Internal Family Systems

We tend to think of ourselves as having a singular identity, but really we have different parts of ourselves that are often in conflict. For example, have you ever been around someone for too long and gotten annoyed of them? Maybe one part of you is saying mean things in your head and wants them to leave as soon as possible, but another part of you loves that person, wants them around, and feels bad for having those thoughts and feelings. Maybe two of your best friends are going out to dinner and don’t invite you. One part of you, your inner child, may feel the harsh feeling of exclusion. Another, more adult part of you knows that it has nothing to do with you and there is no problem with them having dinner without you. After observing clients in therapy in the 1990s, Richard Schwartz proposed that people have different parts of themselves which make up an internal family system (IFS). The more we acknowledge these different parts of ourselves, the more we can untangle the conflicting web in our heads, and use the different parts to help each other and aid in our overall healing. For example, when your inner child is upset about not being asked to dinner, your inner mother can comfort the inner child. As children, we are often helpless when bad things happen to us. For example, if you had an angry dad, there might not have been any way to escape that at the time. When you are exposed to yelling or anger as an adult, your inner child might have a strong reaction, as if it were still in that same situation with your father. Your inner mother can soothe the inner child, and tell her the situation is not the same as when you were young. You can even create your own inner father, who treats you like you should have been treated and helps fill holes that may have been left by your childhood. Parts work can also help us deal with the sides of ourselves we aren’t proud of. We can see these sides as a specific part, and recognize that there are other parts who wish to be better and who can guide this part. It may be most helpful to do IFS in therapy, but there are also several resources online that can help you get started on your IFS journey on your own.