Offering in-person therapy in Westchester or online sessions for all New York residents.

Offering in-person therapy in Westchester or online sessions for all New York residents.

Unveiling Healing through Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy

What is Internal Family Systems (IFS)?

Envision your mind as a family, with various members assuming different roles that represent distinct aspects of your personality. For example, the responsible older sibling might symbolize your logical and organized side, while the adventurous cousin represents your spontaneous and daring nature. In this mental family, each member contributes to the overall dynamic, creating a diverse and harmonious blend of characteristics that make up who you are. IFS, a therapeutic model developed by Richard Schwartz, delves into these internal dynamics.

IFS identifies three main parts and their roles:

Managers: Responsible for control in daily life

Firefighters: addressing distress and the need for immediate relief

Exiles: carrying emotional wounds often residing in a deeper layer within us

IFS also acknowledges the presence of “Self”, an authentic core of one’s whole personality within each person, capable of recognizing, connecting with, and bringing balance among its parts with compassion, courage, and mindful leadership.

By accessing and activating our “Self”, we can begin to understand our internal landscape and free our parts from their old bindings and burdens. As we do so, we connect with our authentic desires and the ability to engage with them meaningfully and intentionally, paving the way for profound healing and personal growth.

How does IFS-Informed Therapy work?

In IFS sessions, you will embark on a journey of self-discovery. You will explore the unique roles your internal parts play. Delve into your past and current experiences, discover patterns of choices and behavior and tap into and connect with various parts of you. Through compassionate introspection and dialogue between your Self and parts, you can begin work towards integration—allowing each part to be seen and heard, fostering a mindful, harmonious, and collaborating inner relationship. 

Managers: Parts dedicated to self-preservation through control

A bridge in a forest with colorful trees with the sun shining. Showing the illuminating path IFS therapy offers

Manager parts serve to maintain the security of day-to-day life by fulfilling expectations, which can manifest in different ways. In some cases, these may be the parts that strive for ideals such as emotional control, hard work, responsibility, planning, optimization, productivity, and success. In other cases, they may be driven for social attention, acceptance, and approval, prioritizing others’ needs over your own, and being unable to set proper boundaries for self-respect and well-being. Yet other times, these parts may be preoccupied with retaining the status quo, preferring peace-making to confrontation, familiarity to difference, invisibility to visibility, or comfortability to challenge. Because these parts are heavily concerned with maintaining a façade of competency and control by fulfilling expectations, they can often be very anxious and critical. They are often the critics you carry inside who constantly worry, judge, or criticize yourself.

When you fail to recognize these inner critics as “parts” of you rather than your whole self, your entirety is identified or “blended” with them. And when your entirety is blended with an extreme inner critic, you develop a harsh punitive relationship with yourself, and interpersonal relationships may suffer from crippling insecurity and anxiety.

While Managers play a crucial role in navigating daily life and protecting you from potential emotional upheavals, it’s essential to strike a balance. Overreliance on these control-oriented parts can lead to burnout, anxiety, and disconnection from more vulnerable, authentic aspects of yourself.

In the process of IFS-informed therapy, you work towards developing a compassionate understanding of your managing parts and relieving their excessive burdens. This involves acknowledging the positive intentions behind their actions and fostering an ability in these parts for a more trusting and cooperative inner relationship.

Firefighters: Parts seeking immediate relief through fight or flight reactions

Firefighter parts play a crucial role as one of the protective internal mechanisms. Think of them as the first responders to the emotional fires that may arise within you. They step in when overwhelming and threatening emotions engulf your sense of control, employing various strategies to douse the flames and rescue the threatened part of you.

These strategies may include:

  • Impulsive and self-destructive actions to temporarily numb or redirect emotional turmoil. Such as binge eating, substance use, impulsive withdrawal from responsibility, self-harming, or engaging in other reckless activities.
  • Mental and physical hyperactivity to divert attention from distressing emotions. Such as frenetic work, excessive exercise, shopping frenzy, or an extremely restrictive diet.
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors to gain a sense of order and relief. Such as rituals, hyper-rumination, excessive analyzing, organizing, or calculating
  • Externalization of responsibility and accountability to protect oneself from facing more vulnerable feelings such as fear, guilt, and shame. Such as one-sided blaming of others, including loved ones, often accompanied by intense anger and self-justification.
  • Avoidance to steer clear of emotionally charged experiences of current and past times. Such as isolation, social withdrawal, procrastination, negligence of responsibility, emotional disconnection, or dissociation/derealization.

