Internal Family Systems and its Role in Restoring Balance

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Do you ever feel conflicting emotions, like a part of you wants to do one thing and the other part doesn’t? When these feelings conflict, you’re likely to grapple with your internal self, beliefs and desires. In Internal Family Systems (IFS), the idea of multiplicity thinking is normal. Every part has value and good intentions, though it’s important to understand the interactions and relationships between them.

Let’s learn more about Internal Family Systems, the type of model it is and the issues that may be treated with IFS.

What is IFS, Exactly? How Did it Come Into Practice?

Internal Family Systems uses the Family Systems theory, the idea that individuals cannot be fully understood away from their families. This context is incredibly important, as it shapes individuals into the people they become.

According to psychiatric Murray Bowen, the family is viewed as a complex social system, in which members influence each other’s behavior. Some of the principles of the Family Systems theory include sibling position, family projection and the differentiation of self from the family unit.

For example, when a teenager is struggling with depression and substance abuse, the Family Systems approach can be used to understand where the behavior is coming from. It’s likely that there are issues within the family unit that are contributing to this behavior.

By uncovering the networks of relationships, the family can become stronger and healthier, creating a positive environment where their teen can heal from depression and addiction. Without this type of family focus, the teen would return to the same triggers, making it difficult to sustain recovery.

Understanding the IFS Therapy Model

The concept of multiple intrapsychic entities is not new. Sigmund Freud discovered the id, ego and superego, three agents involved in our mental lives, though the IFS theory goes deeper and suggests that each part possesses its own characteristics and perceptions. This is why conflicted thinking happens. One part is telling you to do something, and the other is telling you not to.

The IFS model has five basic assumptions:

  1. The human mind is subdivided into many different parts that make up the internal family.
  2. Each person has a Self, and the Self oversees the inner family (or the rest of the parts).
  3. All parts of a person are healthy and beneficial. There are no ‘bad’ parts. Therapy can help the ‘extreme’ parts become ‘non-extreme.’
  4. Personal growth and development lead to the development of the internal family. Interactions between parts become more complex, therefore, the systems theory can be applied to the internal system.
  5. Changes in the internal system will affect the external system and vice versa.

In addition, there are three distinct types of parts in the IFS model:

  • Managers are responsible for maintaining a functioning level of consciousness in everyday life. They are the ‘protectors’ of the system.
  • Exiles are usually in a state of pain or trauma, which may result from past childhood experiences. They hold onto painful emotions and can become increasingly extreme.
  • Firefighters serve as distractions to the mind and prompt a person to act on their impulses and engage in indulgent behaviors like drugs, alcohol, food or sex. Essentially, they want to escape from their exiles.

Issues that IFS Therapy Can Help With

The purpose of IFS therapy is to help individuals differentiate the Self from their other parts – managers, exiles and firefighters. In doing this, the person can restore its wounded parts and establish a trusted, harmonious internal system where the Self oversees all.

Eventually, the person learns what to say to each part to promote internal system harmony. In other words, they become ‘counselors’ to their own internal families.

IFS therapy is used to treat a wide range of mental health disorders and psychological wounds, particularly phobias, panic disorders, generalized anxiety disorder and depression. It can be used in family, couple and individual therapy sessions. Often, the session will look and feel just like a traditional talk therapy session, but the therapist will focus more on the person’s internal environment.

Some of the techniques and exercises therapists recommend in IFS therapy are:

  • Writing in a journal to get to know one’s self
  • Using diagrams to illustrate the different parts and their relationships to one another
  • Breathing and relaxation exercises
  • Mindfulness meditation to focus on the present moment

Internal Family Systems is an evidence-based practice, though it can be limited at certain times. For example, interference from the client’s internal parts or a lack of support from the external family system can interfere with IFS therapy.

Start Internal Family Systems Therapy Today

Breathe Living Healing Centers treats a wide range of substance use, mental health and eating disorders. We focus on healing the mind, body and spirit using various treatment modalities, including IFS therapy. After all, we are more than a treatment center. We are a place for healing and restoration.

To learn more about our approaches to treating trauma using Internal Family Systems therapy, contact our admissions department today.

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