Relating to Our Parts

IFS recognizes that our psyches are made up of different parts, sometimes called subpersonalities. You can think of them as little people inside us. Each has its own perspective, feelings, memories, goals, and motivations. For example, one part of you might be trying to lose weight and another part might want to eat a lot. We all have parts like the inner critic, the abandoned child, the pleaser, the angry part, and the loving caretaker. When you become aware of a part, how do you relate to it?

Usually when we become aware of a part, the first thing we do is evaluate it. Is it good or bad for us? If we decide it is good, we embrace it and give it power. We act from it. If we decide it is bad, we try to suppress it or get rid of it. We tell it to go away. For example, you might decide that the part that is trying to lose weight is good, so you embrace it and try hard to control your eating. You also decide that the part that wants to eat is bad, and you try to make it go away. You ignore it and suppress it.

However, this approach usually doesn’t work. You can’t get rid of a part. You can only push it into your unconscious, where it will continue to affect you, but without your awareness. So the part that wants to eat a lot will periodically cause you to do that despite your best efforts to control your eating. Then you get angry at it and judge it. But that doesn’t help. It just makes it (you) feel ashamed and inadequate.

In IFS, we do something altogether different and radical. We welcome all our parts with curiosity and compassion. We seek to understand them and to discover why they are doing what they do, because IFS teaches us that every part has a positive intent for you. Every part is trying to help you feel good or protect you from pain, even if what it accomplishes is the opposite. So we want to understand our parts and appreciate their efforts to help us. We develop a relationship of caring and trust with each part, and then take the steps to release it from its burdens so it can function in a healthy way.

When you get to know the parts that eats, you may discover that it is trying to protect you from the pain of a young part that is constantly hungry because it (you) was schedule-fed when you were an infant. This allows you to appreciate its effort to feed that infant and calm its hunger, even if this doesn’t really work very well and causes other problems. You can then get its permission to work with the infant part and heal it. This is the only sure way to resolve the eating problem.

In the IFS model, relating to our parts with openness and curiosity sets the stage for healing them.