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One Big Idea: Internal Family Systems

Sometimes an idea comes along and it sticks in your brain, starts to shift how you think and act, and eventually settles in as ONE BIG IDEA that becomes a regular part of life.

Every now and then, we’ll drop a big idea here related to one of our Thrive Pillars. We promise to always break these ideas down into easy, digestible, and actionable chunks that parents can use.

Let’s get started!

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS)?

It’s a model of psychotherapy that sees the mind as being made up of sub-personalities or parts. We don’t just have a single, unified personality or self, IFS argues. Instead, we have many little selves that together makeup who we are and how we manage our lives.

When first hearing of this idea, many people think of dissociative identity disorder (DID), where a person will have many distinct personalities of different ages and genders, and who may not even know the existence of other personalities. According to the IFS model, DID is just an extreme, traumatized version of the sub-personalities we all have.

These sub-personalities are called “parts” in IFS. According to IFS experts, people can have between 12 and over 30 inner parts.

The easiest way to recognize parts in yourself is to think about times when you have mixed feelings about something. A part of you wants X, but another part wants Y. Or part of me really enjoyed A, but another part of me felt bad about doing A. In IFS, these are just different inner parts in conflict.

The IFS model says there are three main types of inner parts. First, there are “exiles,” which are wounded, inner child parts that have experienced some harm or neglect and carry intense beliefs and feelings. They’ve been “exiled” by other parts to keep our whole system functioning smoothly.

Second, there are “protector parts,” which are the dominant parts because they keep exiles locked away, manage intense feelings, shame us into behaving how others want us to, and generally manage our internal system.

Finally, there are “firefighter parts,” which drive us to engage in behaviors that will put out the fire of intensely negative feelings that come up when exiles get triggered. Firefighters can be as extreme as driving people to abuse drugs and alcohol or self-harm, or as mild as urging people to scroll social media or shop online. They’ll do anything that numbs the internal discomfort.

There is also “a part that is not a part,” which the IFS model refers to as Self. Self is like the soul, spirit, or essence of a person that got covered up by wounded parts and their protectors. Nevertheless, the Self is whole, undamaged, and can provide inner parts all the resources they need.

IFS therapy is all about working with the client to understand protector parts, allow them to relax so that eventually exile parts can be fully seen, heard, and healed, and let the Self lead the whole system.

Where did Internal Family Systems come from?

In the early 1980s, Richard Schwartz, PhD, was a professor in psychiatry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and specialized in Family Systems Therapy, which held that if the family structure could be organized in the right way, psychological problems with children would resolve.

Schwartz was working with teens who suffered from bulimia and found their conditions didn’t always improve with regular Family Systems Therapy. His patients would often refer to inner parts that would want to engage in self-harming behavior. Schwartz eventually created IFS to explain the internal conflict with parts, as well as the internal sense of soul, spirit, or Self that is full of compassion, curiosity, and calmness.

Why should parents care about Internal Family Systems?

IFS gives parents useful tools to talk about big, negative feelings and behaviors in a way that destigmatizes them (makes them normal and not “bad”). Cofounder of The Family Thrive, Justin Wilford, PhD, wrote on Facebook about using an IFS approach to talk through a conflict he had with his daughter.

When parents can talk about “part” inside wanting something, or feeling a certain way, or having thoughts, it’s a lot easier to deal with challenging things that come up. Parents can talk about the inner part of the child that kicked his sister, and get to know that part, rather than treating the child as a unified whole who kicked his sister. This allows the child to step back and reflect on the feelings and behaviors without taking on the shame that they are those feelings and behaviors.

If we can learn how to relate to our inner parts and ask them to relax a bit or sit back and let your Self take the lead, then new opportunities open up for calmer, more creative problem-solving.

How can parents use Internal Family Systems in their daily lives?

It takes some practice but can be done without entering therapy. You can read Schwartz’s book, No Bad Parts, which is an excellent introduction to the model and also contains useful exercises that help you to get to know your own parts. We also use IFS in our Wednesday Wind-Down mindfulness sessions.

The ultimate goal in bringing an IFS approach into parenting is to help ourselves, as parents become more in tune with our Self and less reactive with our inner parts. Once we can do this, we can show up with our kids in more compassionate, courageous, and calm ways.

