Working with Your Procrastinator and Taskmaster

Are you a Procrastinator?

If you are one of the many people who struggle with procrastination, it means that there is a part of you that wants to avoid a certain task. This Procrastinator Part is a protector, but you may not be consciously aware of it.

Therefore, the first step in doing IFS on procrastination is to discover this part and access it (see Chapter 4 in Self-Therapy).

Here is one way to do this. Remember what it feels like when you are procrastinating. I don’t mean what you feel when you realize that you have been procrastinating. That usually comes a different part—a part that is upset with you for procrastinating. I am referring to the feelings you have when you are avoiding a task—when you are getting distracted, doing non-essential tasks, putting off the important task, or feeling stuck and unable to get started.

The Procrastinator


Tune into that experience of avoidance. You may feel an emotion, an impulse, a fear, or a sense of wanting to avoid. Notice what this feels like in your body. Get a sense of the part of you that is avoiding; you might see an image of that part.

You work on this part just the way you would work on any other protector in IFS. First you unblend from it if necessary (Chapter 5 in Self-Therapy). Then you unblend from any concerned parts (Chapter 6 in Self-Therapy). It can get dicey during this step, so let me explain further. When you check to see how you feel toward the Procrastination Part, you may realize that you are judging the Procrastination Part and wanting to get rid of it.

This indicates that you are blended with a type of part that I call the Taskmaster, which may be angry at you (and specifically at your Procrastinator) for procrastinating. The Taskmaster is a type of Inner Critic that pushes you to work hard and judges you if you don’t. When you are procrastinating, your Taskmaster will work very hard to overcome the Procrastination and get you to take action.

The Taskmaster


You can ask the Taskmaster to step aside, but it may not be willing to do so if it is strongly polarized with the Procrastinator.

These parts may be fighting over taking action. Not only is the Taskmaster probably feeling angry and judgmental toward the Procrastinator, but the Procrastinator may be rebelling against your Taskmaster. It may be saying,

“Don’t tell me what to do! You push me so hard to work all the time that you make my life miserable. So I have to fight back just to get some space to relax and enjoy life. Leave me alone!”

You may have to work through this polarization in addition to working on your Procrastination Part.

Self-Therapy A Step-by-Step

Tracking Your IFS Sessions and Parts

Notebook on IFS sessionsI recommend that you spend some time right after IFS sessions taking notes about what happened in the session and also keeping track of the different parts that emerged.

This is useful for a number of reasons.

    1. You are probably in an altered state while you are in the midst of an IFS session, and later it may be hard to remember clearly what happened. This is because learning that happens in one state of consciousness often doesn’t transfer so easily to a different state. The technical term for this is state-dependent learning. So take notes right at the end of a session when the work is still fresh in your mind.


  • It is important to follow up with the parts that you worked with in a session—to deepen the healing of your exiles and to check to see how your protectors are affecting your behavior in daily life. Taking notes will help you remember the parts you need to follow up with.



  • If you finish a session without completing the full sequence of IFS steps, which happens frequently, it is a good idea when you begin the next session to take up where you left off in the previous one. Your notes will help you remember which part to start with, how far you got with it, and how it looked or felt in the previous session, to aid you in re-accessing it.


Self-Therapy-Vol-2In Chapter One of Self-Therapy Vol 2 discusses the importance of tracking your parts and taking notes on your sessions and shows how to do this. 

Negotiating with Protectors for Healthy Behavior

Self-Therapy-Vol-2Negotiating with Protectors for Healthy Behavior is an excerpt from Self-Therapy, Vol. 2, which describes this process in detail. I also teach about it in my Advanced IFS Classes.

In the standard IFS procedure, once you have gotten to know a protector and have developed a trusting relationship with it, you ask its permission to work with the exile or exiles it is protecting and then go through the series of healing steps with the exile, and then you return to the protector to see if it now can let go of its protective role.

However, there are situations in which it may take quite a while to heal the exile being protected. If you have an important situation coming up soon in your life in which that protector may act out, it can be very helpful to find a way to get that protector to relax even before all its exiles have been healed. This can sometimes be done by explaining to the protector how it is safe for it to let go of its role and allow you (in Self) to behave in a healthy manner in that situation.

