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  • Writer's pictureKim

IFS: Your Self and Your Parts

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a model of therapy that looks at the mind as made up of a Self and multiple subpersonalities. (This is not the same as having “multiple personalities” or dissociative identity disorder). In IFS the subpersonalities are referred to as “parts”. We all have parts.

Photo of person talking to a bus full of people. The speaker represents Self. The passengers represent parts.


You probably have identified some of your parts. Have you ever said something like this: “Part of me wants to go on that beach vacation and part of me really just wants to stay home”? You have a part that likes adventure and a part that prefers to be at home.

They Want the Best for You

If you get to know each part better, you learn that each part wants the best for you. Your adventure part wants you to have fun, meet new people, have exciting experiences. The stay-at-home part wants the best for you too, but it has a different idea of what is best. It might have a belief learned in childhood that staying at home and doing chores is what a good person does. Or it might want you to stay at home because it’s safer. It remembers an accident that happened on the beach and doesn’t want that to happen to you.


In addition to parts, we all have a Self. Self is the natural leader of our internal system of parts. Other therapies and philosophies refer to this as inner knowing, Wise Mind, essence, or the calm, still voice inside. Self is who we want driving our bus.

Hijacked by a Part

When a part gets activated, it takes over the system. Self is no longer the leader. For example, as you are packing your swimsuit, the part that is afraid of a beach accident suddenly becomes fearful and cancels the trip.

Taking Back the Steering Wheel

When we notice a part has taken over and is driving the bus, we need to access Self. Then from our Self energy we address the fearful part that is holding the burden of a previous trauma. When Self can listen to the fearful/wounded part and meet its needs, we can again lead from Self.

In the case of the fearful part cancelling the beach trip, Self would listen to the part’s fears. Perhaps the fearful part remembers a swimmer stung by a jelly fish and none of her family was around to comfort her. This reminded the fearful part of a time in its own childhood when it fell off a bike and no one was around to comfort it. How lonely and scary that felt. Self would acknowledge the part’s feelings by saying, “I know you were scared and felt alone. You needed someone to help you up and tell you it was going to be ok. You needed someone to wash your wound and put a Band-Aid on it.” Self would also update the part, “I’m grown up now and can take care of myself. There’s always a little risk in an adventure. That’s what makes it exciting. I’ll be careful. I’ll check in with you and make sure you are not feeling alone and scared.”

More to come on accessing Self and working with parts.

Are you aware of any of your own parts?

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