461 – Internal Family Systems Theory

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Dr. Dawn-Elise Snipes
~ Define Internal Family Systems Theory
~ Identify when it is used
~ Explore guiding principles

~ For more information and training programs in IFS, go to https://www.selfleadership.org/
~ IFS was developed in the 1990s by family therapist Richard Schwartz, Ph.D.,
~ It is based on the concept that an undamaged core Self is the essence of who you are, and identifies three different types of sub-personalities or “families” that reside within each person, in addition to the Self.
~ Wounded and suppressed parts called exiles (lost child)
~ Managers, that keep the exiled parts suppressed (enabler)
~ Firefighters, that distract the Self from the pain of exiled parts. (hero/mascot/scapegoat)
~ The Internal Family Systems Center for Self-Leadership conducts training programs
Basic Assumptions
~ The mind is subdivided into an indeterminate number of subpersonalities or parts.
~ Everyone has a Self which can lead the individual's internal system.
~ The non-extreme intention of each part (exile, manager and firefighter) is something positive for the individual.
~ There are no “bad” parts
~ The goal of therapy is not to eliminate parts but instead to help them find their non-extreme roles.
~ As we develop, our parts develop and form a complex system of interactions among themselves
~ When the system is reorganized, parts can change rapidly.
~ Changes in the internal system will affect changes in the external system and vice versa.
~ Subpersonalities are aspects of our personality that interact internally in sequences and styles that are similar to the ways in which people interact. (exile and the manager or the firefighter and the Self)
~ Parts may be experienced in any number of ways — thoughts, feelings, sensations, images, and more.
~ All parts want something positive for the individual and will use a variety of strategies to gain influence within the internal system.
~ Parts that become extreme are carrying “burdens” — energies that are not helpful, such as extreme beliefs, emotions, or fantasies.
~ Parts can be helped to “unburden” or recognize their role and return to their natural balance.
~ Parts that have lost trust in the leadership of the Self will “blend” with or take over the Self.
~ Young parts that have experienced trauma and become isolated or suppressed in an effort to protect the individual from feeling the pain, terror, fear, and so on, of these parts
~ Exiles are often young parts holding extreme feelings and/or beliefs that become isolated from the rest of the system (such as “I’m worthless,” “I must be successful to be lovable,” “I am a failure”)
~ Exiles become increasingly extreme and desperate as they look for opportunities to emerge and tell their stories
~ Want to be cared for and loved and constantly seek someone to rescue and redeem them
~ Can leave the individual feeling fragile and vulnerable

~ Managers are proactive and try to avoid interactions or situations that might activate an exile’s attempts to break out or leak feelings, sensations, or memories into consciousness.
~ Different managers adopt different strategies controlling, perfectionism, co-dependency
~ The primary function of all mangers is to keep the exiles exiled….
~ Common managerial behaviors: controlling, perfectionism, high criticism, narcissism, people pleasing, avoiding risks, being pessimistic, constantly striving to achieve
~ Ask…What would trigger the exiles and how can that be prevented?
~ Common managerial symptoms: Emotional detachment, panic attacks, somatic complaints, depressive episodes, hypervigilance
~ Have the same goals as managers (to keep exiles away) but different strategies
~ Managers want you to look good and be approved of, FFs only care about distracting from the pain so they are often in conflict. (Shoulds)
~ Are reactive and automatically activated when an exiled part is activated (rejection, isolation, failure, traumatic memories…)
~ Their function is to eliminate the dysphoric feelings, thoughts, sensations and memories without regard for the consequences. (Autopilot/reactive/emotional mind)
~ Can do this in any number of ways, including drug or alcohol use, self-mutilation (cutting), binge-eating, compulsive sexuality

~ The self is the “moderator” that the parts are talking to, that likes or dislikes, listens to, or shuts out various parts
~ When differentiated, the Self is competent, secure, self-assured, relaxed, and able to listen and respond to feedback. (afraid/wounded; should and avoidant)
~ The Self can and should lead the internal system.
~ Various levels of experience of the Self:
~ When completely differentiated from all parts (Self alone), people describe a feeling of being “centered.”
~ When the individual is “in Self” or when the Self is in the lead while interacting with others (day-to-day experience), the Self is experienced along with the non-extreme aspects of the parts.
~ An empowering aspect of the model is that everyone has a Self.

3 Goals of IFS
~ Free the parts from their extreme roles
~ Restore trust in the Self
~ Coordinate and harmonize the Self and the parts, so they can work together as a team with the Self in charge.

