The Little People Living Within UsFeb 09, 2022
Let’s face it - we can all be complicated to understand. Sometimes, we can even have a hard time understanding ourselves!
Are we social? Or do we like our space? Do we want to continue dating this guy? Or not? Do we want to work more? Or spend more time with family? Or both? Are we happy? Or Sad? Scared?
Internal Family Systems is a form of psychotherapy that we therapists commonly refer to as “IFS.” (And yes, we speak about this as if the whole world knows what this stands for!) I like this model so much, so let me try to make this short and give you the basics. IFS is a model of therapy that some therapists use to help their clients in a soothing, positive, non judgemental way. It requires a specific training and to be considered an “IFS Therapist” one needs to take a few levels of training. I am what's called an “IFS Informed Therapist” - meaning I’ve taken some courses, but have not completed all of the training.
What is IFS?
The therapeutic idea of IFS is based on the belief that within each one of us (within our psyche or personality), we have a “family” made up of many different Parts. And our Self is at the core. Hence the name: Internal Family Systems. It’s like little people living within us.
Each Part of our psyche, also called sub-personalities, contains unique viewpoints, perspectives, feelings, goals, and motivations. And when we experience “inner conflict or inner turmoil” it is really tension that is happening between our Parts.
Having many Parts to our psyche doesn’t mean that we have different selves. It also does not mean we have a split-personality or any type of disorder.
Rather, it means we are human!
It is healthy to accept and validate each of our Parts individually. This simple act itself - will materially (and often immediately) reduce the inner conflict that we feel when our parts have tension. (Kinda like “Name it to Tame it” that we’ve discussed).
The Self, or what’s often thought of as “the real me” is known to have a list of characteristics, including what is called the “Eight C’s”:
The Self can be understood as the “absence of Parts.” It’s the real me, my core, unadulterated. My most real self.
For illustration purposes: Think of yourself as a parent driving a car with a bunch of kids in the back. You ask them what they want to do for dinner and they all scream out their opinion and reasons where they want to eat and why. As the parent, you want to hear them all out (actually in real life you probably want to mute them all, but bear with me for the sake of the example)! So you quiet them all down, and listen to each one: Each one’s opinion, why it’s important to them, and all the reasons behind their opinions. Slowly, you end up listening to each kid say their piece. Each child feels heard and understood. You separate their voices from each other so it’s not just “noise.”
When the children, in our example, are at odds, the parent feels the conflict and tension. By differentiating the different voices and opinions of the children, the parent gets clarity and can make a decision about where to eat. The parent leads the way. The children feel heard and they feel a sense of calm, having faith in the parent that their position was heard.
The parent is the Self. The children are the Parts. As the parent listens to and validates each child, the parent can then use their own 8 C’s to make a decision as to where to go to eat. Even though some of the children will not get their way, they can still be soothed by knowing that they were heard. Furthermore, listening to the loudest child and going to his preferred restaurant - may not be the best decision for the family.
That is an example of our parts in conflict, and our self leading the way.
That wasn’t so hard to understand. Right?
Another Practical Example.
Rachel, an older single, comes in for therapy. At her core, she embodies the 8 C’s listed above. And, as with all of us, she’s developed many Parts over time. One part of her is trying hard to get married - another part is not feeling totally ready and is enjoying single life - another part is afraid to make the commitment to marriage - another part is resentful of her parents and friends for not doing enough to help her find a husband.
So many parts. All valid.
As I said, we’re complicated!
Now, how can Rachel know what is her Self (her core) and what are her Parts?
Typically, people show up to therapy when they feel stuck (as we discussed previously). With the help of IFS therapy, Rachel accesses her Self, and she will gain clarity how to move forward. Rachel will learn to identify when she is “acting out of Self” or when its her parts that are causing trouble, and making too much noise, and blocking her from desired goals.
Ok so say it already! How will she knowing her Self is leading? (Is that your Impatient Part? 🤣)
She will begin to access her courage to meet new people, even though it’s hard for her. She will develop clarity that she does want to get married at this time and will figure out what the blockage is, her connection will emerge as she begins to connect on her dates, or to the people around her, she will feel her sense of calm as she connects spiritually to G-d. She will use her creativity how to find more options to date, and she will develop more confidence to realize her own value and how lucky someone would be to marry her.
When people act NOT out of Self, they often feel confused, unhappy, unsettled, and unclear. So if you’re feeling those things, it’s a sign that you are not acting out of Self.
A Goal of IFS
Through IFS, one can learn to differentiate the Self from our Parts. One strategy is to name our Parts. Mr. Worried, Miss. Guilt, Mrs. Insecure, Ms. Unclear. This will allow our Self to understand our Parts deeply and even respond to them. Like the mother understands and responds to her children. In an IFS therapy session, we often play out our different Parts talking to each other. It’s extremely therapeutic! And sometimes super fun. And often, very emotional as the Self emerges.
Maybe in a future newsletter, I will expand on how our Self and our Parts get to know each other better and actually heal our hurting parts - practically speaking. If you’re way too curious to learn more and can’t wait, here’s a link. I really love this stuff but wondering how you all will like it! Click to Learn about the 6 F’s of Healing our Parts!
Harnessing the Power of the 8 Cs
I find The 8 C words incredible sources of positive energy and positive strength.
Think of them like they’re our Super Powers!
While acting out of “Self,” you are acting like the “parent” acts when they have clarity.
When you notice yourself or your children: particularly courage
That is “Self” leading the way, not getting blocked by “Parts.”
Wishing you a week (a lifetime actually!) of your Self leading the way with calmness, clarity, compassion, confidence, connectedness, courage, creativity and curiosity.