Working Through Conflicts in an Interactive/IFS Group

Sharon tended to avoid bringing up difficulties with her friends, but then she would withdraw from them because her negative feelings festered. This was directly tied to her fear of vulnerability. As long as she was holding back negative feelings toward someone, she didn’t have to reach out or get in touch with her vulnerable exile. She felt justified in keeping the person at a distance or even writing them off. She was also afraid of the person’s reactions if she confronted them.

When Sharon brought up this issue in a group consult with me, I suggested that she work on confronting people in group directly, and this terrified her. She was afraid that the other person would get hurt, and then they would abandon her or get angry at her. I encouraged Sharon to get feedback from the group members about this, and when she did, only one person expressed fear of Sharon’s confrontations. The rest of the group welcomed them.

After this, she began to bring out her negative feelings toward people in group, and in the process she learned more about how her judgments were a protection against wanting contact. This also got her judgments out in the open so they didn’t fester inside and get in the way of her connecting with people. Sharon found that when she did challenge someone in a soft way about something they were doing that she didn’t like, the person would often reveal the reason behind their behavior and be willing to try to change. This encouraged Sharon’s own openness. Conflict became a way of becoming closer to people.

For example, Patti joined the group about 9 months after it started and Sharon didn’t feel very receptive to her. Sharon describes it as follows:

“I had a part with the attitude of ‘I’m in the in-crowd and I’ve got something that you don’t. You can’t come in.’ This protector felt this way toward some people. They had to prove that they were willing to be open and loving, that they were scared and vulnerable, and they had to appreciate me and let me know that. Once they did that, then I could trust them. I was very scared to confront Patti, especially because it was something that was part of her character and couldn’t be changed.

When I mentioned that in a consultation, Jay encouraged me to work on it with her because both of us could benefit from it. That gave me the idea that my response to someone could be appropriate and helpful to them. So he gave me the courage to do it.”

Even though at first Sharon didn’t say anything about her judgmental response, Patti sensed it, and, after a couple of months, she questioned Sharon about it. This gave Sharon an opening to do the work. She acknowledged that she had a tendency to make people prove themselves before she would accept them, and that she was feeling that way toward Patti. Patti asked her why, and Sharon said it was because she didn’t sense warmth from Patti toward herself or toward other people in the group.

“This was very scary. If I would ever talk back or challenge my mother in any way she would be so wounded. She could dish it out but she couldn’t take it! I felt tremendous guilt at hurting her. In my family, I had all this training that you can’t disagree, or argue, or confront in any way. I had already worked on that in individual therapy, so in the group I was ready to try it out and break old habits.”

Patti felt hurt by Sharon’s statement, but she also acknowledged that she did have a part that was guarded at first with people for fear of not being accepted. Patti was feeling shaky about not being accepted in the group, and I encouraged her to explore this rather than defending herself. It was difficult for Patti to make herself this vulnerable, but with encouragement and reassurance from me and from the group, she was able to do some very courageous work. As she explored this issue, it led back to an exile with deep pain about not being accepted in her family of origin, and Patti opened herself and expressed the pain in a vulnerable, appealing way.

Sharon’s attitude toward Patti changed right in the moment. She melted and felt genuine caring and respect for her. She realized that Patti had warmth, but that she expressed it in a different way than Sharon. They continued to work on this issue and other differences between them as the group progressed, and they grew closer over time. In addition, because of this work, Sharon saw the possibility of being more receptive to other new people whose style of relating might be different from hers.

I lead four Interactive/IFS Groups, some of which have openings now. Click here for more information about them.


How to Safely Work with Exiles

Working with ExilesWhen working with childhood wounds, there are two dangers. One is that you will be flooded with pain; the other is that you will avoid the exile because you are afraid of the pain being too excruciating. Exiles want to be heard and healed, but they usually try to be heard by flooding you with their feelings, which means blending with you. This is all they know.


Blending can be frightening because it draws you into the exile’s vortex of helplessness, and you might become increasingly buried in the pain or chaos. The intensity of reliving a trauma in this way could actually be harmful, and, if this begins to happen, protectors will usually react by stepping in and blocking access to the exile. Keeping you from this suffering has been their job for years, so they will react automatically. You will find yourself going numb or spacing out; you might become distracted or angry. These and other reactions all come from protectors that are afraid of the pain, and for good reason; it really might be difficult for you to cope with.

