Basic IFS Concepts


Parts of the psyche are like little people inside of us, subpersonalities. Each has its own perspective, feelings, memories, goals, motivations. For example, one part of you might be trying to lose weight and another part might want to eat whatever you want. We all have parts like the inner critic, the abandoned child, the pleaser, the angry part, and the loving caretaker.

Each part has a positive intent for you. Example: Driven part works overtime and creates burn out. It might do this to avoid feeling pain that would come up if there were space. Or it might do this to make you successful so you could feel good about yourself.

Types of Parts

Parts can be in healthy roles that work for you and others, or they can be in extreme roles that cause you pain or create problems for yourself or others. There are two categories of parts in extreme roles: protectors and exiles.

Protectors handle the external world to keep you safe, and they defend against feeling your underlying pain.
Examples: Judging, controlling, inner critic, caretaking, people pleasing, intellectualizing, distancing, passive-aggressive, avoiding, striving, procrastinating, defensiveness, distracting, rage, overeating, sexual acting out, drugs, alcohol, other addictions, dissociation.

Exiles hold pain from the past, usually childhood.
Examples: Loneliness, shame, fear of anger, abandonment, worthlessness, violation, neediness, powerlessness.

Protectors are actually protecting you from your exiles by keeping them unconscious.

The Self

Self is spiritual center, true self.

Qualities of the Self (C words):
Connected. Wants to get to know each part, to develop a relationship of caring and trust.
Curious. Wants to understand what makes part tick. Assumes positive intent for part.
Compassionate. Compassion for pain or difficulty, for need to defend against pain, for whatever might drive part to extreme role
Calm. Even if parts have strong feelings or intense pain, Self is calm, centered, spacious.

Self is also courageous, creative, confident, and clear.
Self can work with each part to unburden it.
Self can lead the internal system

The goal for IFS work is to unburden each part so it has a healthy role and for each part to trust the Self to lead.


Generally, it is advisable to speak for a part (from Self) rather than speaking as the part. For example, if the part is angry, instead of saying, “You stupid jerk!” you say, “There is a part of me that is angry.” When you speak for a part, you are more likely to be responsible for the part’s feelings and issues, rather than blaming others for them. You are less likely to say things that will hurt other people’s exiles and therefore trigger their angry protectors. Speaking for a part is particularly useful when you are talking with someone about a touchy emotional issue between you or when you are trying to resolve a conflict with someone. This is especially helpful in intimate relationships. It is also advisable in working on conflicts in groups. It is a simple rule that helps you to engage in true dialogue.


  • All parts are welcome
  • You never make a part step aside or separate, you only ask
  • You respect the reasons parts have for what they are and aren’t willing to do.
  • You know that parts want the best for you, and they will cooperate once they understand what you intend to do and why, and their fears are addressed.
  • It isn’t possible to do it wrong when working on yourself using IFS. Even if your process is completely blocked, this just means that there is a protector that is stopping things for some reason, you access that protector and find out why it is doing that.
  • The fastest way to resolve an issue is to work slowly, patiently, and respectfully with all parts involved.