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).


Unblending from the Inner Defender

In working with an Inner Critic part using IFS, you first must unblend from the Critic and the Criticized Child. The next step, involves checking to see how you are feeling toward the Critic to determine whether or nUnblending from Inner Defenderot you are in Self with respect to it. Being genuinely open to your Inner Critic is not easy. It has been causing you pain, so it is natural for you to be angry with it. It is understandable if you judge it and want to be rid of it. However, approaching the Critic (or any part) with these attitudes won’t lead to changing it.

These attitudes aren’t coming from your Self; they are coming from another part of you that I call the Inner Defender because it wants to defend you from the Critic. Often the Inner Defender feels judgmental and angry toward the Critic. It may try to dismiss the Critic or even banish it from your psyche. But you can’t get rid of a part, and the Critic usually fights back against attempts to dismiss it.

Sometimes your Inner Defender argues with the Inner Critic. If the Critic says that you are worthless, the Defender tries to prove that you are a good person. If the Critic says you can’t succeed, the Defender argues that you can. It wants to engage with the Critic and defend your goodness and your right to be yourself. It wants to fight against being controlled by the Critic. For example, Sarah had an Inner Defender that was angry and rebellious toward her Critic and wanted to convince the Critic that she was a valuable person who could make it in the world.

While it makes sense that your Inner Defender wants to champion you, engaging with the Critic in this way usually doesn’t work. The Critic often wins the argument, or, if your Inner Defender wins for the moment, the Critic may redouble its attacks later. In addition, this approach creates inner conflict.

If your Inner Critic tells you how to behave or not behave, then you might also have an Inner Rebel. This is similar to the Inner Defender except that its concern is inner autonomy. It doesn’t want to be pushed around by an Inner Critic, so it defies the Critic. It says, “Don’t tell me what to do.” Even if the Critic’s ideas are good for you, the Inner Rebel may go against them in order to preserve its sense of personal power. This can make it difficult to follow through on disciplines needed for health, exercise, or spiritual growth.

Now let’s discuss how to unblend from the Inner Defender (or Rebel). Just as with any concerned part, you ask it to step aside so you can get to know the Critic from an open place. However, your Inner Defender may be reluctant to do this because it knows how much pain the Critic has been causing you. The way around this is to explain to the Inner Defender that the Critic is trying to help and protect you, even if you don’t yet understand how. Then ask if the Defender would be willing to step aside and allow you to get to know the Critic so you can discover its positive intent. When the Inner Defender has stepped aside, you will be open to getting to know the Critic from its perspective, which will ultimately lead to transforming it.

For more information on the Inner Critic and IFS, click here, or read the book Freedom from Your Inner Critic.


Introduction to IFS Parts Work Video Series

IFS Parts Video SeriesIf you are new to parts work or IFS, this is the perfect introduction. For those of you who already know IFS, this video series won’t contain anything new, but if you have friends whom you would like to introduce to IFS please share with them.

Do you struggle with…

  • Low self-esteem
  • Procrastination
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Shyness
  • Eating issues

Or other psychological issues?

Do you want to have..

  • Self-confidence
  • Assertiveness
  • Intimacy
  • Aliveness
  • Success

Or other healthy capacities?

In my 40 years of practicing psychotherapy, I have discovered that, for most people, the best way to make these changes and achieve these goals is by working psychologically with your “parts.”

Click here to get the Parts Work Video Series.

Balloons for Unblending

Balloons for UnblendingOn a recent trip to Israel, I was fortunate to visit a wonderful trauma center called Natal. Our gift package included some unique materials for helping children who have been the victims of war, including a blow up plastic ball.

Having the children breathe deeply enough to blow up the toy was a quick way to deal with anxiety.

Upon my return, I was looking for something to help a client who had difficulty unblending from paralyzing anxiety (separating from the anxious part and accessing Self). I brought in the ball and we found that blowing his anxiety into it and then being able to hold it separately was helpful to his process.

Since then I have found that working with balloons is the best way to do this.

The client is able to keep and stash of them with him for when he finds himself blended with his anxiety in a situation in his life.

