Counselling, Couples Counselling, creativity, daily practice, life coaching, Manage Anxiety, Mindfulness, Mindfulness & Life Coaching, Self-Compassion, wellbeing, Wise Woman Within

A part of me feels sad and yet a part of me feels relief…What is IFS talking about when we talk of parts?

Have you ever felt really calm and zen after an early morning swim, walk or meditation yet a family member says or does that one thing and you feel overtaken with irritation/rage/worry/fear or despair as if you were a completely different person than who you were 5 minutes ago? I have, daily!!

Have you ever had that sense when you are facing a big life transition that part of you feels sad and lost with a stage of your life coming to an end (e.g. kids leaving home, moving interstate, changing jobs, relationship break up) while also a part of you feels excited, relieved, free at the new beginning? I know this rollercoaster of seemingly opposing feelings well, being someone who feels intensely, and being someone who is very recently experiencing what an empty nest feels like!!

Our many parts ecosystem, in art journal from a dream I had…

In Internal Family Systems (IFS) we explain this phenomena of feeling opposing feelings at the same time or losing all sense of calm in a second as one part or more than one of our parts (subpersonalities) have been triggered and have taken over our internal system… Another way of describing IFS is that each of us is an ecosystem of parts, and when all parts are in harmony, the system runs smoothly, yet when we are taken over by one or more parts we are out of balance, we can feel stuck or in chaos and not even recognize ourselves, or we can swing wildly from one emotion to another.

Internal Family Systems is a powerfully transformative, evidence-based model of psychotherapy. We believe the mind is naturally multiple and that is a good thing.  Our inner parts contain valuable qualities and our core Self knows how to heal, allowing us to become integrated and whole. In IFS all parts are welcome.

IFS is a movement. A new, empowering paradigm for understanding and harmonizing the mind and, thereby, larger human systems. One that can help people heal and helps the world become a more compassionate place.

IFS Institute

IFS is a psycho-spiritual model”

Derek Scott in IFS Talks Podcast on IFS being a spiritual practice

I have been searching for awhile now for a way to integrate my knowledge of the mind and body connection (evidence-based neuroscience and psychotherapy) with my spiritual beliefs (my mindfulness & self-compassion practice) and I am feeling excited that Internal Family Systems (IFS), a psycho-spiritual model, does just that. I am so excited I am dedicating 2023 to doing more training and more supervision in IFS. I hope to learn, write and share about how IFS affects me personally as well as the universal truths in IFS and how it affects all of us.

I was deeply committed to looking at the elements of my internal world that kept me frozen yet frantic on life’s quickening treadmill. … It was in doing IFS work that I found an anchor, a place of warm neutrality and curious witnessing, a self-compassion that had been nearly impossible to will myself into offering my own psyche.

Alanis Morissette in No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a model for life, not just for therapy, and it is the most powerful way that I have found for understanding the mystery of what it is to be human, for discovering more of our essence, our wise authentic Self….the Self that is always there, never changing. Pema Chodron refers to this Self as ‘wide open sky.’ We might be clouded over with an emotional / thought storm yet the ‘wide open sky’ of Self is always there.

Some call the Self the Soul, Spirit, Love or Divine Essence. It doesn’t matter what you call it, we all feel Self and know when we are in Self as we feel connection, calm, clarity, compassion, courage, creative, confident, and /or curious… Some of us feel Self most when in nature, or when doing something physical with our bodies, or when being creative or connecting with those we love. This is why I usually start a coaching or counselling session with asking what do you enjoy, so I can find out about when you feel most connected to Self. (And if you don’t have a way to connect with Self, we might start there!).

There are many ways we find ourselves in Self, it often feels kind of magical for all of us when we find ourselves there, unplanned and unexpected….and IFS is a beautiful way of healing so we can find ourselves more and more in Self or as Richard Schwartz, the founder of IFS puts it, we can allow more Self and Self-Leadership to spontaneously emerge.

I saw that this Self that dialogues with all the egoic parts is my/the soul. Dwelling in this awareness allowed me to have a direct, physically felt sense of god/love/spirit/compassion. I came to see that the true dialogue began when I found this ‘seat’ of Self. … What had felt daunting to me my whole life-going within to take responsibility for or inquire about my urges, compulsions, triggers and reactions-slowly became somewhat exciting. (IFS) took all the Jungian and shadow work I have done to a whole other level of healing. “

Alanis Morissette in No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz

One of my favourite ways to be in Self, being in awe at sunrise in nature!