One Big Idea: Internal Family Systems

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One Big Idea: Internal Family Systems

Sometimes an idea comes along and it sticks in your brain, starts to shift how you think and act, and eventually settles in as ONE BIG IDEA that becomes a regular part of life, and this week it's Internal Family Systems!

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Key takeaways

1

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an evidence-based model of psychotherapy

2

It holds that our minds are made up of many different sub-personalities or “parts”

3

One of its benefits for families is that it allows parents to talk with their kids about intense and negative feelings, thoughts, and behaviors without shaming or stigmatizing

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Sometimes an idea comes along and it sticks in your brain, starts to shift how you think and act, and eventually settles in as ONE BIG IDEA that becomes a regular part of life.

Every now and then, we’ll drop a big idea here related to one of our Thrive Pillars. We promise to always break these ideas down into easy, digestible, and actionable chunks that parents can use.

Let’s get started!

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS)?

It’s a model of psychotherapy that sees the mind as being made up of sub-personalities or parts. We don’t just have a single, unified personality or self, IFS argues. Instead, we have many little selves that together makeup who we are and how we manage our lives.

When first hearing of this idea, many people think of dissociative identity disorder (DID), where a person will have many distinct personalities of different ages and genders, and who may not even know the existence of other personalities. According to the IFS model, DID is just an extreme, traumatized version of the sub-personalities we all have.

These sub-personalities are called “parts” in IFS. According to IFS experts, people can have between 12 and over 30 inner parts.

The easiest way to recognize parts in yourself is to think about times when you have mixed feelings about something. A part of you wants X, but another part wants Y. Or part of me really enjoyed A, but another part of me felt bad about doing A. In IFS, these are just different inner parts in conflict.

The IFS model says there are three main types of inner parts. First, there are “exiles,” which are wounded, inner child parts that have experienced some harm or neglect and carry intense beliefs and feelings. They’ve been “exiled” by other parts to keep our whole system functioning smoothly.

Second, there are “protector parts,” which are the dominant parts because they keep exiles locked away, manage intense feelings, shame us into behaving how others want us to, and generally manage our internal system.

Finally, there are “firefighter parts,” which drive us to engage in behaviors that will put out the fire of intensely negative feelings that come up when exiles get triggered. Firefighters can be as extreme as driving people to abuse drugs and alcohol or self-harm, or as mild as urging people to scroll social media or shop online. They’ll do anything that numbs the internal discomfort.

There is also “a part that is not a part,” which the IFS model refers to as Self. Self is like the soul, spirit, or essence of a person that got covered up by wounded parts and their protectors. Nevertheless, the Self is whole, undamaged, and can provide inner parts all the resources they need.

IFS therapy is all about working with the client to understand protector parts, allow them to relax so that eventually exile parts can be fully seen, heard, and healed, and let the Self lead the whole system.

Where did Internal Family Systems come from?

In the early 1980s, Richard Schwartz, PhD, was a professor in psychiatry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and specialized in Family Systems Therapy, which held that if the family structure could be organized in the right way, psychological problems with children would resolve.

Schwartz was working with teens who suffered from bulimia and found their conditions didn’t always improve with regular Family Systems Therapy. His patients would often refer to inner parts that would want to engage in self-harming behavior. Schwartz eventually created IFS to explain the internal conflict with parts, as well as the internal sense of soul, spirit, or Self that is full of compassion, curiosity, and calmness.

Why should parents care about Internal Family Systems?

IFS gives parents useful tools to talk about big, negative feelings and behaviors in a way that destigmatizes them (makes them normal and not “bad”). Cofounder of The Family Thrive, Justin Wilford, PhD, wrote on Facebook about using an IFS approach to talk through a conflict he had with his daughter.

When parents can talk about “part” inside wanting something, or feeling a certain way, or having thoughts, it’s a lot easier to deal with challenging things that come up. Parents can talk about the inner part of the child that kicked his sister, and get to know that part, rather than treating the child as a unified whole who kicked his sister. This allows the child to step back and reflect on the feelings and behaviors without taking on the shame that they are those feelings and behaviors.

If we can learn how to relate to our inner parts and ask them to relax a bit or sit back and let your Self take the lead, then new opportunities open up for calmer, more creative problem-solving.

How can parents use Internal Family Systems in their daily lives?

It takes some practice but can be done without entering therapy. You can read Schwartz’s book, No Bad Parts, which is an excellent introduction to the model and also contains useful exercises that help you to get to know your own parts. We also use IFS in our Wednesday Wind-Down mindfulness sessions.

