Internal Family Systems

The young adult man laughs as he listens to an unseen person, possibly a counselor.

The second pillar that supports authentic communication is Internal Family Systems (IFS), developed by Richard Schwartz, a powerful ways to understand yourself, heal and grow.

Our psyches are made up of different parts, sometimes called subpersonalities or inner voices. Each part has its own perspective, feelings, needs, memories, and goals. For example, one part might have an intense desire to share something vulnerable while another part is terrified to speak up. We all have parts like the inner critic, the wounded child, the people pleaser, the fierce controller, and the judge.

In group, we find it useful to speak for our parts  rather than from our parts because it helps us self-regulate. For example, we might say, “A part of me wants to share something I found hurtful because I want understanding. Another part of me is terrified that I won’t belong.” Understanding our parts helps build connection to Self.

The goal of IFS is to help us recognize our spiritual center, or Self, which is grounded in connection, compassion, creativity, clarity, curiosity, calm, confidence and courage. We all have two basic types of parts—protectors who want to keep us safe from pain, and exiles or wounded parts that experience pain and shame.

We can learn to speak from Self energy, by developing an empathic relationship with each of our parts, and helping our wounded parts to heal.

The group learns to befriend defense mechanisms so that all parts of all people are welcome. We do this by slowing down and establishing a clear and present focus on the body, so that our experience can be metabolized. We digest the past by harvesting and integrating what is happening in the present.

And in the present moment, we feel into our body, we open to sensations and feelings, we engage, and we connect deeply to ourselves and others.

To learn about the third pillar of authentic communication, explore the Here and Now.