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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

Befriending Self: Transforming with the Internal Family Systems Model

Jul 29, 2022 09:31AM ● By Pavlina Gatikova
We all carry on a constant inner dialogue throughout the day. For many, how we communicate with ourselves tends to be, unfortunately, in a manner that is negative, self-devaluing and polarizing. This makes us see oneself as a failure or disappointment to others.

We can, however, learn to replace the negative self-talk, and thereby transform ourselves, by turning inward. The Internal Family Systems (IFS) model teaches people how to interact with all parts of their inner experience by bringing in our consciousness that is kind, compassionate and non-judgmental.

Richard C. Schwartz, Ph.D., founder of Internal Family Systems, explains, “Everyone has a seat of consciousness at their core we call the Self. From birth, this Self has all the necessary qualities of good leadership, including compassion, perspective, curiosity, acceptance and confidence.”

As a practicing systemic family therapist, Schwartz developed IFS after listening to his patients refer to various parts about themselves. He found “that when the clients’ parts felt safe and were allowed to relax, the clients would experience spontaneously the qualities of confidence, openness and compassion.” He came to call this core place from which his clients spoke of, the Self.

According to the IFS model, the natural state of the human mind is to be subdivided into an unspecified number of subpersonalities, or what Schwartz terms “parts.” He explains, “Parts are discrete, autonomous mental systems, each with their own idiosyncratic range of emotion, style of expression, abilities, desires and views of the world.”

IFS describes three separate parts. First, the managers are “do good” parts, whose main job is to be proactive, please others and to be interested in controlling the environment to keep us safe. Familiar managers are the Critic, Pleaser or Worrywart. Next, the firefighters represent “feel good” parts, such as Procrastinator, Dragon or Fantasizer. Managers and firefighters are both protective parts.

Finally, the most vulnerable aspects of us are called exiles, which have been exploited, rejected or abandoned in our past external relationships. These are the most sensitive, innocent and intimacy-seeking parts that had to be walled off from one’s system. All of a person’s parts have good intentions, even the most extreme parts. Sometimes, though, parts can be at war with one another or even carry burdens because of trauma, small or large, that has forced one part into taking extreme measures for protection. It is the role of the managers and firefighters to keep the exiles safe.

When we attend to our parts, especially the most troublesome ones, with compassion and patience, we lift their burdens and allow our exiled parts to heal by restoring their natural sense of innocence, playfulness, connectedness and trust. When we make decisions and bring more of our Self to our daily lives, we experience more calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, creativity, courage and connectedness.

Pavlina Gatikova is a Czech-American wounded healer, an IFS Level 1 trained practitioner, a 200-hour Kripalu yoga trained teacher, poet and journaling instructor. She can be reached at 508-375-8465 or at [email protected]. Currently providing remote healing sessions.