IFS believes that we as humans have many parts and each part has many valuable resources and qualities to help us to function in the world. Unfortunately many of our parts get stuck and frozen in time, often from trauma or attachment injury, with outdated survival or coping strategies that once worked when we were young but those parts are now unhealthy or disruptive to our system.

each part, however harrowing it’s acting out, however hidden, confusing or painful, had the best of intentions and held helpful messages for me. Without fail, each part, whether an exile, manager or protector, had profoundly kind and wise insights for me from my highest Self, if I but took the time to be there with them.”

Alanis Morissette in No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz

IFS supports us to uncover the parts who often take over our lives and shift us out of Self either by managing our lives or putting out fires or hiding ashamed or banished. We can meet these parts with our Self-energy, with compassion and curiousity, and often once these parts feel heard and understood they shift their energy back into helping the system rather than disrupting it.

These parts could even dialogue with and among each other facilitated by my highest Self. In doing so there would emerge clarity, ideas, or answers to seemingly insurmountable, complicated questions about my life. These answers would come fast and furious as I communicated through words, writing, movement and art with the many parts within, even and especially the parts that scared me most.”

Alanis Morissette in No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz

In IFS we are doing two things at the same time, we are cultivating Self Energy while also getting to know our parts, the parts who manage (control), the parts who put out fires (react, often in extreme ways to numb or not feel) and the parts who are wounded and hiding (exiled). We are endeavouring to create a healthy ecosystem within so parts are able to relinquish old coping strategies and give more energy to the qualities of the authentic wise Self (connection, calm, clarity, compassion, courage, creative, confident, curious, playful, presence, perspective, persistence & patience). The more we are in Self energy the more we can create a healthy ecosystem in our relationships and create a meaningful life. Self-Energy guides our life more and more as we get to know our parts and meet them with compassion and curiousity without letting them take over our lives.

The Four Basic Goals of IFS

1. Liberate parts from the roles they’ve been forced into, so they can be who they’re designed to be.

2. Restore trust in the Self and Self-Leadership.

3. Reharmonize the inner system.

4. Become more self-led in your interactions with the world.

No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz

To me exploring IFS is a very personal, internal journey yet it also has huge external impacts on our relationships and supports us to understand the universal journey of being human.

IFS is the treatment method that all clinicians should know to treat clients effectively”

Bessel van der Kolk, author of the New York Times Best-seller The Body Keeps the Score.

What I love about IFS is that it includes and integrates ALL models of therapy and ALL spiritual practices….all the work and healing/learning I have done for myself and with clients completely fits into the IFS model and these models, strategies or practices are either helping to create more available Self energy (mindfulness, self-compassion, compassion-focused therapy, ACT, Soul Quest,) or they are helping to work with Parts (Inner child work, Abandonment Wound Course, Reparenting, CBT, ACT, Chair Work, Spiral Path, Great Round of Mandala) so there is no need to throw any of the good work/reserach out….only to see what is happening through the lens of Self or Parts.

IFS is so experiential, I am really enjoying the Journal your Wild Parts course with Nique Murch (my mindfulness teacher from 2011!) at Openground for the chance to tune in and witness and get to know my parts. It felt very profound yesterday when I tuned in to a complex emotion that I was feeling and realised that one of my parts felt abandoned….Knowing IFS I could go for a walk in nature, access Self-energy and pinpoint when I first felt that feeling, when I felt it with my partner and how this part normally reacts and acts out when triggered. I could Notice this part, get to Know it with curiousity and compassion and then ask that part what it Needs and meet that need. (see podcast below with Jenna Riemersma on how to use ‘Notice, Know & Need’ to dialogue with a part, it gets easier with practice and can be essential to have a coach or counsellor guide you the first few times).

It still surprises me that when I can meet a part with compassion and curiousity and give it what it needs so that it feels understood, heard and seen, just how much lighter I feel and how much that emotion eases….it’s then so much easier to share how I feel with others… ‘A part of me feels…’ I have seen this process unfold within myself and with clients and it does seem a little magical!

Here are some great resources if you are interested in knowing more about IFS, and feel free to email any questions!

IFS Book & Podcasts:

No Bad Parts Book by Richard Schwartz (founder of IFS)

Richard Schwartz Video on IFS:

Video on Ruth Culver’s Survive/Thrive Spiral relating the IFS model with the fight, flight, freeze, flop and fawn response:

The Therapy that changed my life (with a live IFS session included) with Richard Schwartz:

The most radical way to heal with Dr Becky Kennedy:

Relationships and how they affect our regulation and parts:

Why we love the way we love with Dr Becky Kennedy:

How you can Notice, KNow and find out what your part Needs with Jenna Riemersma?

How you can journal with your parts:

Derek Scott IFS as a Spiritual Practice:

IFS Meditations