/  Parts & Self Relationships in IFS

IFS Parts & Self Relationships

Internal Family Systems (IFS) describes human beings as having multiple parts within us. Ever felt conflicted? that would be two or more parts with different opinions/agendas! Rigid parts cause tension and suffering.

Having parts is seen as normal. IFS aims to unburden rigid parts so that they may regain fluidity and happiness, becoming easeful, collaborative and fulfilled. To achieve this we develop a secure attuned relationship between our parts and our Self Energy.

Self Energy refers to that aliveness within which is NOT a part. Self qualitites of compassion, connection, courage, calm, creativity, confidence, curiousity, clarity (and more) offer our parts a healing balm and a secure attachment. This is a new alternative to looking to other parts (inside or outside) for support, approval and validation. 

Parts that are securely attached and unburdened are able to BE themselves fully. 


Manager Parts 

Manager parts are the ones that like to control, plan and organise so that everything goes according to their plans. They aim to prevent us from feeling bad by being ‘good’! Hence, they like achievements, successes and are motivated by approval.

Manager parts include: parent parts, professional parts, teaching parts, narrator/story telling parts, rational/analytical parts & more.

They parts are socially acceptable and that may also be why we often identify with them the most, and often present ourselves to others as our manager parts.

Our managers are hard-working and often exhausted! They often take a lot of responsibility and believe that they are holding everything and everyone together.

Managers exert a lot of control and put a lot of pressure on our system to be good. This is because they know there are parts (Exiles) which hold unprocessed/traumatic feelings and there are parts (Firefighters) that are opposed to the managers ways. 

The more managers pressure the other parts to be good, the more this triggers the other parts, which further triggers the managers to work harder to control them.

This is why burdened managers can struggle to relax and feel their job is ever over. They commonly feel frustrated and tired, but keep acting in the same ways. 

Healing the managers starts with developing their trust in Self energy and managing their concerns regarding wellbeing while they start to allow Self to help the Exiles heal their trauma. Once Self helps Exiles unburden so they are not holding trauma and shame, the managers can unburden and no longer have to work as hard to ‘hold everything together’.


Firefighter Parts

Firefighters (FF) often take over when Manager parts are tired. The FF parts may seem reckless as they are impulsive and not so interested in consequences of their actions, however they too have good intentions:

Firefighter parts aim to reduce the Exiles pain and reduce the stress and pressure built up in the system by the exacting control of the managers.

The FFs do this by heating up or cooling down the system, as in rage/anger/agression or dissociation/ shut down/numbness/no-feeling/freeze.

FF often get noticed as they can behave in socially unacceptable ways that disrupt and upset other parts (in us and in others) – such as when they are loud, angry and aggressive. 

Firefighter parts include ones that get addicted to extreme ‘highs and lows’ – sex, drugs, gambling and more. They can also be parts that love humour, dance and exercise.

Self energy meets these parts without jugement and supports them by recognising their positive intention, their concerns and feelings. This can be deeply healing for Firefighters who are more used to being misunderstood, judged and feared (by other parts).

Exile Parts

These parts hold unprocessed experiences, memories and feelings. These are often held in the body unconsciously as they are hard to feel and destabalise the system when they come up.

The Managers & Firefighters parts work hard to push Exiles out of consciousness, in their attempt to Protect the system and maintain a balance. 

Exiled parts often hold limiting beliefs around unworthiness and unloveability. They believe often that they are at fault and are faulty or broken/wrong.

Self energy builds trust with the protective Managers and Firefighters, listening to their concerns and asks them to step aside and allow the Self energy to develop direct relationship with Exiles. It is this attuned, secure and securing relationship that compassionately connects with and witnesses the Exiles, supporting them to unburden the trauma they carry for the whole system.

Once Exiles have released their burdens the system doesn’t need the protective parts to hold on to their burdens and all parts can explore new roles, positions, behaviour, interests and collaborations in a secure and enjoyable way.