“I’m trying to map the territory in the center world, just the way I did with families and the distinction that immediately leaped out was between parts that other systems would call inner children, which, you know, they're very, before they're hurt, they're delightful. They give us all kinds of joy and, and imagination and creativity and playfulness and so on. But once they feel, once you have an experience that leaves you feeling worthless or terrified or hurt, they're the ones that take that in the most, because they're the most sensitive parts of you. And then they get stuck with these, what I call burdens of worthlessness or pain or terror. And now we don't wanna be around them because they have the power to overwhelm us and make us feel all that again and bring us back into those scenes that they literally are living in still. And so we try to lock them away in inner basements, thinking we're just moving on from the memories, sensations and, and emotions of the trauma. Not realizing that we're actually leaving in the dust, the parts of us we love the most when they're not hurt, just cuz they got hurt.” So says Dr. Richard Schwartz, the creator of Internal Family Systems, a transformative, evidence-based model of psychotherapy that de-pathologizes the multipart personality. Dr. Schwartz began his career as a systemic family therapist and academic in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago and later at Northwestern University. It was there that he worked with a number of clients who claimed to recognize that they had several components, or parts, to themselves. This discovery led him to develop Internal Family Systems, also known as IFS. Within his model, Dr. Schwartz argues that our consciousness, or personality, can be broken down into multiple parts, each with distinct characteristics that fall under three categories: exiles, managers, and firefighters. Exiles are the parts of us that experience anxiety, fear, or trauma—often when we’re very young. Our other parts begin to protect those exiles from being triggered by events and experiences. Managers do this by dictating how we interact with the external world and firefighters seek to protect us by pushing us toward distraction to numb our pain.
All of our inner parts contain valuable qualities, Dr. Schwartz tells us, but when they are left unattended, they may lead to damaging impulses, causing us to write them off as damaging in and of themselves. On the other hand, when our parts are acknowledged and their needs are addressed, a confidence and openness emerges—what Dr. Schwartz has come to call the Self. It is in this state of Self, that we can begin to heal all of our parts and become integrated and whole.
In our conversation today, Dr. Schwartz walks us through the basics of his model and then guides me through an IFS work session. This was very powerful for me. Because the concept sounds heady, I’m glad you can experience the model in action: I hope our work together inspires you to explore the profound awareness made accessible by IFS.
It is the nature of the mind to have multiple parts…
Reconciling with your exiles…
My IFS session…
MORE FROM DR. RICHARD SCHWARTZ:
Books by Dr. Richard Schwartz:
No Bad Parts: Healing Trauma and Restoring Wholeness with the Internal Family Systems Model
Introduction to Internal Family Systems
You Are the One You've Been Waiting for: Applying Internal Family Systems to Intimate Relationships
Explore the IFS Institute
WATCH: Dr. Richard Schwartz Explains Internal Family Systems (IFS)
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