Exploring an Exile’s Pain

IFS has discovered a way to explore an exile’s pain safely. You stay in Self and relate to the exile; you don’t become the exile. If you merged with the exile and lost contact with the Self, the pain really could be overwhelming. However, the Self, when it is differentiated and separate from the exile, can deal with anything. When in Self, you sit in a calm, grounded place, and therefore you aren’t threatened by pain and trauma. If you start to be overpowered by the exile’s emotions, which means that the part is blending with Self, IFS has effective techniques for unblending and returning you to a grounded place.

This approach is workable because, in most cases, it isn’t necessary for you to directly feel all of the exile’s pain. IFS has discovered that emotional understanding is usually enough to set the stage for the rest of the healing steps.


There are a number of benefits to this approach. Besides avoiding being re-traumatized, you aren’t confronted with an armory of defenses to keep you from the exile. Since you aren’t threatened by the exile’s pain, protectors don’t feel the need to interrupt the process. This saves time, and sometimes it is the only way to work with an exile because, otherwise, protectors continually throw up obstacles and may permanently block the process.  Furthermore, by remaining in Self, you can be a compassionate witness to the exile’s pain and the agent of healing and transformation for the exile. In addition, from Self, you have the perspective to direct your own therapy process successfully.

Asking Permission to work with an Exile

Permission to Work with Exile

Permission to Work with Exile

Let’s assume that you have been getting to know a protector and developing a trusting relationship with it. Once you are aware of the exile that it is protecting, ask permission from the protector to get to know this child part.

You may receive an explicit yes or no. Or you may just sense that your way to the exile is clear or that it is blocked. Or the exile may suddenly emerge into consciousness, indicating that you have permission.

Once you get permission, it may be a good idea to check if there are any other protectors that object to your contacting this exile so you can get their permission, too. If you don’t get permission, you ask the protector what it is afraid would happen if it gave permission, and then reassure it about its fears.

The Cooperative Approach

This step highlights a major advantage of using IFS—its cooperative approach. Let’s consider a situation where your heart is contracted to keep you from feeling the pain of being rejected by a lover. In many forms of therapy, you would focus on the contraction and try to get your heart to open so you could feel the underlying hurt and thereby heal it. But this means fighting against the part of yourself that is contracted, which is a protector. This part believes that it must keep contracted so you don’t feel this intense pain. Turning it into an adversary usually backfires.

The more you try to get past the contraction, the more it fights you. And if you do manage to break through this protector, you may accomplish a dramatic, cathartic healing, but the contracted protector is likely to reconstitute itself soon afterward because you didn’t respect it and get its buy-in.

Two Parts Involved

There is a powerful advantage to understanding that there are two parts involved. Though the protector is keeping you from the pain, it may not realize that there is an exile that is already feeling the pain. It may think it is actually preventing the pain from existing at all rather than preventing you from feeling what the exile is already experiencing.

Using IFS

Using IFS, you don’t try to break through the protection; you don’t even ask the contraction to let go. Instead, you make it clear to the protector that the exile is already in pain, and you just ask permission to work with the exile so you can relieve it of the pain that exists. This way the protector feels you are trying to help rather than to cause pain, so it is much more likely to agree.

Free Introduction to Advanced IFS Classes January 10

In the Advanced Ongoing IFS Classes, you learn intermediate and advanced techniques and understandings that go beyond what I teach in the Basic and Exiles Courses.

I lead demonstration IFS sessions with volunteers from the class, and you practice with each other in pairs for homework. In addition, the whole group works together on important psychological issues such as procrastination, the inner critic, depression, eating issues, and more. There are separate classes for therapists and coaches, which include advanced training and consultation on IFS.

There are 3 classes, including a new one for therapists and coaches.

Click here for detailed information, schedule, and how to join.

In this introduction, I will describe what happens in these classes, what we cover, and answer your questions.

I am so grateful for this offering from Jay and the opportunity to deepen and expand my understanding of IFS (which I adore).  Jay has structured the class so thoughtfully, resulting in a wonderfully safe and respectful container for learning and processing.  In addition, he presents a deliciously comprehensive curriculum, and best of all, invaluable demonstrations each session.  This is pure gold.  On top of all of this, Jay has assembled a fantastic group of practitioners as participants, whom–thanks to Jay’s video-conferencing wizardry–I can see and interact with in a way that feels intimate and dynamic.   ~Carolyn Hinman, JD, CCHT


Introduction to Advanced IFS Classes
Jay Earley, PhD
Tuesday, January 10
11-12 pacific time (2-3 pm eastern, 7-9 pm UK)
A free seminar by videoconference
Click here to register

Register even if you can’t attend. You will receive a replay afterward.


IFS Videoconference Classes: New Australia-time

Bonnie Weiss LCSWBack by popular demand: IFS Videoconference Classes with Bonnie Weiss — August and October, 2016

These classes are open to people outside of Australia, too.

