People used to say, “Ana is so positive… such a good vibe! She’s so confident and energetic and hilarious!”
Of course that felt good…but I also felt pressure to perform. There were parts of me that I felt scared to share, thinking people only wanted to be around me because I was those things.
Because the reality is, I am more complex. And so are you.
Sometimes I want to adventure and be outside with friends and carpe the dang diem ALL the time. But at the same time, I want to just sit and check out and binge-watch on the couch.
There are also parts of me that long to help others heal and love how my clients impact their own lives…and another, more jaded part of me that wants to hide away in the woods as humanity seemingly continues to move toward its inevitable extinction.
After my first bout with cancer at 30 years old, I started to feel exhausted at playing a part I didn’t want to play anymore. I longed to allow thoe sad/angry/rageful/grieving parts of myself to have a voice and presence in my daily life as well.
I liked the parts of me that were strong and smart and resilient and did things really friggin’ well. But realized I’d been ignoring the wounded parts of me for too long.
I wanted them cured and GONE.
But that mentality is exactly what causes our continued suffering – the idea that we’re broken and we need to cure pieces of us and never see them again, because we aren’t just one personality at our core, right?
This idea that “the mind is not a singular entity or self, but is a multiple, composed of parts” is at the core of Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems (IFS) model. Essentially, he describes “thinking” as various parts our talking to each other – and ourselves – about things we have to do, decisions we have to make, and whatnot.
Parts in IFS are clustered into 3 groups:
// Managers, which are a protective group of parts that try to keep us organized and safe. They run our day-to-day lives. Over time, they may lead to perfectionistic tendencies and even ironically cause harm while they try to keep us safe.
// Exiles are the injured parts of us and have typically experienced trauma. The managers find them really annoying and high maintenance to day to day functioning and safety (physical and psychological), so they are exiled by the managers.
As a result, they can become extreme, and override the managers.
// Firefighters are another form of protection that put out emotional fires – no matter what.
This can look like unhealthy or unhelpful behavior, like overdrinking or eating disorders or gambling, and other addictions.
So the IFS model suggests that the ego is made up of multiple parts that are just trying to keep us safe, and we can get to know each of them and identify their true purpose.
Then we can help our ego relax and allow those parts of our personality that we’ve buried (the exiles) to emerge.
This frees up memories, emotions, and beliefs that we locked away, allowed us to have more freedom (“unburdened,” as Dick Schwartz would say)..
We can summarize this process with four goals:
// To liberate parts from the roles they’ve been forced into, which frees them to be who they were actually designed to be.
// To restore faith in the self and in self-leadership.
// To re-harmonize the inner system.
// To encourage the client to become increasingly self-led in their interactions with the world.
While there are many aspects of IFS, unlike other modalities, the primary healing relationship isn’t between a therapist and client, but between the client’s Self and their younger, wounded parts. This is potent, because when we rely on ourselves for the healing we need, it’s a freeing and empowering path.
Doing this work doesn’t just help us feel connected to ourselves. It helps us connect to humanity. And the more connected we are to humanity, the more curious we become about others’ suffering. And the more courage we have to help them.
If the idea of talking directly to the different parts of the self seems kind of weird, I encourage you to listen to this full Episode, where I talk about a brief exercise you can try to help get a taste of how to do this. But for now, let’s talk about 2 steps to take as we start to do this work on ourselves.
The first is to identify our managers (who help us plan and avoid discomfort and pain) and firefighters (who help us try to fix existing problems). For example, we may “manage” in moments of calm, but we will “firefight” when we’re stressed or life becomes chaotic, right?
We can identify these parts by doing things like checking in with our physical sensations or emotions.
Another step we can take is understanding our relationship with a part. We can pick one and explore it in greater detail by asking it (and therefore ourselves) things like:
// What is your role, and how does it help me manage my life?
// How do you try to protect me? And what are you protecting me from?
// What positive intent do you have for me?
As you can imagine, self-compassion is an essential part of IFS therapy. We need it to reassure us that we have our own backs as we do this work, since it’s not exactly for the faint of heart.
So as you heal the relationship between your (capital-S) Self and your younger, wounded parts, be sure to give yourself some grace and patience. And with enough practice, you can begin to regain sovereignty in your mind and life.
You will learn:
// What the Internal Family Systems (IFS) Model is, and how its approach works
// Exercises we can practice to help identify and begin to free and integrate the wounded parts of ourselves
// The importance (!!) of self-compassion as we heal
// How this approach is particularly suited for psychedelic-assisted therapy and journeys
// No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz
// Episode 51: Self-Compassion
// Episode 82: How to Live in Polarity
// Episode 161: Healing vs Curing