“ ...IFS is inherently compassionate, gentle and respectful, allowing therapist and client access to places of deep healing and self-connection”. Janina Fisher (author of ‘Healing the Fragmented Selves of Trauma Survivors’)
IFS is a psychological/somatic therapy that helps us to understand and heal our inner world of how we experience ourselves and our life.
Many of us have experienced times of vulnerability, pain, shame, trauma, betrayal, grief, abuse, illness etc. In the IFS model of therapy it is believed that if these experiences, emotions and memories are not fully processed at the time, then they continue to be held in the body and mind.
The parts of us that hold these unprocessed painful, traumatic and uncomfortable feelings and memories, are called EXILES. Consequently, other parts of us then develop a protective role to try and save us from re-feeling the pain, shame and vulnerability that our Exiles carry. Self-criticism, negative self-beliefs, addictions, self-harm, over-working, depression, procrastination, low self-esteem and even chronic health conditions may all be seen as PROTECTORS that are working to try and shield us from re-experiencing our wounds (held by Exiles) by keeping them exiled and out of the way, hidden and suppressed.
During IFS therapy, we turn towards all these parts of ourselves with curiosity and compassion, learning what role they play in our system, and why. All parts of us can be seen as serving the purpose of trying to help or protect us if we only take the time to understand them.
For example, a self-critical part of us may prevent us from attempting something by saying “you are no good, don’t even try to do that”, in order to save us from possible failure and the feelings of shame that may follow. Once we understand the role and intention that our self-criticism plays in trying to protect us from shame or self-loathing, we then have the chance, in IFS language, to “unburden” or heal the shame. As the shame is healed, then the self-criticism doesn’t need to work so hard trying to protect us. The self-critic actually becomes quieter.
Other parts may lead us into addictive behaviours in order to save us from having to feel the worthlessness that a younger part of us felt or experienced many years ago, and that even now can bubble up to the surface. Then another part may criticise us for having acted out an addictive behaviour. We feel like a failure, which triggers feelings of worthlessness and shame, and so our addictive behaviour acts out again.
In addition to psychological and emotional issues, IFS can also play a role in addressing chronic health conditions.
Sometimes health issues have a psychological component. Maybe we have some particular belief about ourselves that we have been holding. These thoughts and emotions may be conscious or subconscious. They may have developed when we were young or even ‘inherited’ from our family and may impact on the biology of the body. IFS gives us a way to release these ‘burdens’ on our system. It can thus play a role in helping the body deal with the physiology, unburdened by the impact of additional psychological pressures. Our vulnerable Exiles really can be healed, and once healed through the IFS process of unburdening, our protective/ defensive parts no longer need to work so hard. This means that the protective/defensive parts of us no longer take control and run our lives. We can live freer, calmer and more open hearted lives.