Learning topics: Introduction to the inner parts of a person, getting to know protectors, how to heal exiles, dynamics of the internal system, and role of the IFS therapist.

All classes are recorded for later review by participants.

This class meets the prerequisite for the Advanced Melbourne Workshop in February 2017.

AussieSeries4Aussie Class 4

Sat. August 13 & 27, 2016
September 3 & 10, 2016
9-11 am (Australian EDT = UTC/GMT+11 hours)

Equivalent times in US Pacific/Eastern timezone
Friday August 12 & 26, 2016
4-6 pm PST | 7-9 pm EST

Aussie Class 5

Sat. October 8 & 22, 2016
November 5 & 19, 2016
9-11 am (Australian EDT = UTC/GMT+11 hours)

Equivalent times in US Pacific/Eastern timezone
Friday October 7, 21 and Nov 4 @ 3:00-5:00 PST 6:00-8:00 EST

Nov. 18, 2-4:00 pm PST | 5:00-7:00 pm EST

Click here to enroll for either class.


The Inner Critic and the Criticized Child

Critized ChildWhenever we are being attacked or judged by an Inner Critic part, there is always a second part of us that is receiving this attack and feeling hurt, depressed, or worthless.

We call this part the Criticized Child. This is an exile who believes the attack and feels ashamed or guilty, bad, or inadequate. Many people, at first, don’t make a distinction between the Critic and the Criticized Child, but doing so is crucial to unraveling this difficult issue.

There are always two parts involved. One part attacks us, and a second part feels attacked.

For example, suppose your Critic sneers at you and tells you that you’re so shy that you’re a loser and no one likes you. The sneering Critic feels harsh, judgmental, and dismissive toward you.

There is a second part of you (the Criticized Child) that believes this attack and feels rejected, ashamed, and worthless. You will need to work with both parts, but in very different ways.

The Inner Critic is an IFS protector that is trying to protect you by attacking you, as strange as that sounds. The Criticized Child is an IFS exile who already feels bad about itself, and the attacks from your Inner Critic make it feel worse.

If you haven’t already, you can take a quiz to learn which Inner Critic is more trouble for you.

In a 9 week on-line course learn how to Transform Your Inner Critic using IFS and Self-Therapy Journey

Your Inner Critic’s Positive Intent

Transforming your Inner CriticOne of the most startling discoveries about our Inner Critics is that they are actually trying to help us. This is an amazing, powerful secret learned from IFS.

In its own distorted, confused way, your Inner Critic is actually trying to help you. At first this may seem surprising, but once you get to know your Critic in a deeper way, you’ll come to understand why it is attacking you.

It may be negative and harsh, but it is doing so in a distorted attempt to protect you from pain. As strange as it may seem, we have found this to be true over and over with hundreds of clients, and so have other IFS therapists.

Your Inner Critic may think that pushing and judging you will protect you from hurt and pain. It may believe that if it can get you to be a certain way—perfect, successful, cautious, nice, slim, outgoing, intellectual, macho, and so on—then you won’t be shamed or rejected, and you might even get approval from people who are important to you.

It may try to get you to fit in by prescribing rules and then attacking you if you violate them. Even though attacking you actually backfires and causes you more suffering, your Inner Critic is doing what it thinks is best for you.

The good news is that because the Inner Critic actually has positive intentions, you don’t have to fight with it or overcome it. You don’t have to win a battle; you don’t have to get rid of it.

Instead, using IFS, you can discover what it thinks it’s doing for you and make a positive connection with it. You can offer it appreciation for its efforts, and it can begin to trust you. Knowing that your Critic’s heart is in the right place makes it possible to create a cooperative relationship with it and transform it into a valuable resource. This relationship makes an enormous difference in your internal landscape and sets the stage for deeper healing.

If you haven’t already, you can take a quiz to learn which Inner Critic is more trouble for you.

In a 9 week on-line course learn how to Transform Your Inner Critic using IFS and Self-Therapy Journey

8 Types of Self-like Parts

Self-Therapy-Vol-2Self-Therapy, Vol 2 devotes an entire chapter to Self-like Parts which describes each of these types in detail.

Some parts think they are the Self.  This means that when you are blended with such a part, you think you are in Self, and you don’t recognize the limitations of the part you are blended with.

These parts are called “Self-like” not because they necessarily have more of the qualities of Self, such as compassion or connectedness, but instead because they appear to be the Self.

If you are blended with a Self-like Parts and don’t realize this, your IFS work will run into trouble. You will get stuck in a variety of ways or your work will be flat and not very healing. So it is crucial to be able to recognize these parts and unblend from them.

