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).


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.