences happened. Working with your Internal Family System of parts, you get to know them and get to understand how (from their limited lens of awareness) they are trying to help. We help them let go of extreme roles and become more helpful and relaxed. For example the Self-Critic part discussed above could become a Coach, a voice in your mind that doesn’t beat you up- but provides constructive and supportive feedback. A Firefighter part might not need to take you to the Bottle Shop, but could remind you to take a break sometimes and do something fun.

Internal Family Systems Informed Yoga:

Yoga is a powerful way to meet and work with our parts, and perhaps even to have glimpses of Self Energy. We start with an IFS meditation, then as we move through a series of hatha yoga poses- we stay aware of different parts that arise. We take some moments at the end of class to journal about what arose, and finish with a short relaxation to bathe in Self Energy.

Internal Family Systems Therapy Cairns & Online:

Individual Sessions of Internal Family Systems Informed Therapy are available. Ella Shannon has been offering Internal Family Systems Informed Therapy in Cairns for the last few years. Ella is currently undertaking the official Internal Family Systems Training, it is so popular that entry is via a lottery system- after 4 years she got a place. Ella has invested in extensive non-official training in Internal Family Systems over the last 4 years, and is trained in Attachment and IFS EMDR with Dr Annabel McGodlrick, and is one of the facilitators supporting this 16 week /48hr training program for other therapists.