There are various types of treatment options used with individuals through therapy. Some types of therapy are designed to work from the diagnosis of the patient or individual, while others are focused on holistically treating the individual and not focus on treating the diagnosed condition.
Internal Family Systems Therapy, also known as IFS, is a therapy that treats the whole individual. It can be used with a variety of different mental health conditions and diagnoses, as well as for those areas of life where people struggle. Examples of this can be in personal or professional relationships, professional or career challenges, feelings of self-worth and self-esteem, and building and developing resilience.
The Basics of IFS
Internal Family Systems Therapy looks at the sub-personalities or the family of personalities that make up the individual’s mental system or how they see themselves and the world around them. These internal personalities, or the internal family, has parts that are injured from past emotional wounds and traumas, as well as parts that are confident, empathetic, and compassionate. It is helpful to think of these as the healthy or unhealthy roles or parts of the mental state. The goal of this therapeutic treatment is to change the unhealthy roles to those that support the overall goal of developing a positive sense of self that manages the system.
These different aspects of the internal family form the core of IFS. Through Internal Family Systems Therapy, the client and therapist work to create a balance and harmony between the sub-personalities in the internal family. This work is done through talk therapy techniques, and it starts by identifying the parts or the sub-personalities and how they impact the mental system or the internal family.
There are three different types of parts in the mental system. These include:
• Managers – these are the parts that plan and create ways to avoid feeling pain or discomfort. They see managing the situation as a critical part of self-preservation.
• Firefighters – firefighters are the parts that jump in to save the day when something negative occurs. They are always on the lookout for triggers and find ways to avoid the pain. Unfortunately, these are often unhealthy ways such as alcohol, drugs, food addictions, attempting to “fix” someone else, gambling, codependency, or love addictions that distract from the cause of the pain.
• Exiles – exiles are the parts that remember and bring forth the memories of trauma and pain. The manager and the firefighter are constantly working to keep the exiles from taking charge.
Through journaling, mindfulness, relaxation exercises, and a growing sense of how the sub-personalities impact daily life and thinking, individuals can determine how the parts can be healed or otherwise transformed to have a positive role in the internal mental state.
Codependency and IFS
In codependency, firefighters can be some of the loudest parts of the internal family system. They are there to immediately divert your attention from past abuse, trauma, or family dysfunction to trying to fix the current toxic relationship. They are not really helping. Instead, this is the firefighter using avoidance and distraction as a way to keep the exiles, those past memories of pain, far away.
At the same time, the manager is always planning how to keep looking outward for the solutions rather than looking inside to address the source of the pain and trauma. By taking the time to see and understand the role the exiles play, codependents can connect with what they need in their life to address the trauma they experienced and encountered as children.
Once the codependent can look within to find the necessary missing or minimized parts of their mental system, they can let go of the need for the manager and the firefighters, reducing the need for controlling or distracting behaviors.
Internal Family Systems Therapy does require the willingness to do the work and to be open to going deep into your exiles, managers, and firefighters. Through the process, you can see yourself and learn to regard, love, and have compassion for the amazing person you are.
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