Reasons to Stay with your Original Target Part in IFS

Let’s suppose that, in your IFS work, you have chosen a protector to work on, called your target part.

As you are getting to know it, another part may emerge. You want to make a choice about whether to ask it to step aside so you can continue with your original target part or whether to switch and make the new part your target part.

You Want to Finish with the Target Part

Sometimes, at the beginning of your therapy, it can be useful to get to know many different parts and understand their positive intent for you. However, once you start working with a part, it is usually best to finish the IFS procedure for healing and transforming it. For example, Dillon started working with a certain target part, a Depressed Part, and it is important for him to overcome his depression. So when another part arose, he asked it to step aside so he could keep working with his Depressed Part. He wanted to continue the IFS process with his Depressed Part by accessing the exile it was protecting so he could transform the Depressed Part and his depression would lift. This was especially important to him because he had worked with his Depressed Part before and not completed the work. Now he wanted to get results.

You Haven’t Finished with Any Parts

If you are still in the early stages of your IFS work and you haven’t yet completed work with any of your parts, your inner system won’t realize what is possible. Your parts won’t realize that exiles can be unburdened and that protectors can let go of their roles. Your protectors may be skeptical about your ability to heal your parts until they see it happen. Your parts may feel hopeless about change and, because of this, may try to keep you from engaging in IFS work or keep you away from your exiles. Therefore, it is important to complete at least one unburdening without waiting too long. The more your parts realize that profound change is really possible, the more they will cooperate with you.

The Target Part Feels Ignored by You

Some parts don’t trust you at first. They don’t expect you to really pay attention to them—perhaps because you haven’t paid attention to them your whole life. Now that you are learning IFS, you can give them the attention they want. If your target part is upset with you for not paying attention to it, it wouldn’t be wise to switch to a different target part. This would only increase the mistrust of the original target part. Stay with it so it can experience your interest in it. This will help the part trust you.

This article is an excerpt from my book Self-Therapy, Vol. 2.


Exploring Yourself Using IFS Therapy

IFS and the human psycheInternal Family Systems Therapy(SM) (IFS), developed by Richard Schwartz, is based on the understanding that our psyches are made up of different parts or subpersonalities, and it provides a powerful methodology for working with and healing our parts.

One aspect of this is how we explore our parts.

In most forms of therapy, when we want to work with a psychological issue or reaction, we either analyze it intellectually or dive into it emotionally. Let’s look at each of these in turn: In some forms of therapy, you figure out each reaction or feeling using what you know about your psychological makeup and what you can sense or guess about the part. For example, if you have a part that feels hurt and upset whenever you get judged by people, you might remember that you were judged a lot by your father and figure that this part’s sensitivities come from that history. Or you might know that you carry a deep belief that you aren’t worth anything and guess that this part’s reactions happen when that belief is triggered.

This intellectual approach is a good first step, but it is too much based on guesswork and theory and so it can’t give us a full, nuanced understanding of a part. And even if our guesses are right, we aren’t in direct contact with the part or its feelings, so it is difficult to really heal it.

Other forms of therapy take the opposite approach. You become the part and attempt to fully embody it and feel all of its feelings fully. In the above example, you would inhabit that part experientially, feeling it in your body and delving into the depth of the pain it feels for being judged. This approach recognizes that you can learn most about the part by allowing your insights to flow from your experience.

This can work as long as you don’t avoid the part’s feelings. However, many of us have parts that are holding a lot of pain, and we tend to defend against feeling this pain. This makes it quite difficult, in some cases, to fully inhabit the part. Before I discovered IFS, I was unconsciously avoiding dealing with many of my parts that were in pain, though I didn’t realize this at the time. I just directed my work into other areas that kept me away from my childhood pain. I had already done quite a bit of work on the pain from my childhood and thought that I had already worked through most of these issues. I subtly used this as an excuse to avoid them. IFS changed all this, as I explain below.

In addition to the problem of avoiding pain, some parts have pain that is overwhelming or traumatic. It wouldn’t be a good idea to dive into these feelings even it you could. You could be flooded by pain in a way that is harmful. You could be re-exposed to trauma rather than healed. You need to remain centered and in touch with your inner resources while you are approaching pain like this. IFS Provides of method for achieving this.

In IFS, we inhabit our true Self, which is a place of groundedness, curiosity, and compassion. From this place we get to know each of our parts by asking it questions and listening to its responses. These may be in words, or in images, body sensations, emotions, or direct knowing. We aren’t just using intellectual ideas about the part; we are truly listening to what it has to tell us. But we also aren’t just diving into its feelings. We are learning about the feelings experientially, but from the safe vantage point of the Self. If the part starts to overwhelm you with intense feelings, IFS recognizes that you are no longer in Self but have become blended with the part. It provides a variety of techniques for returning you to Self so the situation remains safe, while still keeping you open to the part’s feelings. This way you won’t be harmed or retraumatized.

In addition, by approaching your parts from Self, you are much less likely to be frightened about getting to know parts that are in pain. Therefore you are much less likely to avoid those parts. Once I learned IFS, I no longer had much fear of my painful parts because I knew that I wouldn’t have to endure any more pain than I could tolerate. Whenever the pain becomes too great or too threatening, I simply return to Self. This has allowed me to feel safe in approaching my painful parts. So I have stopped avoiding them, and this has allowed me to engage in some powerful healing.

IFS walks a middle ground between analyzing our parts intellectually and immersing ourselves in their pain. This allows us to explore out parts experientially without the problems of avoidance or retraumatization.