Internal Family Systems—The Practical Side

Internal Family Systems (IFS) was created by psychologist Richard Schwartz.  Schwartz worked as a family therapist and noticed that people described their thoughts and feelings as different parts. Furthermore, he discovered that people’s parts often did not get along or were in conflict with one another. As a result, Schwartz began to develop a system of practice that sought to help a person’s parts work in harmony to promote well-being and balance.

Schwartz proposed that if a person’s conflicted parts were the problem, a true sense of Self was found beneath these parts. This true Self he called the core Self.  His theory set out to help heal the wounded parts in a person so that the true Self could shine through and the person could live feeling whole and free. 

According to IFS, the various parts within a person fall into three main categories. These are:  managers, exiles and firefighters. According to Psychology Today (www.psychologytoday.com), these main 3 roles are described as follows:

Managers are the protective parts that try to control surroundings and emotions to get through daily life.

Exiles are the hurt parts that may hold shame or fear from past traumatic experiences. Managers work to keep exiles away to avoid emotional hurt or pain.

Firefighters arrive when exiles are experiencing overwhelming, negative emotions. They seek to stop or quench these feelings any way possible—including by using negative coping skills such as binge eating, consuming drugs or alcohol, etc.

IFS supports the client as they learn about their managers, exiles and firefighters, including where they come from and why they exist.  IFS proposes that the core Self or The Self has the characteristics to help the person’s parts become healthier and learn to co-exist together. While the client is working through their trauma, they are utilizing aspects of The Self that can help them heal and become the best version of themselves.

IFS lists the following traits of The Self, which Dr. Schwartz coined “The 8 C’s.” These are:

  1. Confidence
  2. Calmness
  3. Creativity
  4. Clarity
  5. Curiosity
  6. Courage
  7. Compassion
  8. Connectedness

Along with the 8 C’s, Schwartz holds that there are “5 P’s” of The Self that work with the “8 C’s” to create healing. These are:

  1. Presence
  2. Patience
  3. Perspective
  4. Persistence
  5. Playfulness

IFS employs the C’s and P’s together to help the client uncover the strengths and tools needed to foster peace between the inner voices so The Self can live in calmness and contentment.

We will continue unpacking IFS next month. For now, if you are struggling with anxiety or depression or need help sorting out your thoughts and feelings, we are here to help. Our experienced mental health therapists would be honored to walk alongside you as you discover how to address your hurts and move forward into your best and true Self. Please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment. And please come back next month for more on the topic of IFS. 


Yolanda Brailey