Internal Family Systems

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What is Internal Family Systems Therapy? 

Internal Family Systems therapy or IFS for short is, at its core, about getting in touch with our wisest self, who, at its core, is a mindful, compassionate leader. It’s about approaching all aspects or “parts” of ourselves — even the ones we struggle with or dislike — with curiosity and compassion. 

IFS operates from the assumption that it is normal and healthy to have different parts of our self or personality. It’s normal for these parts to be distinct — and even conflicting!

You’ve probably said to yourself before, “Part of me wants to get that promotion… but part of me wants to stay where I am.” 

That’s what I’m referring to here — this idea that we are complex human beings with conflicting desires, needs, fears, or dreams. 

Maybe part of you wants to get that promotion because you seek a new challenge. Another part of you may be terrified of the time commitment and how it might impact your marriage or family. 

It is perfectly normal and adaptive to have parts that take the lead depending on the situation or moment. 

IFS is a non-pathologizing therapeutic orientation that believes that at your core, you are inherently good, wise, and whole.

Using IFS, I help my clients get in touch with the parts of themselves that they struggle with or feel might be holding them back so that the wisest, capital S “Self” can emerge.

What are parts? A deeper explanation of parts work and IFS

As human beings, we care a lot about avoiding danger, getting our needs met, and feeling loved and accepted by a social group. In other words, we seek protection and safety. 

We learn how to navigate the world through our many experiences over time. Much of that learning happens in childhood and goes into implicit memory, meaning a lot of the information gathered is not going to be actively remembered, it becomes more like muscle memory. 

Perhaps growing up in your family you learned to be people-pleasing and docile, because that’s what kept you “safe” and connected to your caregivers. Even as a working adult, your default is to be accommodating and dutiful. But when you go home to visit your parents, your mom says something that really triggers you. Suddenly, the people-pleasing, docile person has left the building. Instead, a dominating, aggressive person shows up — but without your logical consent. When your mom seemingly criticizes you, your mind and body become hijacked, and you behave in a way that’s perhaps different than how you normally are to “protect” or stand up for yourself, e.g., by raising your voice.

This is an example of a different part — the one that’s not the wisest — taking the lead in this moment. 

What’s interesting is that the overly accommodating person isn’t the wisest self either — both of these ways of being are due to social conditioning. IFS therapy helps us get curious about these various parts and how they show up and what purpose they serve so healing is possible. 

How does IFS help?

IFS invites us to slow down and become curious about what is happening in the current moment. As an IFS therapist, I invite my clients to move from embodying the triggered part to observing it. Rather than fighting against, hiding, or shaming parts, we listen to them. We honor them. We compassionately hold space for them. And over time, as we become more healed, the wise Self gets back into the driver’s seat. 

IFS teaches us that there are no bad parts.

Every part we have — even the ones we hate or are ashamed of — is trying to do its job to keep us safe. 

When we acknowledge all the parts of you that make up who you are — when we listen rather than turn away, when we welcome rather than shame, when we love rather than criticize — true healing is possible. 

You have a true Self. A deeper, wise Self. And IFS helps you connect with it. 

The 8 C’s of your deeper self 

IFS believes that at our core Self, there are these 8 C’s.

Your deepest, wisest self is:

  1. Compassionate
  2. Connected
  3. Calm
  4. Creative
  5. Clear
  6. Curious
  7. Confident
  8. Courageous

If you’re thinking, “Hey wait a minute… I’m not always confident, or courageous, or creative…” That’s okay. We don’t always have access to these 8 C’s. Our wise Self often gets overshadowed by conditioned or learned behaviors. We’ve learned to suppress our authentic selves and adopt alternative ways of being. Our younger selves had to adapt by adopting different behaviors that didn’t necessarily involve traits like curiosity or confidence in order to protect ourselves.

We want to honor our parts for the work that they’ve done for us — even if they stepped in in maladaptive ways, like by drinking, over or under eating, or being harshly critical. When we do the work in IFS therapy, we seek to let our parts — which have been working so hard to keep us safe, oftentimes in ways that are not actually helpful in our adult lives — off the hook so that the wisest Self can come forward.

Internal Family Systems therapy invites healing and authenticity

IFS helps you release painful feelings, memories, and stories. It teaches you to get to know all of you. It helps you turn toward, rather than turn away. 