The ultimate goal in bringing an IFS approach into parenting is to help ourselves, as parents become more in tune with our Self and less reactive with our inner parts. Once we can do this, we can show up with our kids in more compassionate, courageous, and calm ways.

Sometimes an idea comes along and it sticks in your brain, starts to shift how you think and act, and eventually settles in as ONE BIG IDEA that becomes a regular part of life.

Every now and then, we’ll drop a big idea here related to one of our Thrive Pillars. We promise to always break these ideas down into easy, digestible, and actionable chunks that parents can use.

Let’s get started!

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS)?

It’s a model of psychotherapy that sees the mind as being made up of sub-personalities or parts. We don’t just have a single, unified personality or self, IFS argues. Instead, we have many little selves that together makeup who we are and how we manage our lives.

When first hearing of this idea, many people think of dissociative identity disorder (DID), where a person will have many distinct personalities of different ages and genders, and who may not even know the existence of other personalities. According to the IFS model, DID is just an extreme, traumatized version of the sub-personalities we all have.

These sub-personalities are called “parts” in IFS. According to IFS experts, people can have between 12 and over 30 inner parts.

The easiest way to recognize parts in yourself is to think about times when you have mixed feelings about something. A part of you wants X, but another part wants Y. Or part of me really enjoyed A, but another part of me felt bad about doing A. In IFS, these are just different inner parts in conflict.

The IFS model says there are three main types of inner parts. First, there are “exiles,” which are wounded, inner child parts that have experienced some harm or neglect and carry intense beliefs and feelings. They’ve been “exiled” by other parts to keep our whole system functioning smoothly.

Second, there are “protector parts,” which are the dominant parts because they keep exiles locked away, manage intense feelings, shame us into behaving how others want us to, and generally manage our internal system.

Finally, there are “firefighter parts,” which drive us to engage in behaviors that will put out the fire of intensely negative feelings that come up when exiles get triggered. Firefighters can be as extreme as driving people to abuse drugs and alcohol or self-harm, or as mild as urging people to scroll social media or shop online. They’ll do anything that numbs the internal discomfort.

There is also “a part that is not a part,” which the IFS model refers to as Self. Self is like the soul, spirit, or essence of a person that got covered up by wounded parts and their protectors. Nevertheless, the Self is whole, undamaged, and can provide inner parts all the resources they need.

IFS therapy is all about working with the client to understand protector parts, allow them to relax so that eventually exile parts can be fully seen, heard, and healed, and let the Self lead the whole system.

Where did Internal Family Systems come from?

In the early 1980s, Richard Schwartz, PhD, was a professor in psychiatry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and specialized in Family Systems Therapy, which held that if the family structure could be organized in the right way, psychological problems with children would resolve.

Schwartz was working with teens who suffered from bulimia and found their conditions didn’t always improve with regular Family Systems Therapy. His patients would often refer to inner parts that would want to engage in self-harming behavior. Schwartz eventually created IFS to explain the internal conflict with parts, as well as the internal sense of soul, spirit, or Self that is full of compassion, curiosity, and calmness.

Why should parents care about Internal Family Systems?

IFS gives parents useful tools to talk about big, negative feelings and behaviors in a way that destigmatizes them (makes them normal and not “bad”). Cofounder of The Family Thrive, Justin Wilford, PhD, wrote on Facebook about using an IFS approach to talk through a conflict he had with his daughter.

When parents can talk about “part” inside wanting something, or feeling a certain way, or having thoughts, it’s a lot easier to deal with challenging things that come up. Parents can talk about the inner part of the child that kicked his sister, and get to know that part, rather than treating the child as a unified whole who kicked his sister. This allows the child to step back and reflect on the feelings and behaviors without taking on the shame that they are those feelings and behaviors.

If we can learn how to relate to our inner parts and ask them to relax a bit or sit back and let your Self take the lead, then new opportunities open up for calmer, more creative problem-solving.

How can parents use Internal Family Systems in their daily lives?

It takes some practice but can be done without entering therapy. You can read Schwartz’s book, No Bad Parts, which is an excellent introduction to the model and also contains useful exercises that help you to get to know your own parts. We also use IFS in our Wednesday Wind-Down mindfulness sessions.