Beginning to Use the Model
~ Assess client's parts and sequences around the problem.
~ Check for individual's awareness of parts — ask how he or she experiences the part: thoughts, feelings, sensations, images, and so on.
~ When the manager is in control
~ When the firefighter is desperately trying to suppress the pain
~ When the exile is hurting and starting to emerge
~ Look for polarizations
~ Anorexia: Extreme Manager
~ Substance Abuse: Extreme Firefighter
~ Clinical Depression or Anxiety or PTSD: Extreme Exile
Relationship Between Internal & External Systems
~ The way you relate to your own parts parallels the way you relate to parts of others.
~ How does your exile interact with the exile of others
~ How does your manager interact with the exile of others
~ How does your firefighter interact with the exile of others
~ Individual's internal system affects and is affected by the external system of which he or she is a part.
~ Internal and external systems often parallel each other.

Beginning to Use the Model
~ When working with families, check for the family's awareness of parts in self and others.
~ Make a decision about how to begin using the model: language, direct access, imagery, and so on.
~ Assess the fears of manager parts and value the roles of the Managers; explain how the therapy can work without the manager’s feared outcomes happening.
~ Inventory dangerous Firefighter behaviors; work with managers' fears about triggering firefighters.
~ Assess client's external context and constraints to doing this work.

Working with Individuals
~ Important to assess protective parts (managers and firefighters) and work with them first. (Create safety)
~ Develop a direct relationship with the part.
~ May need to negotiate pace of work — give the part an opportunity to talk about concerns.
~ Work out a system for the part to let you know when things are moving too fast.
~ Respect the concerns of the part.
~ Eventually, identify the Exiles and start helping them tell their story and become empowered and integrated

Working with Individuals
~ Non-imaging techniques
~ Assessing internal dialogue
~ Location/sense of a part in the body
~ Diagrams — relationships among parts

Working with Individuals
~ Non-imaging techniques
~ Assessing internal dialogue
~ Journaling: What is the exile/manager/firefighter/self saying or wanting to do about this situation?
~ Direct access:
~ Therapist to parts: Let me talk to the manager for a moment.
~ Self to parts: What are the parts saying and what is the Self’s reaction
~ Part to part: What is the manager saying to the exile?

~ Manager: “You better not do that because you know there is no way you can succeed.”
~ Exile: “I will never get Dad’s approval because I always fail at everything I do.”
~ Firefighter: “I need a drink”
~ Self: “Manager, thank you for the warning. I know it is a risk. Can you help Exile think of times she has succeeded, because it is important to me to try this? Firefighter, you don’t know that bad things are going to happen. Thank you for being at the ready. What else can I do if this doesn’t go how I want?”

~ Manager: “I’m in control. Everything has to go as planned.”
~ Exile: “I remember when I was little and couldn’t fix [it] Mom would get really depressed. It is my fault she was so sad.”
~ Firefighter: “They aren’t listening. You better start yelling and showing them who is boss or you will feel even more out of control”
~ Self: “Manager, thank you for trying to take such good care and help me feel empowered. Exile, it did hurt to see Mom struggle so much, but it wasn’t your fault she was so sad. You were too little to do anything. What is the worst that will likely happen in this situation if I am not in control? Firefighter, yelling is one way to get my point across, but that is not how I want to interact with others. How else could I approach this situation?
Working with Individuals
~ Going back in time with a part, then “unburdening”
~ Exile: What do you wish would have happened?
~ Manager: What do you think you “should” have done to protect the Self?
~ Bringing parts into the present – “retrieval”
~ What is different about you now?
~ Future imaging
~ Exile: What do you want to happen
~ Manager: How can you deal more effectively with situations like that in the future
Working with Individuals
~ Concept of Blending: Keeping the feelings of the part from overwhelming the Self
~ Working with the Self to understand why/how not to blend
~ Working with the part to understand why/how not to blend

Strengths of the Model
~ Focuses on strengths: The undamaged core of the Self, the ability of parts to shift into positive roles
~ IFS language provides a way to look at oneself and others differently.
~ Instead of seeing someone as being self-destructive, we may see their Firefighter being triggered and trying to protect the Exile
~ There is no such thing as a bad part, just a part that has become extreme
~ Language encourages self-disclosure and taking responsibility for behavior.
~ Ecological understanding of entire therapy system, including therapist
~ Respect for individual's experience of the problem
~ Clients provide the material — the therapist doesn't have to have all the ideas.
~ Therapist looks at client's Self as “co-therapist” and trusts the wisdom of the internal system.

~ Every person has within them a Self, exile, firefighter and manager
~ Each of these parts has a survival function
~ One goal is helping parts communicate and not overwhelm each other is essential
~ Another goal is helping the Self get back into a position in which it can listen and discern feedback from the parts to determine the best course of action