Let’s consider the point in the IFS process when you have gotten to know a protector and have developed a trusting relationship with it. When a situation arises that activates this protector—such as meeting a new person, going out on a date, or interviewing for a job—the protector usually takes over and performs its extreme role. For example, it might make you withdraw, get angry, shut down emotionally, or please people. If it is an Inner Critic Part, it might start pushing and attacking you.

The protector performs its role because it is afraid of what would happen if it didn’t. For example, it may be afraid that you will be judged, shamed, rejected, or betrayed if it doesn’t do something. These fears come from childhood, when you actually were hurt in one of these ways. However, in the current situation in your life, it isn’t as likely that you will be hurt in the way the protector fears, so you can explain this to the protector and ask it to relax.

Ask the protector what it is afraid will happen in the upcoming life situation. When you learn what it is afraid of, explain that the current situation is different. The people you are dealing with today won’t hurt you the way your parents (or other people) did back then. In addition, you were under the power of adults when you were a child, but you aren’t under anyone’s power now. Therefore, the protector doesn’t need to perform its role. Explain to the protector that you can make good decisions and handle the situation successfully from Self. Describe the healthy way you plan to handle situation and the advantages of doing that. Ask the protector if it would be willing to relax and allow you to handle that situation from Self when it arises.


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.


10 Steps for Working with and Resolving Polarization

Self-Therapy-Vol-2Here is a sequence of ten steps for working with and resolving polarization.

These steps are an elaboration of the procedure developed by Richard Schwartz, the founder of IFS, and described in brief in his book Internal Family Systems Therapy. They are summarized here and presented in detail in my book, Self-Therapy, Vol. 2.

When two parts are polarized, it means they are opposed to each other. They are attempting to act in opposite ways, such as staying versus going or working versus relaxing. They form a polarity.

However, polarization is more than just a polarity; polarized parts are also fighting against each other’s goals. For example, a part that wants to eat a lot would be actively fighting against the dieting that comes from another part. Furthermore, each polarized part is convinced that it must take an extreme stand in order to counter the destructive actions of the other part.

  1. Recognize and identify the polarized parts.
  1. Unblend from each part in order to access Self.
  1. Get to know each part’s role, positive intent, and conflict with the other part.
  1. Develop a trusting relationship with each part.
  1. Decide whether to work with an exile that is being protected by one of the parts or to engage the parts in a depolarization dialogue with each other.
  1. Get permission from each part to have a depolarization dialogue.
  1. Begin the depolarization dialogue by having the parts talk to each other.
  1. Facilitate true dialogue between the parts where they are cooperating with each other.
  1. Negotiate a resolution that both parts can agree to.
  1. When a situation arises in your life where the parts are usually polarized, work with them to follow the resolution they agreed to.


Protectors in IFS: Manager-Firefighter Polarization

Managers and firefighters are the two kinds of protectors in IFS.Protectors in IFS

In IFS, two parts are polarized when they are in conflict with each other about how you will behave or feel in a certain situation.

This article is an excerpt from my new book, Self-Therapy, Vol. 2. I also teach about polarization in my Advanced IFS Classes.

Managers and firefighters are the two kinds of protectors in IFS. They are frequently polarized with each other.

Most firefighters tend to be oriented toward excitement and intensity, fun and thrills.

Most managers tend to be oriented toward control and order, especially if they are trying to stop the destructive activity of firefighters.

In fact, as a result of successful IFS work, you might experience a decrease in the thrills that come from firefighters and begin to feel that your life has become boring. This difference in orientation between managers and firefighters lends itself toward polarization.

Because firefighter activity is often dangerous and self-destructive, managers come forward that are judgmental of firefighters and try to limit their behavior.

In fact, for every harmful firefighter, there is usually a manager that is polarized with it which is trying to stop the firefighter from causing problems in your life.

When a manager doesn’t succeed in stopping a firefighter, it often becomes harshly judgmental toward you for engaging in the firefighter activity. It shames you in an attempt to prevent the firefighter from acting out again. For example, after you binge on food, a manager may arise that shames you for getting out of control.

When your life is being ruined by a firefighter, it is easy to think that you just need to work with this part and get it to change. However, because of the presence of polarization, it usually isn’t enough to only work with the destructive firefighter and the exile it protects. You often must also engage with the controlling manager and work on the polarization directly.