The ultimate goal in bringing an IFS approach into parenting is to help ourselves, as parents become more in tune with our Self and less reactive with our inner parts. Once we can do this, we can show up with our kids in more compassionate, courageous, and calm ways.

Sometimes an idea comes along and it sticks in your brain, starts to shift how you think and act, and eventually settles in as ONE BIG IDEA that becomes a regular part of life.

Every now and then, we’ll drop a big idea here related to one of our Thrive Pillars. We promise to always break these ideas down into easy, digestible, and actionable chunks that parents can use.

Let’s get started!

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS)?

It’s a model of psychotherapy that sees the mind as being made up of sub-personalities or parts. We don’t just have a single, unified personality or self, IFS argues. Instead, we have many little selves that together makeup who we are and how we manage our lives.

When first hearing of this idea, many people think of dissociative identity disorder (DID), where a person will have many distinct personalities of different ages and genders, and who may not even know the existence of other personalities. According to the IFS model, DID is just an extreme, traumatized version of the sub-personalities we all have.

These sub-personalities are called “parts” in IFS. According to IFS experts, people can have between 12 and over 30 inner parts.

The easiest way to recognize parts in yourself is to think about times when you have mixed feelings about something. A part of you wants X, but another part wants Y. Or part of me really enjoyed A, but another part of me felt bad about doing A. In IFS, these are just different inner parts in conflict.

The IFS model says there are three main types of inner parts. First, there are “exiles,” which are wounded, inner child parts that have experienced some harm or neglect and carry intense beliefs and feelings. They’ve been “exiled” by other parts to keep our whole system functioning smoothly.

Second, there are “protector parts,” which are the dominant parts because they keep exiles locked away, manage intense feelings, shame us into behaving how others want us to, and generally manage our internal system.

Finally, there are “firefighter parts,” which drive us to engage in behaviors that will put out the fire of intensely negative feelings that come up when exiles get triggered. Firefighters can be as extreme as driving people to abuse drugs and alcohol or self-harm, or as mild as urging people to scroll social media or shop online. They’ll do anything that numbs the internal discomfort.

There is also “a part that is not a part,” which the IFS model refers to as Self. Self is like the soul, spirit, or essence of a person that got covered up by wounded parts and their protectors. Nevertheless, the Self is whole, undamaged, and can provide inner parts all the resources they need.

IFS therapy is all about working with the client to understand protector parts, allow them to relax so that eventually exile parts can be fully seen, heard, and healed, and let the Self lead the whole system.

Where did Internal Family Systems come from?

In the early 1980s, Richard Schwartz, PhD, was a professor in psychiatry at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and specialized in Family Systems Therapy, which held that if the family structure could be organized in the right way, psychological problems with children would resolve.

Schwartz was working with teens who suffered from bulimia and found their conditions didn’t always improve with regular Family Systems Therapy. His patients would often refer to inner parts that would want to engage in self-harming behavior. Schwartz eventually created IFS to explain the internal conflict with parts, as well as the internal sense of soul, spirit, or Self that is full of compassion, curiosity, and calmness.

Why should parents care about Internal Family Systems?

IFS gives parents useful tools to talk about big, negative feelings and behaviors in a way that destigmatizes them (makes them normal and not “bad”). Cofounder of The Family Thrive, Justin Wilford, PhD, wrote on Facebook about using an IFS approach to talk through a conflict he had with his daughter.

When parents can talk about “part” inside wanting something, or feeling a certain way, or having thoughts, it’s a lot easier to deal with challenging things that come up. Parents can talk about the inner part of the child that kicked his sister, and get to know that part, rather than treating the child as a unified whole who kicked his sister. This allows the child to step back and reflect on the feelings and behaviors without taking on the shame that they are those feelings and behaviors.

If we can learn how to relate to our inner parts and ask them to relax a bit or sit back and let your Self take the lead, then new opportunities open up for calmer, more creative problem-solving.

How can parents use Internal Family Systems in their daily lives?

It takes some practice but can be done without entering therapy. You can read Schwartz’s book, No Bad Parts, which is an excellent introduction to the model and also contains useful exercises that help you to get to know your own parts. We also use IFS in our Wednesday Wind-Down mindfulness sessions.

The ultimate goal in bringing an IFS approach into parenting is to help ourselves, as parents become more in tune with our Self and less reactive with our inner parts. Once we can do this, we can show up with our kids in more compassionate, courageous, and calm ways.

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