I am now including balloons in my therapeutic bag of tricks. I find them useful in situations where a client has trouble unblending from a part.

I used it with a recent client, who has had great difficulty unblending from his rage. He choose a pink balloon to put his rage in, and was able to work much more effectively with the rage when he held the balloon his hands.

The elements at work here:

  1. Taking deep breaths and blowing.
  2. Putting something of yourself into the balloon.
  3. Putting a part outside of yourself in a contained way
  4. The kinesthetic experience of being able to manipulate and manage the part in the physical world.

Once you have a part unblended and in the form of a balloon, the playful possibilities are endless.

Introduction to Advanced IFS Classes

Webinars: Introduction to Advanced IFS Classes

Each webinar is an introduction to the Advanced IFS Classes, where you can find out more about how the classes operate and what topics we will be covering.

Tuesday, 9/8/15, 10 am
Click here to enroll for free
Monday, 9/14/15, 4:30 pm
Tuesday, 9/15/15, 10 am

Advanced Ongoing IFS Classes

In the Advanced Ongoing IFS Classes you learn advanced techniques and understandings that go beyond what I teach in the Basic and Exiles Courses.

In addition, the whole group works together on important psychological issues such as procrastination, the inner critic, depression, eating issues, and many more. Therapists also have a chance for advanced training and consultation on IFS. I taught a class like this that ran for about five years and was very successful.

Format. The classes meet twice a month for two hours by video-conference. Each class includes teaching, lots of sharing and discussion, demonstration IFS sessions where I work with a volunteer from the class, and experiential group exercises. You pair up with each other between classes to practice doing IFS sessions with each other. This is a very important part of the class, and people tell me how much they get from working with each other. We develop a really close-knit, connected group (especially since we can see each other by video-conference), which makes it safe to be vulnerable with each other.

The text for the class is my book Self-Therapy, and the rough draft of my new book Self-Therapy, Vol. 2, which I will email to you.

Professionals. Therapists and coaches (and other helping professionals) are welcome in the classes and some classes are all or mostly professionals. For those classes, we will engage in activities aimed primarily at professionals (see below). These classes are approved by the Center for Self-Leadership for IFS CE credit, but they are not a substitute for taking the IFS Level 1 professional training from the Center for Self-Leadership.

Class Activities

  • Guided meditations
  • Sharing your issues and getting support from the group
  • Lecture and discussion
  • Demo sessions
  • Group and pair exercises in class
  • Pairing up for practice IFS sessions for homework
  • Supporting each other in making changes in your behavior (especially useful with topics such as procrastination or eating issues).
  • Practicing speaking for your parts as they arise in the group process.
  • Working through interpersonal issues that arise between group members

Each class will be recorded, so if you have to miss, you can listen to the recording.

Class Topics

1. IFS techniques and understandings: 

  • Resolving polarization—conflicts between parts
  • Managers and firefighters
  • What to do if a part won’t talk with you
  • Updating protectors about your capacities
  • Negotiating for Self-leadership with protectors
  • Legacy burdens
  • Self-like parts
  • Disowned parts (exiles without burdens)
  • Protector subparts of exiles
  • Somatic awareness in IFS
  • Unattached burdens (malevolent entities)
  • Spiritual guides
  • Types of parts that block the therapy process
  • Embodying and integrating transformed exiles
  • Advanced reparenting techniques

2. Working on Psychological Issues Together (based on the Pattern System)

When the whole group works on the same together, you learn from other people’s work, and your parts get activated by other people’s work, making it easier to access them. You feel deeply supported since everyone is exploring similar psychological dynamics. In the pairing for homework, you can facilitate each other’s work especially well because you are working on similar problems. In addition, you can support each other in making changes in your behavior by checking in after important life situations arise.

