Internal Family Systems

Internal Family Systems is a comprehensive approach that views the human psyche  from a multiplicity perspective.  What this means is that we develop our personality as parts of us rather than a unified whole.  We often find ourself saying things like a part of me feels ...  or a part of me took over.  Sometimes we say 'that' wasn't me when we want to disconnect from a part of us that we feel shame about.  We often feel childlike when we are experiencing a vulnerable part of ourself.  So experiencing ourself as many parts is a natural way of relating to ourselves and our identity is made up of the various parts of us.  We are never just one representation of ourself and we take on many roles that are different from each other, eg. mother, sister, worker, artist etc.

Internal Family Systems has provided me and my clients with an in-depth way to resolve internal conflicts and heal wounded parts and develop a relationship to ourself that creates internal cooperation between parts of ourself and acceptance of all parts of us.

The IFS Model views these parts as developing within us from birth in response to our relationship to our environment, family, culture and all the different systems we encounter in our life.  These parts are valuable to us and are often forced out of their valuable roles by life experiences that can reorganize the system in unhealthy ways. A good analogy is an alcoholic family in which the children are forced into protective and stereotypic roles by the extreme dynamics of their family. While one finds similar sibling roles across alcoholic families (e.g., the scapegoat, mascot, lost child), one does not conclude that those roles represent the essence of those children. Instead, each child is unique and, once released from his or her role by intervention, can find interests and talents separate from the demands of the chaotic family. The same process seems to hold true for internal families -- parts are forced into extreme roles by external circumstances and, once it seems safe, they gladly transform into valuable family members.

What circumstances force these parts into extreme and sometimes destructive roles? Trauma is one factor. But more often, it is a person's family of origin values and interaction patterns that create internal polarizations which escalate over time and are played out in other relationships.