The Passive-Aggressive Pattern

PassiveAggresivePatternIf you have the Passive-Aggressive Pattern, you may act in a way that looks on the surface as though you are agreeable and pleasing, but in the end your behavior hurts or frustrates people. You may only be aware of your surface desire to please people and your fear of not pleasing them.

The clue to realizing that you are acting out Passive-Aggressive Pattern is when people you are close to get frustrated with you or confused by your actions. You may feel wronged when this happens. You may even say to yourself, “I’m doing my best to be nice and agreeable, but my partner doesn’t seem to get this. She keeps getting on my case for doing things that upset her. But I don’t have any idea what she is talking about.”

When you are acting out the Passive-Aggressive Pattern, there is an unconscious part of you that is resentful or defiant. This part is irritated at how much you give in to what someone wants. Or the part may feel resentment toward that person. However, that part doesn’t believe that it has the right to be angry or defiant, so those feelings go underground. You act in seemingly agreeable ways, but you add a mean little twist to your behavior that frustrates the other person.

For example, your partner asks you to do something for her that needs to happen by a certain date. You agree to do it, but then you forget about it until after the date has passed, and she has to suffer the consequences. Consciously, you just forgot, but your Passive-Aggressive Part did this on purpose to punish her.

Another example:

There is a woman at work that you are attracted to. You have no intention of acting on this because you are married. Your wife has met her and is jealous of her beauty, so she has made it clear that she doesn’t want you to even have a friendship with her. Part of you resents this restriction, but you push this into your unconscious and agree with your wife’s demand. However, you agree to have lunch with the woman without telling your wife, rationalizing, “I know I’m not going to have an affair, so what’s wrong with just having lunch?” However, you “accidentally” leave a clue that alerts your wife to the lunch. She is very upset. Your Passive-Aggressive Part has “gotten” your wife, in retaliation for her trying to restrict your contact with this woman.

It isn’t easy to know how much you have this pattern because it is often unconscious. In addition, most of us don’t want to admit to having this pattern because we see it bad thing. However, it is fundamentally no different from any other protective strategy.

Passive-Aggression is one of the many topics that we cover in the Advanced IFS Classes.

Updating Protectors about Your Capacities

Updating protectors about your capacities is an excerpt from Self-Therapy, Vol. 2.

Updating is a standard IFS technique. Our protectors are stuck in the past; they believe that we are little children who are vulnerable and have few internal or external resources for handling problematic situations. This is how we all were as children. Another way to say this is that the protector is protecting a young, vulnerable exile, and it thinks that you are the exile. It doesn’t realize that you have a Self with many more resources than when you were a child.

You can ask a protector, “How old do you think I am?” Very often, the protector will mention a childhood age—two or eight, for example. Notice that this is a different question from the one you might ask an exile. You ask the exile, “How old are you?” (Of course, you could also ask a protector this question, and it will often be a young child part, too.) However, when you are preparing to do the process of updating, ask the protector how old it thinks you are.

Once you have found out how old the protector thinks you are, tell the protector how old you actually are. Then show the protector a series of scenes from your life that include growing up, maturing, accomplishing things, handling difficulties, and reaching your current age. This updates the protector as to your current capacities.

When you were young, you were vulnerable and under your parents’ power. However, now you are autonomous and in charge of your own life. In childhood, you didn’t have a mature Self present to help, so your protectors often had to handle painful situations on their own. Now that you are an adult, you have a competent, perceptive Self to help in difficult circumstances.

In addition, you probably have many strengths and capacities as an adult that you didn’t have as a child. For example, you are probably more grounded and centered. You may be more assertive, more perceptive about interpersonal situations, better able to support yourself financially, and so on. You have probably accomplished things in your life and overcome obstacles. You are an adult with much greater ability to handle yourself.

As part of the updating process, you can also show the protector your current life arrangements and the various people who will support you when needed. You probably have friends, family, maybe a spouse or lover, perhaps a community you belong to, or a support group you can rely on.



Click here for more information about Self-Therapy, Vol. 2 or to purchase.






Self-Therapy, Vol. 2


Self-Therapy-Vol-2I am excited to announce the publication of Self-Therapy, Vol. 2 in both paperback and eBook versions. 