Here is a list of the most common types of Self-like parts:

  • Subtly Judgmental Parts
  • Intellectualizers
  • Impatient Parts
  • Agenda-Driven Parts
  • Pretend-Therapy Parts
  • Guarded Parts
  • Inner Caretakers
  • Dominant Self-like Parts

There may be others. Be on the lookout for one of these parts because it can sabotage your IFS process.


One-Meeting Interactive Group – January 27


Interactive Group of PeopleThis group provides an opportunity to learn what an Interactive Group is like by participating in one. It is also a chance to explore how you relate to people you are just meeting.

What do you go through emotionally when you are meeting new people?

Most of us feel some nervousness and also some excitement.

There are a variety of ways that people deal with this. Some people hang back and say very little. Some tell entertaining stories so they will be liked. Others act friendly and caring to make other people feel comfortable. Almost all of us try to hide our discomfort.

In a Drop-In Interactive Group, you can be totally honest about your feelings. Everyone is encouraged to share their moment-to-moment experience with the group. It’s a big risk but very exciting!

A small group of people meets to practice awareness, honesty, and connection. Using IFS (Internal Family Systems Therapy), we practice speaking for our parts rather than as our parts. This means being in Self (a calm, caring place) and talking about how a part of you is reacting in the moment, as opposed to dumping your feelings on other people. This helps you to communicate in a more effective manner, and it also makes the group safe for everyone.

I facilitate the group, helping you to tune into what you are experiencing and speak your truth. You may tell others honestly and directly how you are feeling toward them.

We create an atmosphere of caring and trust so that this can be done in a safe, connected way. You also have a chance to get honest feedback from people on how they are responding to you.

The group meets by videoconference, so we can all see each other.

Wednesday, Jan. 27
10am – 12 noon pacific time (1-3pm eastern, 6-8pm UK)
Click here to register for free.

Awareness of Parts in Interpersonal Interactions

This article is an excerpt from The Interactive Group Experience. It discusses the different levels of awareness of our Group Interactionparts that are possible when relating to another person. It also shows how to learn about yourself through interactions in a group.

“Awareness” is the ability to notice and label what you are feeling and experiencing at the moment it is happening. In most instances, this is no easy accomplishment!

Of course if you are experiencing a very strong emotion, you will be aware of it.

However, many of the feelings that are important are more subtle and harder to grasp. It is especially difficult to be aware of your feelings when you are in the middle of an intense interaction with someone, yet this is the time when it is most needed.

Awareness is a skill to be developed over time. There are many levels of awareness; the first feeling you notice in a situation is only the beginning. As you become more adept at awareness, you will begin to be aware of subtler and deeper experiences, and you will begin to be able to identify the parts of you that are having these experiences.

For example, suppose Sandy tells Mike that she thinks he talks from his head too much and is out of touch with his feelings. At first Mike thinks about whether this is true. He is focusing on the content of what Sandy said, not his feelings. I suggest that Mike talk about his feeling response to Sandy.

Then Mike becomes aware that a part of him feels resentful about what she said. At my suggestion he looks further and becomes aware that a different part of him feels hurt by Sandy. As he explores deeper he discovers that he likes Sandy and wants her to like him, so his hurt part is especially vulnerable to hearing something negative from her.

Even deeper, he might realize that he was criticized a lot during his childhood, so his hurt part is an IFS exile (a wounded inner child part) that is sensitive to criticism. Now hearing criticism makes this part feel inadequate. Notice how many levels of awareness are possible. 

If Mike tells Sandy that a part of him is angry at her, he might get an angry response back and then the two of them would work on resolving the conflict. If he tells Sandy that a part of him is hurt because he wants her to like him, she might explain that she does like him, and that she was just responding from one part of her that has trouble with his being intellectual.

Mike would have to decide if he believes her–if he thinks she really meant it when she said she liked him, or if he thinks she was just smoothing things over. If he tells Sandy that a part of him feels inadequate because of childhood messages, she might be sympathetic and caring.

No matter which feeling Mike expresses, he and Sandy will then engage in a dialogue to see if they can work things out between them.

In addition to working out his feelings with Sandy, Mike might also decide that he is interested in the question of his being too intellectual. He asks Sandy to give him examples so he can understand what she means. He asks the other group members if they also think he is too much in his head and if they can give examples.

If Mike decides that he is being overly intellectual and that he would like to change that, he might ask Sandy and the group to let him know the next time he seems to be in his head. Then he could practice expressing himself in a more emotional way.

He could also explore his intellectualizer part and learn what it is protecting him from.