It is beautiful when I see my clients step into self-understanding, self-compassion, and self-acceptance. 

Through IFS, we allow our full cognitive and emotional intelligence to come forward, rather than navigating the world through the lens of a biased or triggered part. We strive to engage our entire brain, including our logical and rational faculties, our emotions, and our intuition. Doing so allows us to become more creative, adaptable, and wise. 

When neural integration occurs, and the brain becomes more harmoniously connected, you become free to express your genuine Self.

Want to learn more about IFS therapy? 

I’d love to hear about your unique needs and see if IFS would be a good fit for you. I am an IFS certified therapist and Licensed Clinical Psychologist serving individuals, families, and couples in Roanoke, Virginia and online. Click here to schedule a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!

At my office, we offer an evidence-based psychotherapy approach called Internal Family Systems. With a deep understanding of the human psyche, I utilize the IFS model to help individuals heal from trauma, transform their relationships, and reconnect with their authentic selves.

The IFS Model: Healing and Reconnecting with Your True Self

The IFS model recognizes that various parts make up our sense of Self within each of us. The Self is the central, compassionate, and wise aspect of your being that makes you who you are. Our Selves develop parts or schisms that can be protective or wounded and can adapt and change over time in response to life experiences. When these parts become disorganized or conflicted, they can lead to emotional distress and relationship challenges.

Our minds are a complex system of inner parts, and as individuals, we can observe ourselves as a complex ecosystem of qualities and roles. Through this observation, we can pave the way for healing and self-discovery. By analyzing the patterns in our minds that we use to form our sense of Self and the roles we create for ourselves, we can also better understand how these conceptions impact our relationships.

Key Figures of IFS Psychotherapy:

  • Internal exploration: Individuals explore their inner landscape, gaining insights into protective strategies and negative beliefs.
  • Unburdening: The process of releasing internalized beliefs, shame, and painful sensations absorbed from past traumas.
  • Rebuilding a sense of Self: Through IFS, individuals refocus and rebuild their sense of Self, fostering self-connection and self-awareness.
  • Holistic approach: IFS integrates the intrapersonal and interpersonal aspects, promoting healing on multiple levels.

How IFS Therapy Can Heal Relational Trauma

Relational trauma stems from experiences such as abuse, enmeshment, and neglect during your developmental years. It can affect your well-being and relationships, causing deeper wounds. However, by healing the Self, relationships can also be transformed as a secondary source of healing.

The IFS model integrates the interpersonal and intrapersonal, creating a holistic approach to healing that allows you to embark on a journey of deep internal exploration with your loved ones. This model is made to help individuals, couples, and families learn about the mechanisms they’ve developed to shape their responses and help them move past the burden of past wounds and toward a more fulfilling life because reconnecting with the Self allows for profound healing from traumatic experiences and old wounds, thereby allowing individuals to heal and transform their relationships, fostering healthier and more meaningful connections with one another.

The Role of the Self in IFS

The individual’s concept of the Self is located at the core of IFS. The Self is the essence of who we are – curious, compassionate, connected, courageous, and clear. This sense of Self is not a part, but the core consciousness of the individual. IFS promotes the Self as the agent of healing and leader of the internal system. When the Self leads the internal system, the individual’s mental health and well-being improve.

The Benefits of IFS Therapy

This approach to therapy offers a non-pathologizing approach to understanding and addressing psychological issues. With its foundation in compassion, it aids individuals in:

  • Gaining a deeper self-awareness and understanding of their internal processes
  • Achieve healing from traumatic experiences
  • Improve their relationships by understanding their relational patterns
  • Develop emotional resilience and healthier coping mechanisms
  • Enhance self-confidence and personal growth

Discover Internal Family Systems Therapy Today

The Internal Family Systems model is one of my core passions as a psychologist. I believe this therapeutic approach has a transformative power and is a powerful tool for guiding individuals to healing, personal growth, and self-awareness. Through the exploration and understanding of your internal family system dynamics, you can empower your Self and foster a harmonious internal system. Call my office at (540) 915-1508 or send me a message to start your healing journey with IFS.

Ready to Schedule a Consultation?

I make education and involvement a core aspect of your care plan. Fill out the form below or call (540) 915-1508 directly to request an appointment with my office. You may also schedule online using my online link.

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My treatment plans are collaborative and are designed specifically to meet your needs and preferences.

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