Self-Therapy brought Internal Family Systems Therapy to both therapists and the general public. It shows how working with parts can be user-friendly, respectful, and powerful. Self-Therapy, Vol. 2 takes the next step by describing advanced IFS techniques and insights related to staying in your true Self and working with protectors (defenses). If you have been using IFS with your clients or in your own inner work, this book will help you work through difficulties that may have arisen so your work can be even more healing and transformative.

Learn when to switch parts, how to track your work, negotiate for Self-leadership, and work with polarization, Self-like parts, managers, and firefighters.

Click here for more information or to purchase.

The many readers of Jay Earley’s Self-Therapy, Vol. 1 will be pleased to find that Vol. 2 systematically guides you to identify, track, negotiate with, and transform your protectors. I appreciate Jay’s thorough approach, enhanced by experiential exercises, case examples, special notes to the therapist, and Help Sheets. I recommend this book not only for the general public, but also for students, graduates, and trainers of IFS.
~Susan McConnell, Senior IFS Lead Trainer

Self-Therapy, Vol. 2 is the exciting new sequel to Self-Therapy.  It is an indispensable guide for anyone on the journey of mindful self-discovery, understanding, and empowerment. Earley, in his surprisingly easy writing style, turns up the excitement by illuminating “hidden in plain sight” patterns, and masterfully mapping the steps that turn treatment roadblocks into bridges!
~Roseanne Keefe, LICSW

One book cannot adequately cover the many IFS concepts and methods I developed the past 30 years, hence Self-Therapy, Vol 2. In it you will find clear and practical descriptions of important concepts like polarization among parts and how to depolarize them, Self-like parts and how to detect them, and tips for maintaining and deepening the work.
~Richard Schwartz, PhD, Creator of IFS, author of Internal Family Systems Therapy and You’re the One You’ve Been Waiting For

Inner Caretaker Parts

BK001-Self Therapy-aThis article is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Self-Therapy, Vol 2.

An Inner Caretaker is a part that is overly invested in caring for your exiles. It is often a Self-like part, which means that you believe you are in Self even though you are blended with the part.

Since it is important and natural for Self to care for your exiles, it is easy to get fooled when an Inner Caretaker is blended with you. You might ask: What could possibly be wrong with caring for my exiles? Why do you say that caretaking isn’t coming from Self? How can I distinguish between Self and an Inner Caretaker? Here’s how.

When you are in the witnessing step (Chapter 12 of Self-Therapy), it is important to fully witness what happened in childhood to cause an exile’s pain. This opens up the exile for healing in the subsequent steps of the IFS process. However, sometimes a Caretaking Part steps in to care for the exile before the witnessing is complete, even sometimes before the witnessing has really begun.

Let’s see how this might happen. Janie was working with an exile who was deprived of the love and caring it needed. She accessed this Deprived Exile and asked it to show her how it was deprived in childhood. The exile began to show Janie how her mother was cold and distant. Then Janie jumped in and immediately started holding and nurturing the exile before she had understood the ways that the exile was deprived and especially before she had really felt its pain.

An exile does need to feel your compassion during witnessing, and it is often a good idea to directly convey your caring and compassion to the exile so it feels safe to open up to you.

Sometimes the exile may even need some direct nurturing to help it feel safe and connected to you before proceeding with the witnessing. However, this caring should not happen instead of witnessing. Janie’s Inner Caretaker jumped in to begin reparenting before the witnessing was complete. As a result, the witnessing didn’t fully happen and therefore the Deprived Exile wasn’t fully open for the reparenting, retrieval, and unburdening to follow. Therefore, it wasn’t fully healed.

Once you have expressed your caring for an exile and it feels good with you, then ask it questions so you can understand what happened to it in childhood and witness its pain. Don’t move on to reparenting until the exile has shown you all it needs to show you about its pain and the origins of its wounds. If you want to nurture the exile instead of witnessing its pain, then you are probably blended with an Inner Caretaker which can’t tolerate the exile’s pain and needs to take it away. This is not Self but a Self-Like Part.

This can also happen in the reparenting step (Chapter 13 of Self-Therapy). Once you (in Self) have gone back in your imagination and entered the original scene where the exile was wounded, you ask the exile what it needs from you for healing. However, sometimes you may start nurturing the exile without waiting to find out what it actually needs for healing. This would also be coming from a Self-Like Inner Caretaker, not from Self. This can result in misdirected reparenting, where you give the exile what you think it needs, not what the exile actually needs for healing.