Detecting When You Are Talking to an Exile

Do you know when you are talking to an Exile?

A frequent occurrence that can sidetrack your IFS work is when the part you are talking to changes without your realizing it. You are asking a part questions and receiving its answers, but at some point the answers start to come from a different part. It is important to detect this when it happens.

The usual way this happens is that you are working with a protector and you start hearing from the exile that is being protected. However, you don’t realize that this has happened; you think you are still talking to the protector. Since the protector and exile are closely linked, this is not surprising. However, you must learn to recognize when this occurs because we work with protectors in a different way than with exiles in IFS. You will recognize an exile because it has a painful emotion such as shame, fear, sadness, or hurt. It is important to have the protector’s permission before exploring the exile, so if an exile pops up, ask it to wait until you have finished with the protector.

Here is an example from a session. This demonstrates a protector switching to an exile without the person realizing it. Christine has identified a protector that doesn’t want to see or know certain things. She is getting to know it. Let’s take up the session at that point.

Jay: Invite that part to tell you or show you more about what it feels.

Christine: It says that it feels sleepy and dull. I can sense that it goes blank. It says, “I want to go to sleep. I don’t want to be awake or conscious.” Sometimes it can’t answer people’s questions.

J: Mm hmm. Ask the part what its name is or what it would like to be called.

C: I get the word Confuser.

J: Okay. Ask it what it is trying to accomplish by being sleepy and confused.

C: It says, “I don’t want to see something. I don’t want to know something.” This part has to just make unclarity and confusion, blandness. It wants to make sure that I don’t know what is going on.

J: It creates confusion to protect you from whatever is going on . . . What else does this part want you to know about itself?

C: (pause) Well, it’s showing me a demonstration of its panic state, which has something to do with being alone.

Here is where the switch happens. Christine is now hearing from the exile. The Confuser produces confusion and not-knowing, while the exile is terrified. So I ask about this in order to clarify what has happened.

J: I’m a little confused. I thought this was the part that didn’t want to see anything.

C: It’s two sides of the same coin. The one that doesn’t want to see, doesn’t want to see because it’s terrified.

This is true, but the part that actually feels the terror is the exile, so I focus her back on the protector, whose job is to avoid the terror.

J: I suspect that the one who is terrified is actually a different part. Ask the terrified part if it would be willing to wait a bit, and let’s focus on the Confuser, if that’s Okay. 

This switch from protector to exile often happens because the exile desperately wants to be heard. It senses that you are approaching and wants out of exile, so it rushes the gate.

When you detect that this has happened, ask the exile to wait until you have gotten to know the protector and received its permission to proceed. So the exile doesn’t feel ignored, let it know that you want to get to know it, but ask it to wait while you continue with the protector.


  1. Chris M Huff says:


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