By Diana Samardzic, Psy.D.

Have you heard the expression: “I can be my own worst enemy?”  I think we have all felt that way at one time or another.  The self-criticism and negative inner voice can be annoying, frustrating, and overwhelming at times.  According to the Internal Family Systems (IFS for short) model, believe it or not, these voices inside of us are actually trying to help, and even protect, us.

Richard Schwartz developed this relatively new approach when he recognized that we all have various parts of ourselves that take over in an attempt to help us survive and keep our lives running smoothly.  When we become hurt, traumatized, or emotionally wounded, we tend to hide away these parts, which he calls exiles or wounded ones.  Often simultaneously, protector parts, such as depression, anxiety, anger and other symptoms, get active in order to ensure that the exiles don’t get hurt again.  And they aren’t exclusive to emotional signs or signals.  Our systems will sometimes develop physical pain or discomfort in order to alert us that some part of us needs attention or that a part is worried about something.  For example, you may notice that whenever you talk to a certain friend who hurt you in the past, you feel tension in your neck and shoulders and you become a little anxious.  There is likely a protector part who is mistrustful of this person and is therefore reminding you to be cautious and keep your guard up so as not to get hurt again.  

Unfortunately, these signs and signals that our minds and bodies send us are often ignored by us and by other parts who fear that these protectors will take over and overwhelm the system.  However, if you are working with a practitioner who is utilizing this approach, you can begin to learn about and better understand these parts.  The goal of this approach is not to get rid of any parts but to listen to them and see how they are actually just trying to help.  In developing a relationship with these parts, they learn to trust that you can make decisions that are going to be best for the entire system.  This way, you are working towards getting as many of your needs met as possible, and in turn, feeling better as you improve your relationship with yourself.  

Participating in the IFS process with a therapist can be a deeply healing and transformational experience.  It is an experiential approach that incorporates the mind and the body so you can better understand your internal world.  If you are interested in working with a therapist who uses this approach, please contact us. We can use IFS therapy in a variety of specialties, including trauma therapy.

Skip to content