  • Working with and transforming Inner Critic parts.
  • Transforming psychological issues, such as procrastination, depression, shyness, anxiety, perfectionism, dissociation, striving, and so on.
  • Working with addictions and eating issues.
  • Working with anger and disowned anger and developing strength.
  • Working through interpersonal patterns such as people-pleasing, passive-aggressive, victim, defensive, controlling, rebel, judgmental, and so on.
  • Healing emotional wounds from childhood (types of exiles) such as shame, abandonment, being judged, guilt, feeling unlovable, feeling worthless, and so on.
  • IFS and physiological or medical conditions.
  • Charting your psyche by assessing your problematic patterns and healthy capacities through the Pattern System.

3. Applying IFS and the Pattern System to Life Situations

  • Sequences of part’s interactions in relationship conflicts.
  • Why you are romantically attracted to the wrong people.
  • Communication in conflict situations.
  • Work issues
  • Social issues
  • Intimate relationships
  • Family relationships and parenting
  • Social activism

4. Developing Healthy Capacities and Spiritual Qualities

  • Developing healthy capacities such as intimacy, assertiveness, self-confidence, vitality, work confidence, clarity/organization, strength, and so on.
  • Developing higher capacities such as love, flow, presence, peace, creativity, surrender, service, and so on.
  • Finding your life purpose, finding your contribution to making a better world.
  • Working through parts that block aspects of spiritual development
  • Learning to sense and unfold qualities of presence such as spaciousness, depth, stillness, joy, preciousness, sacredness, inner support, expansiveness, and so on.

5. Activities Mainly of Interest to Professionals

  • Demonstration IFS sessions where one participant is therapist for another under my guidance in the moment. (This provides excellent learning for the whole group.)
  • Consultations on clients
  • Questions on applying IFS with certain types of clients or issues
  • IFS sessions on parts of yours that get triggered by clients

6. Topics Mainly of Interest to Professionals

  • The therapist-client relationship in IFS therapy
  • Recognizing when you’re not in Self with a client; staying in Self with difficult parts
  • Working with trauma
  • Using Self-Therapy Journey with clients as an adjunct to IFS therapy
  • Direct access
  • Introducing IFS to new clients
  • Working with clients who resist IFS
  • Working with Dissociate Identity Disorder
  • Understanding the kinds of relationships between parts in the internal system
  • What to do when therapeutic change doesn’t happen
  • Capacities for IFS therapists

Your interests and desires will determine the topics we cover and when we explore them.

Each webinar is an introduction to the Advanced IFS Classes, where you can find out more about how the classes operate and what topics we will be covering.

Webinars: Introduction to Advanced IFS Classes

Each webinar is an introduction to the Advanced IFS Classes, where you can find out more about how the classes operate and what topics we will be covering.

Tuesday, 9/8/15, 10 am
Click here to enroll for free

Monday, 9/14/15, 4:30 pm
Tuesday, 9/15/15, 10 am

Click here for the schedule of Advanced IFS Classes.

Angry Part Guided Meditation

The following is an abridged version of one of these meditations–for the Angry Pattern.


Check to see if there is something going on that makes you feel angry right now.

If there isn’t, then think of a recent time when there was, or think about what you usually feel when you are angry.

Imagine that you are in that situation right now where you are feeling angry.

Take a moment to feel what that feels like. This will help you to access your Angry Part …

What does this part feel emotionally?…
What does the part feel like it in your body?…
What words do you hear from your Angry Part?…
Allow an image to emerge of what that part looks like…

Check to see if you are the Angry Part right now, or if you have some space from it. Take a breath and see if you have some distance from it.

If you aren’t separate from the part, ask it if it would be willing to separate from you so that you can get to know it and help it…

If it doesn’t seem to be separating, take a moment to step back from your Angry Part so you have some separation from it. You want to find a place to stand inside you from which you can engage with it.

Check to see if you are feeling openly curious about the Angry Part right now.

If  you aren’t, this might be because there is a part of you that feels angry at the Angry Part or feels judgmental toward it. Or it might be because there is a part of you that doesn’t like the Angry Part or wants to get rid of it. I’ll call this other part, a Concerned Part. Ask it to step aside just for this session, so you can get to know the Angry Part from an open place.

Maybe now you can be truly interested in learning about the Angry Part’s role in the psyche, from its point of view. Feel your heart open to it. You might even feel compassion for the pain that has driven this part to try to protect you…

From this place, ask what your Angry Part feels.

