Steps for Working with a Protector

P1-P5 are the steps in getting to know a protector.


Definition: A part is activated when it’s extreme feelings or beliefs are triggered by a situation or person

Definition: Trailhead. An experience that if you follow will lead you to interesting parts Examples: An extreme thought, body sensation, emotion, rigid pattern of behavior or thinking, intense dreams or fantasies, strong reaction to a person or situation. This includes any issue in your life that isn’t working for you, such as not getting work done that you plan to.

How to Access a Part

Emotion: How does it feel emotionally
Visual: Image of part
Body: Sense it in your body.
Verbal: What does it say to you or others?.

Try for as many as you can because they each have a value, but you only need one of the above.

Then: Allow a word or phrase to arise that describes the part as you are experiencing it. How would the part describe itself?

Focusing on A Part

The next step is to focus on one part to work with. This is called the target part. This can change at any time if another part seems to be more important to work with, or if another part must be worked with for a while because it won’t step aside.

  1. You can choose a part to work with that you already know about.
  2. After accessing a variety of parts from a trailhead or your current experience, you can choose one of them to target.
  3. When you start with a trailhead or your current experience, you may decide that one part needs to be worked with before you have accessed all the parts.


Definition: Blending. A part is blended with Self when you are flooded with the feelings of the part in such a way that you aren’t grounded, you are caught up in the beliefs of the part, you don’t feel enough of you that is separate from the part from which to witness it.

To work with a part in a useful way, you want it to be activated but not blended
Ask the part to separate from you so you can get to know it
Ask the part to move out of your body
Ask the part to contain its feelings

If the part doesn’t separate, ask what it is afraid would happen if it did separate?
Explain to it the value of separating or reassure it about its fears
Usually this means explaining that you can be there to hear it and understand it better if it separates from you.

If this doesn’t work, you can take a more active role in unblending. Here are some options:
Move back to separate from the part
Notice how you feel toward the part
Get an image of the part at a distance from you
Do a short centering/grounding meditation


Check to see how you feel toward the target part right now. This doesn’t mean what you think of the part or how you evaluate the part, but how you feel emotionally toward it. Don’t concern yourself with how you feel toward the part in general or when it is activated, only how you feel toward it right now.

If you feel compassionate, curious, caring, interested, etc., then you are in Self and you can proceed to get to know the target part

If you don’t, so you feel angry or judgmental toward the part, or scared of it, or you want to get rid of it, or anything else, then this is coming from another part, call it the Concerned Part

Definition: Concerned Part. A part that is blended with Self that has concerns about the target part. It interferes with you being in Self-leadership with respect to a target part.

  1. Ask the concerned part if it would be willing to step aside (or relax) just for now so you can get to know the target part from an open place If it does, then check again to see how you feel toward the target part, and repeat until you are in Self.
  2. If it isn’t willing to step aside, explain to it the value of stepping aside, which is that you can get to know the target part and then heal it.
  3. If it still won’t step aside, ask it what it is afraid would happen if it did. Take some time to really understand its fears and empathize with them. Let it know that you do. Then reassure it about its fears. This usually means explaining that you won’t allow the target part to take over or be destructive, that you will be in Self and in charge of things.
  4. If it still won’t step aside, then you need to make the concerned part the target part and work with it


Normally in therapy, when we want to work with a part, we either analyze it intellectually or dive into it emotionally. IFS encourages us to do something different from either of those, to be in Self and get to know the part by asking it questions and listening to its responses. These may be in words, or in images, body sensations, emotions, or direct knowing.

You invite the part to tell you about itself.

You can also use these more specific questions or others you think of.

  • What do you hope to accomplish by (doing your role)?
  • What are you afraid would happen if you didn’t (do your role)?

When the part gives an answer that piques your curiosity, follow it up. For example, if the part says, “I want to keep safe,” you might ask, “What do you want to keep safe from?” However, don’t interrogate the part. Allow time for its answers to unfold naturally and just insert questions to facilitate the process.


Parts take on extreme roles because they think they have to handle situations on their own. They either don’t know that Self is there, or they don’t trust Self to handle the situation. A major part of the goal of IFS is for parts to trust Self. This may not fully happen until after unburdening, but a good deal of trust can (and needs to) be gained while you are still getting to know a protector.

If you take the time to get to know a protector, and it feels understood and appreciated, it will tend to trust you and to relax. It is helpful to give two kinds of appreciation.

  1. If the protector has a healthy side to its role, get clear on that and appreciate the part for what it does for you.
  2. Even if the parts extreme behavior, it is trying do something good for you. You can appreciate its efforts on your behalf, even if the results are negative. Or if you don’t appreciate its efforts, you can at least understand them.