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  • Writer's pictureWill Dempsey

What is IFS Therapy?

Many of the people I work with come to me feeling out of sorts with themselves. They’re struggling to manage internal conflicts. Sometimes, it’s the push and pull of old trauma against exciting new opportunities. Other times, they tend to lose themselves in self-destructive habits through risky, impulsive behaviors.


IFS therapy is grounded in the idea that we’re all composed of different parts that each have their own perspective and desires. We’re a stormy mess — like a badly produced show — with too many voices desperate for the spotlight.


In today’s post, we’ll explore what IFS therapy is and how it can bring order to our lives.


Our Stormy System


man in therapy

It’s best to think of IFS as an inward journey to understand where our feelings and behaviors come from. IFS posits that we are all composed of distinct parts — all of which have different motivations, priorities, and ideas — and that conflict between them creates turmoil and distress.



There are three categories of parts:


Managers


These are the stage managers whose job is to navigate the day-to-day and keep things running as smoothly as possible. Their priority, first and foremost, is ensuring we’re safe. They’re the worry warriors who think about everything that could go wrong and devise new disaster scenarios to prepare for the worst.


At first blush, this seems like a positive thing — but these managers can burn themselves out, and sometimes they are too controlling. They may frequently find themselves at odds with other parts, leading to shame, self-loathing, and regret.


Exiles


These parts of us are like an old wound sensitive to the touch. There’s a childlike aspect to them in some ways — they are the parts of us that have experienced trauma. Exiles are kept from the spotlight by the managers to protect them from preventing that pain. In this sense, exiles are parts of us that are associated with pain. Left unchecked, they might overwhelm us. However, if they are isolated by Managers for long periods of time, they become a source of anxiety, depression, and self-loathing.


Firefighters


Bold and quick to action — but often lacking in a plan — firefighters are parts of us that fight pain and trauma with impulsive behaviors. They’re quick to turn to big distractions to keep the greater Self from feeling any pain. They often make themselves known by indulging in risky, self-destructive behaviors.


In terms of the show, they’re actors who think they can monologue on the fly to save a production that’s going poorly. Maybe it works for a little while, but eventually, the routine may cause the whole show to break down.


The Self


Beyond each of these parts is something else — the Self. The Self is our internal Chosen One waiting to bring order to the madness. It helps us heal and see and access the best parts of ourselves through healing, compassion, and confidence.


How Does IFS Work?


IFS Therapy helps us connect with the Self by exploring and analyzing the different aspects of our identity. We grow the Self’s ability to orchestrate the production of all our underlying parts with kindness and trust. With time, those parts learn to trust the Self, let go of their desire for control, and reintegrate with the Exiled parts of us that are a source of shame.


Counseling


I love IFS therapy because it can be playful and fun. It’s a very different perspective on talk therapy, one that allows us to treat our internal landscape as an adventure. We learn to laugh at ourselves and accept ourselves. By understanding our various parts, we can negotiate with them and create a more balanced, harmonious version of ourselves. IFS can lead to profound shifts in how we perceive not only ourselves but also the world around us.


Reach out today to find out how IFS might work for you and and delve into the benefits of trauma therapy.

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