Understanding these reactive parts requires authentic compassion for recognizing that their actions are driven by a well-intentioned desire to protect you from overwhelming emotional pain. They operate on a subconscious level, attempting to regain a semblance of control and prevent the activation of your deeper, more vulnerable parts.
Similarly to engaging with the controlling parts, it is never a focus or goal in IFS-informed therapy to eliminate these Firefighters from you for their harmful effects. Addressing these parts in therapy is a nuanced process that involves carefully exploring the underlying emotions they are so frantically attempting to shield you from. Through therapeutic intervention fostering access to your compassion, courage, and curiosity, these reactive parts gradually learn to trust enough to ease themselves and be open to alternative and healthier coping strategies, while allowing the more vulnerable parts of you to be reached and engaged.

Exiles: Parts that hold emotional pain, embedded deep within the mind and body

Exile parts represent the vulnerable and wounded parts of your internal world—so vulnerable that they are often hidden from or avoided by your other parts in the forefront of your daily functioning. Your exiled parts carry profound emotional pain, memories, and traumas from experiences too overwhelming and distressing for confrontation or resolution.

Exile parts can appear in different characteristics, such as:

  • Emotional vulnerability (insecurity, fear, sadness, shame, hopelessness, or helplessness) expressing wounds.
  • Childlike-ness (innocence, naivety, over-dependence on or over-trusting of others for safety, or lack of self-authority) indicates the stunted growth of the wounded child.
  • Triggers and flashbacks by situations reminding them of or similar to the painful experience in the past, upon which you may feel completely overwhelmed or flooded.
  • Hiddenness (guardedness, heightened need for privacy or secretiveness) expressing fear of painful emotions and experiences resurfacing.
  • Longing for healing—the desire to be heard, seen, and understood and become an integrated part of daily life.

Recognizing and connecting with these exiled parts is crucial in therapy for unraveling the depths of your emotional landscape and promoting healing. IFS-informed therapy focuses on creating a compassionate and mindful relationship with various Exiles. Instead of perpetually keeping them hidden, the therapeutic process carefully fosters a safe and supportive ground to gradually bring them into conscious awareness. By acknowledging and befriending these wounded inner parts, you can begin the process of healing and integration.

Why choose IFS-Informed Therapy?

Comprehensive healing: IFS-informed therapy addresses the root causes of emotional struggles, providing a holistic approach to mental well-being.

Self-compassion: Foster a compassionate relationship with yourself by understanding and embracing all facets of your internal world.

Empowerment and resilience: Gain insights into your internal world and develop the tools to navigate life’s challenges with the ability to make intentional choices and adjust internal and external relationships.

Who is IFS-Informed Therapy for?

  • You struggle to navigate through daily life.
  • You feel overburdened or out of balance.
  • You are unable to unburden yourself from the many conscious and subconscious fears and other emotional bindings.
  • You struggle with habits, addiction, or patterns of behavior and choice-making you want to break from yet haven’t been able to achieve.
  • You have a hard time motivating yourself or moving forward with your desires.
  • You feel inadequate or out of place with some inherent aspects or external conditions of yourself.
  • You carry trauma from experiences beyond your capacity to bear and relieve.
  • Your life has been overtaken by the wound caused within you.
  • You feel unsafe or threatened and have an intense urge to flee, hide, or fight, which you can’t be free from.

If you resonate with the struggles and burdens within your mind and body, IFS-informed therapy may be right for you. These entities carry out actions to protect you, but they can also cause stress. If you sense your compassionate side wanting healing or long-lasting fulfillment, IFS therapy can help you seek freedom, independence, and personal growth.

What to expect in IFS-Focused Therapy sessions?

You can expect a diverse range of activities and therapeutic approaches aimed at delving into and comprehending your internal landscape. Engage in verbal discussions as well as exploring creative expressions, such as drawing, working with various art forms, and delving into the analysis of dreams. Experience dialogue that helps you connect with different aspects of yourself, that encourages open communication and understanding.

Furthermore, a significant component of IFS therapy involves an embodied process. You will be guided to pay attention to the various parts of yourself that are intricately connected to your physical being. This embodiment process involves being mindful of bodily sensations and responses as you engage with these inner aspects. By understanding how the body responds to different emotions and thoughts, you can gain valuable insights, contributing to a more profound and holistic therapeutic experience.

Experience the transformative power of IFS-Informed Therapy

Embark on a journey towards self-discovery, healing, and empowerment. If you’re ready to explore the depths of the parts and of yourself living in your mind and body and to engage in a transformative healing process involving the cultivation of a harmonious internal relationship between your parts, contact Dr. Kim today to schedule a consultation.