Protectors in IFS: Manager-Firefighter Polarization

Managers and firefighters are the two kinds of protectors in IFS.Protectors in IFS

In IFS, two parts are polarized when they are in conflict with each other about how you will behave or feel in a certain situation.

This article is an excerpt from my new book, Self-Therapy, Vol. 2. I also teach about polarization in my Advanced IFS Classes.

Managers and firefighters are the two kinds of protectors in IFS. They are frequently polarized with each other.

Most firefighters tend to be oriented toward excitement and intensity, fun and thrills.

Most managers tend to be oriented toward control and order, especially if they are trying to stop the destructive activity of firefighters.

In fact, as a result of successful IFS work, you might experience a decrease in the thrills that come from firefighters and begin to feel that your life has become boring. This difference in orientation between managers and firefighters lends itself toward polarization.

Because firefighter activity is often dangerous and self-destructive, managers come forward that are judgmental of firefighters and try to limit their behavior.

In fact, for every harmful firefighter, there is usually a manager that is polarized with it which is trying to stop the firefighter from causing problems in your life.

When a manager doesn’t succeed in stopping a firefighter, it often becomes harshly judgmental toward you for engaging in the firefighter activity. It shames you in an attempt to prevent the firefighter from acting out again. For example, after you binge on food, a manager may arise that shames you for getting out of control.

When your life is being ruined by a firefighter, it is easy to think that you just need to work with this part and get it to change. However, because of the presence of polarization, it usually isn’t enough to only work with the destructive firefighter and the exile it protects. You often must also engage with the controlling manager and work on the polarization directly.