IFS Firefighters

In IFS there are two types of protectors—managers and firefighters.

Managers are the more common type of protector. They try to pro-actively arrange our psyches and our interactions with the world so that our exiles don’t get triggered and flood us with their pain or trauma.

Firefighters have the job of squelching the pain that erupts from an exile when it does get triggered. Real-life firefighters will charge into a dangerous situation to put out a fire, sometimes without worrying about the consequences for their own welfare. Think of the firefighters who rushed into the skyscrapers during 9/11 without concern for their safety.

Our internal firefighters act in a similar manner. They fear that the pain of an exile will be overwhelming, so they ignore the possible destructive consequences of their actions and do anything they can to numb or distract us from that pain.

The following activities are often initiated by firefighters:

  • Abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Sexual acting out
  • Overeating
  • Compulsive shopping, gambling, and other addictions
  • Anger and rage
  • Rebellion
  • Dissociation (spacing out, losing awareness, fogging out, falling asleep)
  • Thrill-seeking activities
  • Being deceptive
  • Being impulsive

In addition, more ordinary activities can be used by firefighters as distractions:

  • Reading
  • Watching TV
  • Headaches
  • Engaging in online activities

The activities listed above don’t always come from firefighters. If they are constant in your life, then they come from a manager.

And almost any activity or feeling state can come from a firefighter.

The crucial distinction is whether it is an ongoing, proactive activity (manager) or whether it is a sudden, impulsive reaction to exile pain (firefighter).