Getting in Touch with Your IFS Parts

Internal Family Systems can be a little difficult to start, this exercise will help

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I wrote an article giving an overview of Internal Family Systems with examples of how it has helped me, but didn’t give any details of the process. These details felt like a different part of learning about IFS — first you decide you’re interested, and then you figure out how to do it.

This exercise is the fastest demonstration I’ve seen of how your emotional state can change using the techniques of IFS. Of course I recommend reading the book No Bad Parts if you’re interested in a much deeper dive.

Ok, now find a quiet place where you can settle down for 10 minutes and focus internally. If you meditate, then do your regular breathing exercises to centre yourself. Go all the way to end of these steps.

One — think of a time when you were triggered emotionally by someone in your life. Re-live the scenario in your mind, and try to experience the same emotion. I’ll use anger as an example. We’ll call this the trigger emotion.

Two — Focus on the emotion, see if you can feel it directly again. Focus your attention towards the emotion and towards where it resides in your body if you can. Ask the emotion, “what are you trying to tell me?” and don’t force an answer, wait for an answer to come.

Three — If you get an answer, you have your IFS conversation. If you don’t, and most people don’t right away, think about the trigger emotion again, and try to determine how you feel about it. You might for example be annoyed, or sad about the anger. Let’s call this sadness the reaction emotion.

Four — Now focus on the reaction emotion, and ask the sadness to step aside so you can speak to the anger. If the sadness doesn’t agree to step aside, you can reassure it that you’ll speak to it later.

Five — Once the reaction emotion steps aside, focus again on the trigger emotion and check again to see how you feel towards it. Usually now instead of sadness or anger, you’ll experience compassion and curiosity. That is the first sign that you are now speaking directly to a part. Now when you ask the trigger emotion what it’s trying to tell you, you’re much more likely to get a response.

Six — a bonus exercise. Go back to the original scenario where you were triggered by a person. Imagine you build a comfortable little room, and place the person who triggered you inside that room. Close the door, and imagine a little window into that room where you can watch the person. Make sure they’re comfortable. Now re-examine the emotion you felt in the triggering scenario. Has it lessened? How have your feelings changed toward the person in the room?

What these exercises can show you is the power of treating your emotions as if they were people, instead of mysterious forces emanating from somewhere deep inside your mind. Once you see the instant impact of asking one emotion to step aside, or putting the target of an emotion into a room where they can’t hurt you, I hope you’ll get curious about how much more IFS can do for you.

If it didn’t work, I apologize for not being a better teacher. Read the book!

  1. My full article on Internal Family Systems therapy.

  2. How to draw your IFS parts using Midjourney.

  3. Dr. Richard Schwartz’ book ‘No Bad Parts, a deep dive into IFS.

Thanks for reading!

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