Now ask your Angry Part what it is trying to get for you by expressing anger…
Ask what it is afraid would happen if it didn’t make you angry …
Ask your Angry Part what it is afraid would happen if it allowed you to be centered instead of getting heated up…
Now ask what it is afraid would happen if it allowed you to have some compassion for the person you are upset with…
Now ask it is there is anything else it wants you to know about itself and what is does for you.

Now check and see if you understand what your Angry Part has been trying to do for you, even if its efforts have caused problems in your life. Feel your appreciation for its efforts to protect you.

Express your understanding and appreciation to your Angry Part…
Now notice how it is responding to you. This may help it to relax or feel more satisfied…
Thank your Angry Part for coming forward and making itself known to you.
Let it know that you want to learn to work together with it more in the future.


Angry Testers Needed for Self-Therapy Journey

For the last two and a half years, I have been developing a web application, Self-Therapy Journey, where people can get help in transforming psychological problems. It is like an interactive self-help book, based on the Pattern System and IFS. It should be ready by Oct or Nov.

We would like to try out the application with people who are willing to use it and give us feedback afterward. We want to get feedback on how it works for you and what needs to be fixed or improved.

Soon people will be able to use the application to work on a wide variety of different psychological issues. However, right now we are looking for people who have a very specific issue to volunteer in trying it out. We are looking for people who tend to get angry to easily or too intensely or hold on to anger too long and would like to change this. See the article below for more information on this pattern. (Later we will be looking for volunteers on other issues.)

You will be able to learn about your Angry Pattern, its underlying motivation, and where it comes from in your past. You will get a customized report about all these things based on what you enter in the application, which means that you can also use this application for guided journaling. You will also be able to set up a life practice to work on being more centered in your reactions to people. The application will provide you with online support in carrying out the practice.

This usually takes between 3 and 8 hours, spread out over a number of sessions, and we want you to do the testing pretty soon, since we hope to launch the application sometime this fall.

If you are interested in volunteering, email me at  earley.jay@gmail.com. Let me know the following information: (1) your phone number and (2) what time zone you are in. We want to try out the application on a variety of different people, so please also let me know (3) if you are a therapist and (4) whether you are familiar with IFS.

We may have more volunteers than we can use, so you may not hear from us, but we nonetheless appreciate your volunteering.

The Angry Pattern

Anger presents an interesting dilemma in relating to people. On the one hand, when you act out your anger, it is frequently destructive. On the other hand, if you suppress your anger, it undermines your strength.

The Angry Pattern means either feeling excessively angry or acting out your anger in a destructive fashion. If you have the Angry Pattern, you may get triggered into anger easily, and you may get intensely angry too often. Anger has a certain healthy role to play in our interactions with people. It tends to come up when we need to be strong enough to protect ourselves or those we care about, to set limits on someone who is being harmful to us, or to move through blocks that someone puts in the way of something we want to accomplish.

However, if you have the Angry Pattern, you express your anger in ways that go overboard and create problems with people you are relating to. Instead of just setting clear limits, you tend to hurt others and they often respond with anger of their own. This can quickly escalate in a fight that no one is happy with. Anger can create enemies that will make your life miserable. In its worst form, it leads to violence and destruction.

What’s needed is to maintain the strength that often comes from anger without the unnecessary destructiveness. This helps you to be firm in setting limits, powerful in protecting yourself, and forceful in moving through obstacles. Ideally this would be done from a Centered place, so that you could have all the benefits of strength without the problems that come from anger.

Most people get angry from time to time. But some people get angry more frequently and act it out in harmful and destructive ways. If you are one of these people, you may have and want to work on your Angry Pattern.

When we get angry, we tend to blame the other person for whatever they did to trigger our anger. However, don’t kid yourself in this way. The other person is responsible for whatever harmful action they took that triggered you. However, you are responsible for your reaction to it. If you channel your anger into strength from a centered place, you are acting in a healthy fashion and you are most likely to get what you want. However, if you let your anger get out of hand, it will cause problems, which you are responsible for. If this happens to you very much,